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Your worm bin should be as a moist a wrung out sponge. A great way to find out if the moisture is just right is to do a squeeze test. Grab a handful of the castings in your bin. If water drips, your bin is too wet. If the castings do not stick much to your hand, it is likely your bin needs more water.

With the changing temperatures moving from summer to fall, be sure to keep an eye on the moisture of your bin. To make adding water more convenient, our Master Composters recommend keeping a spray bottle nearby. It is also great to moisten any paper you add to your bin before adding to keep your moisture levels up.

photo courtesy of http://growinggroceries.wordpress.com

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Do you own a Wriggly Wranch Worm Bin or a worm bin in general and wonder what the liquid that forms in the bottom tray is? It is worm tea, sometimes it is also called “worm castings” or “vermiwash.” You may not be aware but there are numerous benefits of using worm tea in your soil. Worm tea is a natural fertilizer which is used to promote the growth of plants. If you own a wriggly wranch bin, worm tea forms in the bottom tray that can be drained from the spigot. If you are a gardening enthusiast, you can use worm tea to replenish the soil with nutrients and protect plants from many plant diseases.

Worm tea has the same benefits as worm castings, but in liquid form. Castings are produced when worms break down the organic matter in the soil. It is also called “worm manure” or “worm humus.” These castings are present in the worm beds. When you run water through these castings, nutrients such as nitrogen, calcium and magnesium are picked up. The process of harvesting worm castings is called “vermicomposting.”

How to Make Worm Tea

For making worm tea, you will need a large bin or worm compost bin, such as the Wiggly Wranch bin. The bottom tray should have a drainage spout and holes for aeration. Soak a handful of worm castings in at least 5 liters of warm water. Allow the castings to soak for a couple of days. Next add a teaspoon of molasses (optional). Molasses will promote the growth of micro-organisms. If you feed your worms a balanced diet such as fruits and vegetables (no meat or dairy) they will produce the best castings and worm tea.

The water must be chlorine free because chlorine will destroy the “good” bacteria. To help conserve water, rain water is a good source of unchlorinated water to use. Pete Ash, an experienced gardener, long time master composter, and organic farming and gardening teacher, crafts a tea bag of the compost and vermicompost to soak in water. He suggests using an aquarium pump to keep the water aerated to stimulate micro-organism growth. Pete says, “The idea is to wash the microbes out of the compost into the water; adding a simple starch or sugar to the brew to feed the bacteria that are breeding. Use the wash water from rice rather then washing it down the drain.”

How to Use Worm Tea

The best way to use worm tea is to dilute it. Pete owns a few Wriggly Wranch bins. He dilutes the worm tea with 4 to 6 parts water (or more) for foliar spray applications. He also recommends using the tea within a couple of days and as it accumulates it may spoil. It is not clear to anyone how long worm tea should brew for, but if it smells bad you should not use it. Pete harvests his castings regularly because the mucus can build up along with bacteria and can actually become toxic for the worms. As Pete says, “No one likes to live in their own feces.”

Benefits of Worm Tea

Worm tea and compost is excellent for a garden. Pete uses worm tea as a foliar spray and compost tea as a field spray. There are many, many uses for worm tea. Here are a few ways to use worm tea to grow healthy fruits and vegetables:

  • Use worm tea as an inoculant for potting soil. The nutrients in worm tea help seedlings grow strong. It is suggested that inoculation should be done two weeks before you plant your seedling.
  • Plants that are grown with worm tea are healthier. Worm tea has many nutrients of food and medicine the plant needs to thrive. Plants grown with worm tea are also more nutritious than plants grown in soil treated with chemical fertilizer.
  • Worm tea also helps recover polluted soil. If you repeat the worm tea applications, the microbes will convert and metabolize organic and inorganic chemicals. The worm tea will help sequester the heavy metals found in chemicals.
  • Sometimes lawns can become sterile due to chemical treatment. Worm tea will repopulate the soil with microbes, enrich the roots and break down the thatch turning it into food for grass.
  • During hot summer days, worm tea can help retain water in soil.
  • If you decide to use worm tea as a foliar spray, it will help your plants produce more foliage and larger stems. This greatly helps plants that are lacking enough sun.
  • You may also add worm tea to a compost pile to speed-up the break-down process.

By using worm tea, you can help the environment by reducing and even eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers that can cause water pollution. Studies show an average American family produces a ton of waste each year. The estimate is 1/3 or ½ of household waste is organic matter (kitchen waste). If you vermicompost, you will reduce the amount of organic matter that ends up in landfills, help mitigate global warming and make nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer and worm tea for yourself. Vermicomposting is nature’s way of completing the recycling loop. If you are interested in learning about “the circle of life…the circle of rot” please refer to our March 2003 newsletter for a discussion of why you should compost, how this is improves healthy soil, which in turn creates healthy vibrant plant life.

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Del Mar Fairgrounds Worm Bin Harvest!

Thursday, January 14th, 2010
9:45am
The Del Mar Fair Grounds has a commercial size VermiTech worm bin that is going to be harvested for the first time in several years! Please meet in the Fairgrounds  West Parking Lot near the Grandstands Infield Tunnel  entrance and the group will head out on foot to the vermicompost bin in the Infield of the race track. Please use the Solana Gate Entrance off of Via de La Valle to access the West Parking Lot. No RSVP necessary, please just show up ready and excited about vermicomposting!

Master Composter Jesse Kerr checks out the Fairground's VermiTech bin.

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worm-castingsMoisture content is very important when composting with worms. This is because your red wigglers breathe through their skin and need appropriate moisture to do so. Often times the materials you add will give your bin moisture, but you will find that you will need to add water to obtain appropriate moisture content (especially with warmer weather).

Check your bin: To check your moisture content reach into your bin and grab a handful of the contents. It should feel like a wrung out sponge with few drops of water.

Too dry: A good thing to have near your worm is a spray gun, especially when the weather is a bit warmer. Lightly spray the contents of the bin until it reaches the “wrung out sponge” moisture content.

Too wet: Add some dry shredded paper. This will soak up the excess moisture and your worms will eat it too! Be sure to double check your worm tea level as well as this can often affect the moisture content of your bin. If your collection try is overflowing with worm tea it may be adding extra moisture to the bottom level causing it to be too wet.

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Problem: My castings are very wet and when left to dry out they solidify into cement hard pellets. Why aren’t my castings dry and fluffy like commercial castings?

a_9_worm-casting-windrows

Commercial vermicomposting facility

Answer: Commercial worm castings are coming mainly from windrow operations which are usually being feed manure. There is a certain amount of fiber in the manure that is never completely digested by the worms–mainly because they are not left in it too long. They are constantly moving into fresh food. In the windrows, as the worms work their way through the feedstock/bedding, the finished material (worm castings) is allowed to dry out slowly as the worms move on into fresh material. The resulting material is perhaps not as rich as what you may be producing in a small worm box.

In the classic home worm box, the worms are living in a confined space and often end up living in their castings a lot longer. The worm castings can actually become toxic to the worms if the castings are not harvest often enough. New bedding material needs to be added with the food and the worms need to be encouraged to move up into new habitat.
As the worms digest the food and produce new young they excrete a certain amount of mucus that can make the castings sticky…. and thus very hard when dried. The solution seems to be keep the worms moving to fresh material and then remove the castings as soon as possible as they move out. Another solution maybe this. Once you remove the castings add some neutral material to thin them out a little…. perhaps some coir, finished compost, vermiculite or any combination of these or similar things.
– Master Composter Pete Ash

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Let thermophilic bacteria do all of the work!

Let thermophilic bacteria do all of the work!

Worms are generally used in closed-system compost bins. Worm bins are used to house the worms, which will digest your materials and create castings. When using a worm bin, you will need to add worms to the bin.

Compost bins are generally open-bottom bins and do not require worms.  In a compost bin microbes called thermophilic bacteria as well as a vast network of microorganisms and invertebrates break down materials and turn them into humus, or compost. These organisms will come to your bin entirely on their own for FREE!

The activity of the microbes and the insulating mass of organic material will combine to create temperatures of 140 degrees or more.  Thermophilic bacteria, the most efficient composters, thrive in temperatures of 100 and 140 degrees, which is the target range for optimum composting. Worms thrive in temperatures between 59 and 77 degrees. They will enter your bin when it is cooler and leave on their own when the bin achieves higher temperatures.

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