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If your bin becomes too acidic, too moist, too dry, too compact, full of rotting food, full of  food they don’t like, too hot, too cold or they just organize an expedition,  your worms can attempt an escape from your bin.  This thwarted escape plan (if your lid is on tight) ends up with many worms in your bottom collection tray.

To rectify this situation add water to the collected liquid in order to dilute the sediment and ease its flow through the sieve.  Then strain the liquid through a sieve or small holed colander, rinse the collection tray out and reassemble the worm bin.  Add the worms, collected in the sieve, back into your top working tray.   If you clean out the bottom bin regularly you can save all your wayward worms and keep the liquid fresh and in top condition.  Dilute the liquid with 5-10 parts tap water before adding to your garden.    Remove the chlorine from tap water by letting it stand in the sun for several hours.

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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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There are several things to keep in mind when setting up your composting station:

  • Sun or shade?

A worm bin is best placed in the shade. The worms will not fare well in hot temperatures or during a deluge of water during a rainstorm. By placing them in the shade, they will be more protected from the elements and less likely to dry out.

As for a regular compost bin, direct sunlight does not cause the compost pile to heat up. The microbes working busily inside the compost are why the pile heats up. With this in mind, keeping your compost bin in the shade will decrease water evaporation. Also, people are more likely to turn their pile if they do not have to go out into the hot sun to do it.

  • Dirt or cement?

For a compost bin, it is best if it is placed on the dirt. This allows the beneficial insects to crawl up into the bin.  These insects will speed up the decomposition process and are naturally occur in a healthy compost pile. Put hardware cloth or wire mesh underneath the compost bin to prevent the larger animals from digging underneath and into the bin. If a compost pile is set on cement, it is likely that the cement will be stained.

For a worm bin, it does not matter if it is placed on cement or on dirt. It is more important that the bin is in the shade. People often even keep worm bins inside their garage, under their counter, or in a closet.

  • How close do I want my compost bin to the house?

Most people do not want to put their compost bin directly up against their house because of smell and pest attraction fears. If you are composting correctly, neither of these problems should be of issue. How close you put your bin to your house should more so be determined by hose length (if your bin is further away than your hose is long, you’ll be lugging buckets over to your pile!) and ease of use. If you don’t see yourself hoofing it across the yard to dump out your kitchen scraps, then you probably shouldn’t put your bin all the way across your yard. As for the pests and smells, err on the side of caution. If something goes wrong in your pile and it starts to smell or you get an unwanted visitor, it’s better away from your house than directly under your kitchen window.

  • How much room will my compost bin need?

If you plan on being an active composter and turning your compost pile, it is important that you have a space twice the size of your compost bin. This allows you to turn and then rebuild your bin directly next to where it was previously sitting. Turing your bin increases air flow and allows the microbes to break down the material more quickly. If you plan on having a more passive bin, this is obviously not necessary, though you probably want a little room around the bin so it can be accessed from all angles. Worm bins, on the other hand, do not need extra space.

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Crock Pot Composting

How to make the ultimate worm food!

By: Diane Hollister, Master Composter

Worms have no teeth, so they can’t consume the kitchen scraps you feed them until the scraps are broken down a bit.  You can do this yourself very easily by putting your food waste in a crock pot.  Here’s what I found works.

1.  I bought an inexpensive 5 qt. crock pot from Target for around $20.

2.  Put about ½ cup of good compost or some soil from around any plant that is growing well.  This will provide the microbes needed to break down the material in the pot.

3. Add kitchen scraps, the smaller they are cut up the faster they will break down.  Crushed egg shells are great to provide grit.

4.  Put the lid on and set the crock pot on warm.  Check the temperature in 24 hours.  In mine, the temperature was 140 degrees, which was ideal.

5.  Stir when you think about it and add water to keep it moist.

6.  If the contents start to smell, add some paper from your paper shredder, some compressed pine pellets (sold as kitty litter), some coir or any other small sized carbon rich material.  Mix well.  If it still smells add more carbon.

7. In about a week everything will be nicely broken down.  Let it cool and feed it to your worms.  They will go crazy for it!

I found you can add meat and dairy to the pot as there is no problem of rats getting into it.  Also, if I think about it I turn the pot off at night and back on in the morning and that works fine too.

If there is more material than your worms can process, just bury the rest in your yard or add it to your compost pile.

Leave about a cup of material in the pot to start your next batch.

Have fun!

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If you just made a fruit salad or cut up a large watermelon, you may have more material than can be fit into a worm bin at one time. It’s very convenient to stow this food in the freezer until the worms are hungry again, but will the worms eat this food after it has been frozen? Does the food need to thaw before it goes into the bin?

Yes and no.

Fruits and vegetables are 80-90% water. When water freezes, it expands, changing the texture of the food when it thaws. Humans may not like to eat mushy fruit and vegetables but the worms love it! Because worms do not have teeth, they can easily suck the mushy food into their mouths. If the food is easier for the worms to eat, it will disappear more quickly so you’ll be able to feed your worms more food!

Although worms do not like the extreme coldness inherent with frozen food, it will not kill them to put non-thawed food into the bin. The food will make a cold spot in the bin that the worms will avoid until it thaws to a more comfortable temperature. If it is warm weather, it will not stay cold for long. Then the worms will be all over the food like white on rice! As the frozen goodies thaw and the ice crystals melt, water will be introduced to the bin. If frozen fruits and veggies are going into the bin, additional water should not have to be added. If the bin seems to be getting too wet, add some shredded paper to absorb the excess water.

The worms will love this mushy treat!

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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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The Solana Center cares for a number of Compost Demonstration Sites throughout San Diego County. These sites are maintained by Master Composters and feature many different types of bins.

The Solana Center Compost Demonstration Site

The Solana Center Compost Demonstration Site

Encinitas

Solana Center for Environmental Innovation: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 – 4 p.m.

San Diego Botanic Garden

San Diego

San Diego Zoo

East County

Summers Past Farms

Water Conservation Garden

Crestridge Ecological Reserve

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