When I first overheard my colleagues discussing the benefits of “worm tea,” I nearly gagged. The idea of sipping on a warm cup of slimy invertebrates gave me the creeps, I don’t care how healthy it is. But unlike chamomile or hibiscus varieties (and much to my relief), this tea isn’t for you. It’s for your indoor garden.
While the name of the beverage would suggest that you might find full-sized earthworms wiggling about a vat of brown stew, Jim Shaw, founder and owner of Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, explains that the process is a little more complicated.
“Worm tea is ultimately the end result of steeping worm castings or vermicompost in water,” Shaw writes on his website. “Worm tea is known mostly for its ability to boost microbiological activity in soil by adding bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, and protozoa to the soil.” When I ask him to translate for those of us just developing our green thumbs, he tells me that quite simply that it’s a fertilizer to make you feel like a plant-whisperer. So, if you’re flirting with fiddle leaf figs for the first time, worm tea is the key to vibrant greenery.
Once you’ve obtained the worm castings (which, of course, you can purchase on Amazon), it’s easy to DIY your own tea bag. “Take a porous bag—a big burlap bag or a small burlap bag or whatever—and load it with scoops or shovelfuls of the dirt that the worms have worked through,” Shaw tells me. If you’re fresh out of burlap bags, an old pillow case will work just fine, he says. You’ll also need a five gallon bucket filled with cold dechlorinated water, such as rainwater or water collected from a pond, in which to steep the tea bag overnight. Rather than waking up to the sweet, sweet aroma of coffee, your home should smell like eau de underground. Dilute the worm tea with equal parts water and pour into a spray bottle or watering can. Your plants will thank you for the refreshing splash of tea no matter the delivery method.
However, don’t go too overboard with your spritzes. Since the mix will naturally contain a lot of nitrogen, Shaw says you risk growing a 10-foot tomato plant that never sprouts any actual tomatoes. “It’s great for all plants, but just from experience, the fertilizer is so strong that too much nitrogen won’t make them bear fruit,” he explains. So take note of that before you break the crumpets out and throw a tea party.
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