“Could you please tell me the correct dilution of water to earthworm tea? Which plants benefit the very most by being given it? How often should you give them the diluted tea to get a flourishing garden?” ~ Faye Garner
As I have mentioned a few times in previous newsletters, there is a difference between worm tea and worm leachate.
I will be talking more about worm leachate in the next question.
What is officially classified as ‘Worm Tea’ or ‘Compost Tea’, is when wormcast or compost is placed in a permeable bag and then brewed with water, oxygen and probably some nutrients. The purpose of this process is to encourage the good microbes in the tea to grow.
By brewing the compost with nutrients and a food source (i.e. molasses) it will feed the good microbes and the population will grow exponentially.
This high population of microbes in the tea serves a great purpose in rejuvenating the soil it is applied on and helps create a ‘barrier’ against bad microbes. The high population of good microbes will give them an extra edge against the bad microbes in competition for food resources in the soil and on the leaf of plants.
Therefore diseases are less likely to grow.
The high population of microbes comes at a price though. The downside to this is that the tea can go anaerobic (no oxygen) really quickly.
Once there is no oxygen in the tea these good microbes will die, and the bad microbes will start to develop really quickly causing your tea to become useless. Therefore the tea needs to be used within 8 hours of brewing.
The brewing process also needs a lot of care and attention where a constant flow of oxygen is necessary to ensure the tea comes out high in quality.
Worm leachate does not have the high population of microbes. The problems of the tea going anaerobic isn’t as high, but then again the liquid isn’t as beneficial for plants.
The main types of microbes in worm tea are bacteria, fungi, protozoa and beneficial nematodes (not all nematodes are bad!)
There is a huge range of different bacteria species, and they collectively work together to create the simplest building blocks of plants: nutrients and minerals. They help break down matter into Nitrogen, Phosphate, potassium, iron and other minerals into a form which plants can uptake. So plants is important for soil structure and plant health.
Their main functions is creating and retaining nutrients in the fungi themselves, which then helps feed the surrounding plants, and to create soil structure. Fungi grows and creates almost an underground web of mycelium (almost like what the trees do in the planet in the movie AVATAR). This helps in breaking down and aerating the soil and building soil structure. Fungi is also great for breaking down plant toxins and harmful materials to surrounding plants.
Fungi and bacteria compete for nutrients. So in a worm tea you either grow more fungi or more bacteria. I will describe which is better for which purpose later.
Protozoa works together with bacteria in creating the minerals for the plants. Actually when I say working together, what really happens is protozoa eats the bacteria to create nitrogen, but this relationship is necessary for the system to work!
There are plant feeding nematodes (bad) and bacteria feeding nematodes (good). Again their purpose is to eat bacteria to release the useful nutrients such as Nitrogen, phosphate and sulphates for the plants.
So what type of plants grow well in worm tea?
Well, all plants and soil will benefit from the beneficial microbial population. So the question should be which ones will benefit more? The answer to that is that it depends on what type of microbe you have targeted in growing during your brewing process.
A tea that is targeted to grow bacteria is generally better for foliar applications by spraying on the leaves. The reason for this is that bacteria are great for covering the surface of leaves to prevent bad microbes from growing. This can help reduce leaf diseases and promote stronger plant growth.
A tea which is geared in growing fungi will be better for soil applications. The fungi helps in developing soil structure and releasing nutrients slowly. Due to the fact that fungi produces mycelium to create an underground network, it is best that it is applied in soil where it is allowed to grow undisturbed.
Areas around trees and shrubs are perfect. Soil where frequent digging is done will destroy this network therefore not maximizing the fungi’s full potential.
In terms of dilution, worm tea does not need to be diluted. They can be used as it is and the great thing is it doesn’t burn plants!