Using Worm Castings & Worm Tea

HOW DO I USE MY VERMICOMPOST & WORM CASTINGS?

Vermicompost is a mixture of humus, worm castings and decomposing matter.  Worm castings look like rich soil, it is dark and crumbly. Most food will be broken down and active microorganisms will have dwindled.  Both are gold for the garden. Use them sparingly and with clear intent.

  • Plant your seeds in it
  • Use it for transplants – use a small handful when planting them
  • Place it around the base of your plant to give it nutrition
  • Make worm tea from the worm castings for spraying the leaves of your edibles

WORM TEA MAGIC

If you have a worm bin with a spigot, after a few months you’ll have worm tea. This tea will last up to 3 months if stored in the shade. Spray it on all of your vegetables with a 5:1 ratio (water:worm tea).  This will strengthen your plants, make tastier veggies and prevent insect infestations and disease. If you only have castings, you can make your own tea.

Quick and Easy Worm Magic

  • 1 cup worm castings or large handful
  • 32 ounces of water (non-chlorinated)
  • 1 tablespoons of molasses

If you have highly chlorinated water like we do in Los Angeles, let the water sit for 24 hours so that the chlorine evaporates or boil the water until the chlorine smell dissipates.

DIRECTIONS:

Mix together into a glass jar with a lid and let it sit for a few hours uncovered. Then screw the lid onto the jar and shake vigorously.  Pour this magic potion over your plants at the base. You can also spray it onto your leaves, but be sure to strain the castings (use a cheese cloth) so that it doesn’t clog the spray bottle. The most convenient method is to use a  2 in 1 Sprayer that allows you to spray your whole garden effortlessly.

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Where Did the Worms Go?

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I sat down the other day to write my next entry about worm composting to discuss how easy it is, how great it is, etc. etc.  After all, I’ve been successfully raising my worms for over a year. But before I began writing, I decided to visit my little worms to see how they were doing. I hadn’t fed them in about week or so and thought they might be hungry. And to my chagrin, I found that my worms were DEAD, GONE!!! Oh no, what did I do wrong? My heart sank, my urban farmer confidence shrunk, and I felt so sad.  I noticed a few things: ants, a white fuzzy mold, tiny white, thin worms (were those new baby red worms?) and lots of critters running around that weren’t worms.

I called Malibu Urban Worms (the place where I bought my once vibrant worms over a year ago).  I awaited their response with baited breath.  Meanwhile, I looked up “dead worms in worm composter” in Google and got a few answers, but none that satisfied me. I wanted to speak to the expert myself.

Thankfully, Lara from Urban Worms called me. She told me not to worry, that sometimes the worms die from the heat or overfeeding.  After our worm discussion, this is what I concluded:

  1. I may have fed the worms too much food (typical of a New Orleanian, always trying to overfeed those we love).  This is a no-no for worms because it can cause the bin to overheat and kill the worms. Usually a little pile of food in one corner of the bin is enough for 7-10 days or more. I had put two piles in each corner. Obviously too much.
  2. I need to keep the temperature gauge (that usually comes with the worm bins) inside the bin so that the temperature is always visible when feeding or checking the worms.  The ideal temperature is between 40˚F – 80˚F.  If the temperature begins to approach 80 degrees, you can cool the worms off by adding a little cold water into the bin.
  3. Have no fear. Just like with gardening, we learn from trial and error.  I bought some new worms at our local nursery, gave them some food and am ready to help them flourish.

And for the other activity that I observed in the worm bin?

  • The tiny little white worms? They are called enchytraeids or pot worms. They are beneficial in that they assist in breaking down food material in the bin.
  • The ants? They come into worm bins when the bin is a little too dry. Ants do not hurt the worms and will go away when the moisture returns.
  • The fuzzy white mold?  This is just part of the food breaking down.  Just stir it into the rest of the worm castings.
  • The other critters?  They are  a normal part of a worm bin ecosystem.

It has been a couple of weeks now and my new worms are fabulous.  Soon I’ll have more castings and worm tea to feed my garden.

BELL PEPPER ROT?

During my routine garden check, I noticed that my brand new bell peppers looked gorgeous. But wait, what is that?  A weird whiteish/brownish spot? Two of my peppers looked like they were rotting. What could have caused that?

It turns out that this is actually called SUNSCALD. And funny enough, it is most prevalent on green fruits like bell pepper.   The sun-damaged areas can then be vulnerable to insects and disease.   Oftentimes a fruit that was previously in the shade and then exposed to direct sun will get sunscald.  To prevent this awful sunburn, cover the exposed fruit with a lightweight material to diffuse the light. In general, it’s important to keep the foliage healthy to give the fruit natural shade.

I cut off the peppers with the sunscald to prevent any bugs from moving in and wreaking havoc on the rest of my garden.  Since most of the pepper was healthy, I removed the sunscalded section and used the rest of the pepper in a salad. My next round of peppers so far look great. I’ll report back if anything unsightly occurs.

Battling Ants and Aphids – Part II

In my last post, Battling Ants & Aphids Part I, an army of ants harvesting aphids had taken over my tomatoes and my artichoke.  I set out Terro Ant Baits to see if they would keep the ants at bay. Well, the ants (and the aphids) are still around.  The Terro Baits can take up to three months to work, time that my tomatoes don’t have. My tomatoes are at the end of their season anyway, so I’ve decided to pull them out and start over.  I set aside the green tomatoes to make Fried Green Tomatoes.

Sometimes pulling out your veggies that aren’t doing well feels really good.  It’s almost like getting rid of stuff in your garage that you don’t need anymore.  Once I removed the tomatoes, I added a few handfuls of Dr. Earth Start Up fertilizer, a few handfuls of worm castings and some water. I’ll let the soil sit for a few days to give it time to rejuvenate.  It’s nice to make space for new veggies.  I’ll plant some beans, lettuces, and Brussels sprout in that space.

With the artichoke plant, I need to keep it going.  Artichokes are perennials (they will last for years and produce artichokes a few times a year).  I am going to continue to keep the Terro Baits out while spraying inside the artichoke with Pyola to kill the aphids every ten days or so. Pyola is a powerful organic pesticide, so I’ll also spray worm tea on the leaves to strengthen the plant every few weeks.  Hopefully this slow and steady method will keep my artichoke alive.  We’ve harvested one artichoke so far (and it was delicious) and have three baby ones growing. It is certainly a determined plant despite its battle with the aphids.

The most important guideline in gardening is to embrace “failure.” As the Latin maxim goes, Discimus Agere Agendo, we learn to do by doing.  The only way to learn how to garden is to do it. The wonderful thing about gardening is that you can always start over and that feels great.

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Battling Aphids and Ants – Part I

I planted my tomatoes in May or June (honestly, I can’t remember), but it was sometime in the late spring.  I bought four heirloom tomato seedlings from Jimmy Williams at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.  I followed Jimmy’s advice and didn’t trim off the “suckers” and  let the tomatoes run wild, only picking off leaves that looked yellow and unhealthy.  Before I knew it, a month or so later, we had gorgeous tomatoes that were delicious.

But then I got BUSY. I was working 50 hours per week and didn’t check my dear tomatoes every day or so. While I was driving away on the I-10 into Hollywood to work, the aphids were moving in.  And then the ants followed.  Not good.  Ants and aphids have a symbiotic relationship. The aphids feed on the plant and excrete “honeydew” which the ants WANT. The ants are so obsessed with this honeydew that they will fight off aphid predators and actually bring the aphid eggs into their nest to protect them. The ants will then transport the aphid eggs to a new plant location.  This situation doesn’t bode well for any crop. My tomato plants weren’t looking happy, their leaves were yellowing and the fruit yield tapered. The ants and aphids had also attacked my artichoke plant.

I first attempted to hose off the aphids. They wash off really easily as they are delicate little critters. You can even wipe them off with your fingers. But, the next day, the aphids were back. So I got my organic aphid sprays and tried different ones over the next few weeks.  They were all effective for the aphids, but no match for the ants.  I then bought ladybugs.  They stuck around for a while (a sign that there is food like aphids for them), but then they took off. The ants were incorrigible.  Ugh! Was I frustrated and my poor tomatoes and artichoke were suffering.

I went to the Good Foods Festival in Santa Monica and met Christy Wilhelmi of gardenerd.com.  She is extremely knowledgeable and she told me that I MUST get rid of the ants to get rid of the aphids. She recommended Terro Ant Baits which are safe for organic gardens. You can find them here.  I purchased a pack and I’m still waiting for the results.  I’ll get back to you and let you know how it goes.

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