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Great Ideas for Worm Castings, Worm Tea and Tumblers

Frank in Cherry Hill, New Jersey writes: "I have been listening to your podcast for a couple of years, have written to you a couple of times and you took two of my calls on the show: One about a worm bin issue and the other about fig trees. You have also used a couple of my emails for Questions of the Week; I enjoy bragging to my wife when you read one of my questions on the podcast!

"The reason for this email is to suggest that your listeners and/or viewers email or call in about what they do to conserve resources or promote organic practices. Here are the things that I do:
  • "I have a dehumidifier in my basement that puts out about two gallons of water a day in warm weather, which I use to water indoor and outdoor plants."

    • Great idea Frank--especially if you're on city tap water and want to use non-treated water for your precious plants!
  • "I also use that water to dilute my worm tea. I have found that I must dilute the worm tea three times, as it is awfully strong. I wonder if anyone else has to dilute their worm tea that much...."

    • Absolutely, Frank! Full strength tea is generally TOO strong, especially for younger plants. The rule I follow is that the color of the diluted worm liquid should look somewhere between strong tea and weak coffee; and I find that a three to one dilution generally looks right.
  • "I obviously also have a worm bin. I use an old blender to grind up the worm castings, as they can get pretty hard when they dry out."

    • Great idea, Frank. Sometimes my house mate will include avocado husks in our worm bins, and they decay at about the same rate as Plutonium. "They're organic matter", she responds. "So are whole trees!" I reply. (How many shows could we do on spousal compost arguments alone? We'd have to subcontract with Judge Judy!) Anyway, I like your idea a lot, except for the collateral damage to any red wigglers that get into the blender; flashbacks to Dan Ackroyd's classic "Bass O' Matic" skit on the original SNL come uncomfortably to mind, and so I will continue to add the finished contents of my worm trays to an active compost pile. (But still, an interesting idea.)
  • "I have an old coffee grinder I use to grind up eggshells to spread on my three raised beds. Of course, they also go into the planting holes for my tomatoes."

    • Great idea, but why use a coffee grinder? I would load the crushed shells into that old blender with some water and whiz until the shells become liquid. Liquified calcium will be more immediately active in helping prevent blossom end rot on those precious tamatas!
  • "I also have a tumbler, which I use to break down shredded leaves. The finished product is dark, and the leaf remains are very small, but it never starts to look like soil. Do you think that I need to add more nitrogen to the bin when I start the process? I put coffee grounds and worm tea into the bin for my nitrogen component and use the finished product as a mulch on my raised beds."

    • Your location just across the Ben Franklin bridge from 'Old City' Philadelphia is going to be somewhat cooler than gardeners in the actual city; while I, in the foothills of the Lehigh Valley's South Mountain, am cooler than you (actually I'm cooler than anyone except Little Steven Van Zandt, Maynard G. Krebs, and Edd 'Kookie' Byrnes ["Hey Kookie; lend me your comb!"]). As always, I digress; but I left a trail of pretzel salt to help find my way back. To wit:

    • Although your finished product sounds like a great mulch, composting in areas with real winters is best accomplished as a two-season event. We diligently shred our leaves in the Fall, pile them into tumblers, spinners, sealed compost bins and/or open wire mesh cages, adding items to provide Nitrogen that are either wise, unwise, and/or bat poop crazy. Winter then greatly slows the composting process; especially if you loaded your pile up with low Nitrogen kitchen scraps. Such compost may not even be thawed out by Spring, much less finished.

    • The wisest choice in cold winter climes is to let that compost break down in the warm weather of Spring and use it to freshen up your plots early to mid-summer. But Frank's habit of making red wiggler smoothies opens up a new train of thought here.

    • The best, hottest and fastest way to compost SHREDDED fall leaves is to add lots of spent coffee grounds to the leaves as you shred them, mixing the grounds in as you go. Coffee grounds are an excellent source of Nitrogen, while most kitchen scraps are not, which is why we urge allayouse to get a worm bin, wherein those otherwise worthless scraps are turned into garden gold.

    • Back to Frank (remember Frank?). I suggest that he dump the finished worm castings into that bin of his, where the un-diced worms will help make finished compost faster. Plus, they won't be dead; not being dead is always a good goal.

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