Compost, Worms and Tea

Posted on May 21, 2017

Although the title of this blog may sound confusing, the words are actually all related to one thing: healthy soil.  It is often said in the gardening community:  feed the soil, not the plant.  What is meant by this is that instead of constantly applying fertilizers to your landscape, add nutrients to the soil which will support the plant’s health by changing it to be fast draining and moisture retentive, offering sustained release of nutrients that are more readily available to the plants, and creating an environment for earthworms, microbes and beneficial organisms.  This is the short list – there are many benefits to amending and nurturing your soil.
One way to get started, is through the application of compost.  This can be purchased through better nurseries or made in your own back yard.  In simple terms, it is the combination of brown matter (such as dry leaves, hay, sawdust, straw, wood chips and woody prunings) and green matter (grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, crushed eggshells and manure from cows, horses, goats, poultry and rabbits).  Meat, bones and dairy do not belong in a compost pile.  You can build your own structure for mixing and containing the compost, or purchase composting bins and tumblers.  Sunset has a video with the basics here:  http://www.sunset.com/garden/backyard-projects/how-to-make-compost-for-garden-00400000042773/.  An added benefit to composting is that you are reducing your contribution to the landfill by using your kitchen scraps and garden trimmings.
If the idea of a traditional composting station is a bit daunting or you are limited on space, another option is vermicomposting, or worm castings.  The bin for this process can also be homemade, or purchased through nurseries.  This system takes up much less space than a traditional compost pile and some people maintain that it is less work.  The concept is that you add kitchen scraps such as strawberry tops, wilting vegetables, etc. to the bin that has red wriggler worms.  The worms do all the work, eating their way through the food matter and creating what is sometimes referred to as “black gold” for your garden.  Worm castings are often recommended for application around plants such as hibiscus to control white fly, and are touted as one of the best amendments to apply around your citrus trees.  You can learn more about this process here:  http://ucanr.org/sites/sanjoaquinmg/Composting_/Composting_with_Worms_220/
From the compost you create by one of the methods above, you can brew some tea.  This is done by steeping some of the compost with water and then applying as a foliar spray or as you would any other liquid fertilizer.  The easy steps to follow are outlined here:  http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/airwaste/wm/recycle/Tea/tea1.htm