Worm castings tea

The waste products from everyone’s favourite hermaphrodites can be used to make a super-nutritious brew for feeding your garden. It doesn’t just feed plants but the soil itself and all the life within it.

Worm castings contain more nutrients and bacteria than many other fertilizers. They include minerals such as  phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, potassium, calcium, copper, zinc, iron, cobalt, boron, carbon and nitrogen. Practically everythig a growing plant needs!

Put some castings in a fine mesh bag.
Put some castings in a fine mesh bag.

When we say ‘worm tea’ we are not talking about the leachate that derains from the bottom of your worm farm. This is more correctly called ‘leachate’ and is a mix of the secretions of the worms within the farm, leched material from the decomposition of vegetable material and excess moisture in the worm farm itself.

A well maintained worm farm should produce little or no leachate.

This liquid can contain pathogenic bacteria from the foodstuffs in the worm farm and, while it can be used on your garden, sohould not be applied directly to plants like your leafy greens that are going to be for dinner tonight.

What we mean by ‘worm tea’ or ‘worm castings tea’ is a brew of the worm castings themselves in water. It’s dead easy to make, as you’ll see…

How to make worm castings tea.

It’s a simple thing to do, all you have to do is get a couple of handfuls of worm castings (I use one big handful to a 20 litre bucket), put them into a finely woven bag such as calico and suspend them in the container of water – think of it as a giant tea bag. Suspend the bag in a large container of rainwater and away you go!

Use clean rainwater.
Use clean rainwater.

Stir them around from time to time and when the water’s lovely and brown, remove the bag (putting the castings on the garden or into the compost) use the water on your plant as a root drench as is or dilute it a further 50 or even 100:1 with water and use it as a foliar spray.

That’s the basic idea. I like to step it up a notch and brew bigger batches with a bubbler to aerate and constantly move the water through the castings as the bag hangs in the container. The tea is then called an ‘aerated tea’. You can find much more info about aerated compost teas on our page here.

Add an aerator to supercharge the mix.
Add an aerator to supercharge the mix.

You can use an aquarium pump with an airstone or go bigger like I did and use a commercial air pump. My pump has a flow rate of 35 litres per hour but you can go even bigger if you want to. Make sure the flow of the bubbles is a bit more than a gentle bubbling but not crazy.

I like to let brew mix for a minimum of 4 hours and as much as 24 hours to get all the microbes well aerated and get as much oxygen into the water as possible. Just remember to check that your pump isn’t getting too hot and give it a break if it is.

You can add 1/2 tsp of molasses for every 10 litres of water.
You can add 1/2 tsp of molasses for every 10 litres of water.

If you want to take it even further (the sky’s the limit reallly), add molasses to the water at a rate of 1/2 teaspoonful of molasses to 10 litres of water to feed up the microbes and give your brew a huge kick!

You’ll know when your aerated brew is ready because there will be a sweet, earthy smell and/or there will be bubbles on the surface of the brew thar stay longer than those from your air source.

If you have too many bubbles hanging around on the surface, it’s not a bad thing but points to the fact that you’ve used too much molasses for the size of your brew- it’s been too nutritious for the microbes.

I filter the brew to use in my aquaponics and dripper systems.
I filter the brew to use in my aquaponics and dripper systems.

I use the brew in our aquaponics and our dripper systems. To do that, I like to filter the fresh brew through some fine material before adding to the aquaponics water or our fertigation setup for distribution throughout the front garden.

If you’re thinking of starting a worm farm or want a few tips on making yours run nicely to keep your worms happy, check out our vermicomposting page.

Thanks guys/gals!
Thanks guys/gals!

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More than Monarchs

Everyone loves Monarch butterflies! They’re pretty nice but I prefer native Yellow Admirals personally. They have the advantage that their offspring eat Nettles too.

Anyway, Monarchs are popular around the world and I got some great pics of them and their young on a Milkweed of some sort. The striped caterpillars having made short work of any recognisable features.

I reckon that Yellow Admirals are prettier.
I wish the stripy caterpillars would eat the Aphids too.
I wish the stripy Monarch caterpillars would eat the Aphids too.

Monarchs love Milkweed, that’s well known but, far more interesting (to me, at least) is what else is going on in the pictures.

Tiny, yellow Milkweed (aka ) Oleander Aphids (Aphis nerii) often  infest the same plants that the Monarch larvae munch on. These little pests in turn, do something really interesting and beneficial to our gardens.

Milkweed Aphids.
Milkweed Aphids.

Well, not the Aphids themselves, but their predators. The Aphids attract tiny parasitoid wasps. Depending on the species, these wasps lay their eggs in either the Aphids or their eggs. The babies use their victims as food as they go through their early stages of growth.

Importantly for we gardeners, the wasps and other critters that are looking for a good feed of Oleander Aphid also prey on other garden pests.

I was put onto this little example of  natural pest control by Andrew at Joe’s Connected Garden. He has a patch of Milkweed that is the year-round host to both pests and predators. Being a permanent path and not ‘weeded’, it allows all of the creatures involved to overwinter their eggs and to be ready early in Spring to repeat their life cycles.

Andrew also has a patch in his front garden that has grown into a patch of Roses. If you look carefully, the Milkweed are infested with several kinds of Aphids and the Roses have none. I could not find a single one in my short search!

Far from being home to a pretty Butterfly, this Milkweed is home to a whole ecosystem! Imagine what else is going on there. There are critters that live off of the secretions of the Aphids, moulds and mildews that love those sugary exudates. While taking the pics you see today, a bird was making repeated swoops over the plant. I can’t see what it is after but it seems to be feeding too. Hoverflies also abound around this plant, their predatory larvae making a feast of Aphids.

A hoverfly taking a break.
A hoverfly taking a break.

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Bokashi soil maker – the results.

Reecently I posted about an experiment in using finished Bokashi compost to boost cheap potting mix. It’s been a couple of weeks longer than I originally planned before checking it but, you know me…

The result from the bucket that was mixed.
The result from the bucket that was mixed.
From the layered bucket.
From the layered bucket.

This experiment was the first in a series and this one was mostly to see if the finished Bokashi compost would be broken down in the potting mix. If you remember, I used a very cheap mix to see if I could boost it with Bokashi. It’s too early to tell if the soil is now any richer, it will take a few weeks for the plants to show any benefits. The assumption though is that incorporating more nutrient rich, organic material will boost its effectiveness.

No strange aromas...from the compost, nor the gardener!
No strange aromas…from the compost nor the gardener!

Observations…

The final result from each of the methods had no smell beyond something ‘organic’. Both had pieces of unbroken – down Bokashi compost in them but the bucket made using the mixed method of had only tiny pieces that took some looking for before I identified them. Some quite large pieces were left in the layered bucket. What these were composed of wasn’t apparent, meaning that there had been quite a bit of decomposition, which is good.

All in all, about 70% of the finished Bokashi that I put into the layered bucket had vanished and around 90% of that in the mixed.

I observed worms in the layered bucket but not in the mixed one. I’m not sure if this is evidence of anything.

All in all, the results were about as expected. I thought there may have been more activity over the extended time period (I planned two weeks but it took me a month to get back to them). However the theory worked and these results provide a baseline from which to check other experiments against.

What’s next?

Now that I know that the Bokashi compost does actually break down, I’ll run a test with some old, used potting mix that I have. I’ll do two buckets and mix them both. I’m even wondering if blending some Bokashi compost then mixing it with the potting mix in one will work faster? Maybe next time.

Let's see how well these fellas grow!
Let’s see how well these fellas grow!

I also feel that there were not enough holes in the base of the buckets to allow good access to soil critters, so I’ve increased the size of the existing holes and doubled their number.

I’ve chosen to replant 4 kangaroo apple seedlings into the new mix and watch what happens. I’ll keep you posted…

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Tomato problems 3 – A handful of pests.

If you’ve been following our series of posts about growing healthy tomatoes, you’ve probably succeded in getting  a whole bunch of beauties ripening on your vines by now. You might even have managed to eat a few from your bounty.

But there will be other eyes on your ripening tomatoes. There are many many insects that enjoy our Tomatoes as much as we do. Not only do they like to eat them, many lay their eggs in them and let the young grow, protected inside.

I’ll only look at a few pests in this post. There’s a whole library of information on problems, pests and pest control building on this website now that I’ve taken some pretty good pictures! You can find that info here.

Let’s get started!

Green Vegetable Bugs.

Also known in some places as Green Stink Bugs, these bright green pests are a threat to many of our favourite vegetables, including Tomatoes. They suck the sap from green growth, can transmit some diseases and lay their eggs on our plants.

Green Vegetable Bugs are one of the insects that undergo big changes at different stages of life.The pics below show the big difference between two stages (or ‘instars’). The second is of a cluster that were raised in one of our aquaponics Tomatoes.

Adult Green Vegetable Bug.
Adult Green Vegetable Bug.
Immature Green  Vegetable Bugs.
Immature Green Vegetable Bugs.

Controling Green Vegetable Bugs

Once you ‘get your eye in’ it’s easy to spot mature vegetable bugs on your tomatoes. Their bright green bodies stand out from the darker green of the leaves and when they’re disturbed, they make a quick move for the back of the leaves or fruit. Pick and squish is my favourite method!

Cutworms

Cutworms are a kind of caterpillar, the immature form of a little brown moth.

They are a common cause of irregularly shaped holes in your tomatoes. They’re also a pest of young tomato seedlings which they cut the stems of at soil level.

Interestingly, adult cutworm moths are pollinators as well but pollinate at night, which can lead to some of the problems that you saw in this post.

Cutworm larva.
Cutworm larva.
Adult Cutworm Moth.

Controlling cutworms

Netting the area can help too by preventing the moth access. You need a pretty fine net though.

Cutwoms climb up out of the soil, so keep leaves and stems off ogf the ground. Leaves at that level aren’t doing the plant much good anyway, so snip them off.

Once again, pick and squish is the best method. The caterpillars curl up when disturbed and often fall to the ground where they are easy targets for avid gardeners like us.

Green Looper Caterpillars

Everyone knows these little caterpillars. They arch their backs as they crawl, making a little loop before thrusting forward again. You will undoubtedly have seen them on your other vegetables (they are also known as ‘Cabbage Loopers), so watch out for them on your tommies!

Green Looper caterpillar.
Green Looper caterpillar.

Cabbage Looper moth.
Cabbage Looper moth.

Control of Green Loopers

Netting yout tomatoes is the best way to prevent infestation. Pick and squish caterpillars that wander into your protected plants.

Once again, once you get your eye in, the green of their bodies  is easy to see against the darker leaves of the tomatoes and their white stripe becomes a dead giveaway.

There are tiny, parasitoid wasps that will lay their eggs in the caterpillars  and larger wasps that will physically pick them up and carry them away to their lair as food for their young.

Spider Mites

Tiny Arachnids that make their way unseen onto our plants. We see them, firstly by their effect as they mottle and drain the colour out of leaves, then webs show in between around the leaves and stems and if we look carefully, we can see little red dots – Spider Mites!!.

They arrive at our place with the onset of the hot weather and drain the life from certain plants.

Tell-tale webbing shows that you have an infestation of Spider Mites.
Tell-tale webbing shows that you have an infestation of Spider Mites.
Spider Mites up close.

Control of Spider Mites

Once you see mottling on your leaves, start blasting them with a jet of water from youtr hose. This’ll knock adults off of the leaves and leave them helpless.

Home made White Oil works quite well.

The trick to using both of the above techniques is to repeat the treatment every 2 – 3 days. You might be knocking off the adults eggs are continuously hatching, releasing a new generation.

Nature can help us with Spider Mite infestations. As with many critters, there are tiny parasitoid wasps that love nothing better than laying their eggs in Spider Mites and their eggs. You might see little shiny black dots moving around on your affected leaves. These are Stethorus, a species of Ladybird whose favourite food is Spider Mites. Once you see them on your plants, just keep feeding and watering the plants regularly and, within a couple of weeks, you will see the plant recovering.

You can help Nature reduce Spider Mite populations by removing affected leaves at the terminal end of branches where you can see a lot of webbing. I’ve not seen too many predators in these areas  as  they seem to prefer to do their deeds on the underside of leaves further down the plant.

Ladybird Beetles love to eat Spider Mites.
Ladybird Beetles love to eat Spider Mites.

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