Organic gardening can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. From avoiding greenwashed fertilizers that misuse terms like ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ to perfecting your soil health and micro-bacterial levels. It can be tricky to remain eco-conscious while simultaneously yielding healthy plants. This is where I was a few years ago before I learned about worm tea.
I was first introduced to worm tea while researching ways to take my zero waste kitchen to the next level and I haven’t turned back since. It’s quick, easy, and was a god sent this winter for my indoor house plants.
If you haven’t already guessed, today we are going to explore worm tea! We’ll chat about all the benefits of worm tea and why it has become so popular. If you are feeling up for the challenge of making worm tea at home, I am going to share my favorite worm tea recipe with all of you!
What is worm tea?
Worm tea is a 100% natural liquid fertilizer made from worm manure (also known as worm castings). In a traditional vermicomposting bin, worms will help to decompose your organic waste and produce castings that are full of healthy microbes and nutrients that will give your plants that extra ‘oomph’ they need.
Unlike leachate (the smelly liquid that accumulates at the bottom of your composting bin), worm tea refers to the liquid that has been ‘steeped’ with the castings that have passed through the worm’s digestive system. By passing through the worms’ digestive tract first, extra enzymes and symbiotic matter will be added to your compost tea.
In my opinion, worm casting tea is the BEST homemade plant fertilizer out there because it has a higher nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium content compared to other compost options.
What are the benefits of worm tea?
We have discussed all of the benefits that come from composting your organic waste at home; including reducing your carbon footprint, saving you money on fertilizer, and increasing soil moisture.
I personally love vermicomposting because it’s easy to maintain year-round indoors and your red wiggler worms do all of the work for you. But perhaps my favorite by-product that comes with vermicomposting is worm tea! Worm tea is like a miracle super juice for your plants and the benefits of worm tea are endless. More specifically, worm casting tea:
- Infuses your soil with essential microbes and nutrients in turn preventing plant diseases
- Increases soil porosity and water holding capacity
- Wards of pests like aphis and eelworms
- Is a zero-waste process *if you are using compostable tea bags*
- Has a faster absorption rate compared to just using the worm castings alone
- Improves your overall yields and can expand the biodiversity of your garden
Brewing your own worm tea also helps you prolong your compost and can be a much more cost-effective fertilizer option for any home gardener.
Worm tea (and vermicomposting in general) is especially fantastic if you are composting in a small space like an apartment or trying winter composting indoors because the bin and tea won’t stink up your home. If you are interested, we have many other tips and tricks for indoor composting – including how to choose the best indoor compost bins.
Which plants benefit from worm casting tea?
Worm casting tea can be used anywhere and everywhere (that is a plant….). Indoor plants, outdoor plants, tall plants, short plants – you can’t go wrong.
The springtime is also the best time of year to add your compost tea to your garden when you see early signs of leaves on your plants. But you can also use compost tea at any time of the year. I like to spray my indoor plants with compost tea throughout the winter when they could use the extra help.
How do you make worm tea?
Making worm tea is a very simple process and if you follow this worm tea recipe, you will be on your way to healthy, happy plants in no time.
Technically, the first step to making your own worm casting tea is to start a vermicomposting bin and get to know what is compostable, what is not compostable, and what worms like to munch on (did you know worms can even eat some compostable kitchen bags?).
Once you have your vermicomposting bin up and running, you can get ready to make your very own worm tea!
- Compostable tea bags
- A five-gallon bucket or container
- Four gallons of distilled, chlorine-free water (rainwater will also work)
- Five cups of worm castings
- A bottle with a sprayer attachment
- A plastic free storage container (you won’t need a lid)
- A strainer, old t-shirt, or dish towel
- Two and a half tablespoons of molasses or corn syrup (optional)
- A fish tank bubbler (optional)
Fill your bucket with chlorine-free water or rainwater. I like to collect rainwater in my garden in rain barrels, but if your only option is city tap water you can leave your water out for 24 hours beforehand to allow the chlorine to evaporate. Next, fill each compostable tea bag with your finished vermicompost and tie the bags shut.
Submerge your tea bags in your bucket of water overnight. At this stage, you can also stir molasses or corn syrup into your water and the sugars will help promote healthy microorganism growth - but this step is not necessary.
I have also seen some eco-influencers aerate their worm tea using a fish tank bubbler while the tea is still steeping. This step isn’t essential but has been known to produce good results.
When the water is a medium brown color your worm tea is ready and you can send your used compostable tea bags back to your vermicomposting bin!
Collect your worm tea water in a spray bottle if you are going to use it right away or in a plastic-free storage container without a lid to store for the longer term.
If you are using a spray bottle, I would suggest straining your tea first with a strainer, dish towel, or old t-shirt so it doesn’t clog the sprayer.
To make your worm tea last longer, you can also dilute your worm tea with water to a lighter brown color.
How to use worm tea?
I like to spray my plants with worm tea using a recyclable bottle. For the best results, remember to spray both the soil AND the leaves of your plant with your worm tea. You can even add the tea directly back into your compost bin if you have any leftovers to help the decomposition process.
To store your worm tea, remember to keep the lid of your container off and keep it out of the sun! It’s important to store your worm tea without a lid so the microbes in your tea receive enough oxygen. Don’t worry, worm tea has a pleasant earthy smell so it shouldn’t be too noticeable to store inside. If your worm tea starts to smell funky, you might have some unwanted microbes and you shouldn’t use this batch. Your worm tea should smell earthy, but not putrid!
How often should you use worm tea?
Every one to two weeks should do the trick. If your plants are looking tired or showing signs of disease, you can spray your plants with your worm tea more frequently. I will spray my compost tea on my plants in the morning when the sun isn't so hot that it evaporates the liquid.
How long does worm tea last?
The ‘fresher’ the worm tea, the better it is going to work! If you use it within the day of brewing, you will see better outcomes (your microbe numbers will start to decrease if you wait to use your worm tea past the three-day mark).
Final thoughts on making worm tea
Worm tea is simple to make and can be a great way to boost the health of your indoor or outdoor garden, from helping to fight off plant diseases to increasing your soil porosity. And best of all, brewing your own worm tea at home is a stink-free, zero-waste process if you are using compostable tea bags, just throw them back into your compost bin when you are done.
If you try to brew your own worm tea at home, let me know how it goes, and leave a comment below! And with summer just around the corner, I have tons of other eco-tips to help you out as the weather gets warmer.