Worm Power

Organic/Natural Viewpoint

The dirt on building natural soil fertility

Editor’s Note: Building soil fertility the natural way may help you avoid/minimize your pesticide use. Or not. Just because something is built naturally (or organically) doesn’t mean it’s necessarily safer or better. The chemicals, whether synthetic or naturally occurring, are the same, they kill and nurture equally well. Some argue you have better control of the amount of chemicals applied when you use synthetics because you can measure exactly how much you put down and how long it remains in the soil. Some argue a naturally built system automatically keeps itself in balance.

In the end, it’s up to you, the user, to decide which works best in your particular situation. To give you more “food for thought,” here is the viewpoint of Erika Allen, Chicago Project Manager for Growing Power – a non-profit advocate of the benefits of building soil fertility naturally and building community food programs.

How can food waste (organic materials like vegetable and fruit scraps), moldy straw, coffee grounds and microbrewery waste make tea? Through the power of worms. Most specifically, surface dwelling red wrigglers (eisenia fetida) whose sole purpose for living is to decompose organic material.

These little workers (vertical dwellers with fast, squiggly, wriggly movements) are commonly known as manure worms. They’re the ones responsible for those little piles of ground up soil you may see in your garden or lawn. You can see them when you flip over a cow patty (for those of you with a rural farm background) or as the favorite bait of folks who really like to go fishing (much to our chagrin!).

This “closed-loop” ecological approach allows for the cleanup of contaminants in the soil, for the digestion and transformation of food waste, and for the production of fertilizer that, in my opinion, is far more effective than chemical treatments.

Here at Growing Power, we’ve developed a system which we believe helps fight off soil disease by quickly breaking down food waste and developing and end product that keeps plants/turf strong and healthy, eliminating the need for costly fertilizers, lawn treatments and other chemical products.

We believe there are negative environmental impacts to synthetic, commercial fertilizer applications, both on local water supplies and soil health. To that end, we’ve created Milwaukee Black Gold Foliar Tea – vermin -castings packaged for sale as foliar tea (a top-dressing spread-able fertilizer applied as an aerosol with a sprayer).

Building Foliar Tea

The first step in prepping your site for a return to natural nutrient cycling (bringing the system back in balance) is to treat the area with a foliar tea made of worm castings (worm poop/fertilizer).

We offer a potent foliar tea for sale here at Growing Power, but you can also make your own. Here’s how we make ours:

1. Each week our three-acre urban farm receives delivery of carbon and nitrogen organic waste (browns and greens). This waste is broken down using static pile (letting it sit and rot) and eventually hot composting (130 degrees) to break down weed seed and other pathogens.

2. This partially broken down food waste (after three months or so) is placed in large woodbins with worms to begin the vermin-composting process.

a. Vermi (worm) + Composing (organic waste) – Worm Castings (worm poop).

b. Essentially, the worms eat the compost and make fertilizer

3. The worm castings (worm poop) are separated from the worms. We use a low-tech, hand-sifting process in order to avoid damaging the worms.

4. These vermi-castings are then packaged for sale as foliar tea which is a top-dressed fertilizer (in aerosol format) that can be used on lawns, farms, houseplants and gardens

5. To use/apply the foliar tea, you need to “brew the tea” by placing the worm castings in a small or large mesh filter, steeping them for 12-24 hours in de-chlorinated water and pouring the “tea” into an aerosol sprayer, which you then use to apply to the plant material.

How It Works

For the first month, you will need to brew and apply the tea weekly. At the end of this month, you will see the plant material/turf turn a vibrant green as the root systems fan out and grow deeper due to the re-introduction of microorganisms. As these natural systems are revived, you will start backing off on the applications of your foliar tea eventually reaching a state where the soil systems work without outside help.

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