Updated: Mar 2, 2021
Debbie Roland, Master Gardener
Social distancing, standing in line outside my favorite grocery store last month, I found strategically placed Blackberry plants for sale. The week before a friend had gifted me two big plastic tubs. I had time on my hands so why not combine the two and give it a shot?
The plants were alive several weeks later but not thriving so I added compost tea. In two weeks they have grown 12”.
So what is compost tea and how do you make your own? Compost Tea is the liquid off of the worm castings (poop). Composting worms are Red Wigglers, not the earthworms that you find in your healthy flowerbeds. Red Wigglers are worms that turn food scraps, newspapers and cardboard into rich compost which can be added to plants and gardens or used as compost tea to water plants. It takes little space, little work, and is a great way to recycle paper and cardboard, as well as kitchen waste and some plants, to give your garden and flowerbeds nutrients.
These worms like the dark so you will need a container that allows no light. Ventilation is a must. One of the easiest, cheapest containers has proved to be two Styrofoam nesting ice chests available at most dollar stores. Remove the lid to the first one and use a screwdriver to punch two or three holes in the bottom. Then set it inside the second one. Plastic bins can also be used as seen in the attached photo. If you do that you will need enough space for the liquid to drip into bottom bin so just set a brick at each end of the bottom bin to add space between them.
Add wet shredded paper, paper towels or other paper. Then add fruit, grain, crushed eggshells, coffee grounds with the filter, tea bags or other vegetable material. Leaves and other yard trimmings can be part of the bedding. Punch several holes in the top for ventilation and keep in a shaded spot. Add your worms which are sometimes sold as bait. Be sure the package says “Red Wigglers”. Many gardeners are worm composters and are usually glad to share a few with you. They can be kept indoors (they don’t smell when done correctly) and having them close will be a reminder to check on them.
Don’t use cat or dog droppings, meat, fish or oil because they attract pests.
Always use gloves when working with your worms. They need to be fed and checked on every few days. The mixture should not be too wet and should look like a damp sponge. If it looks wet, simply add more shredded paper. The holes in the bottom allow any excess moisture to drip through the holes and collect in the bottom chest-this is your compost tea. Add water to dilute it so that it looks like very weak tea and water your plants.
If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information. Additional information is available at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu and westtexasgardening.org.