worm tea

There's a lot going on in the garden these days. I've got flowers and fruits and a whole bunch of containers that are loving this heat wave!

But first, an update on the insecticidification. So far, I have been pleased with Safer's insecticide spray. It smells a little funky; I imagine that's the anti-fungal sulfur doing its thing. All in all, I think it really took care of the aphid problem. I still see some leafhoppers here and there, but I'm not sure I can really prevent that, seeing as their modus operandi is hopping from leaf to leaf (and away from the poison). The only negative I've found with Safer's is that it sometimes leaves a film of dusty whiteness on the leaves. Such a thing is usually indicative of some kind of plant disease, mold, mildew, etc., but I don't see any other indication of sickness, and the spray should be doing something to prevent at least a few of those things. In any event, I have seen no decline in overall plant health.

In other news, the vegetables are coming along nicely, although I have yet to harvest any actual food. The zucchini plants have been blossoming at an incredible rate, and I have been experimenting with blossom fritters (delicious!), but that's all the food we have gotten from the deck as of yet. However, this is about to change. The pepper plant has peppers (they just haven't turned orange yet), the bush beans have baby beans that will be big enough to eat soon, the zucchini is at least trying to get fruit started, and best of all, my tomatoes are coming in! See that photo up there? That, my friend, is a cherry tomato, and I am thrilled!

Given that just about everything is at least blossoming, it's high time I re-fertilized. Fortunately, a friend of mine was looking to get rid of a hefty load of worm tea from her house's worm bin. Worm tea, for the uninitiated, is basically the liquid runoff found at the bottom of a multi-tiered worm bin. Water, steeped in all the delicious nutrients found in vermicompost substrate, makes its way down to the bottom of the bin, where a tap is typically used to dispense it for use. It yields a murky liquid that smells, for lack of a better term, earthy.  Worm tea is a great natural fertilizer that basically takes all the nutrients found in worm castings (a.k.a. plant food) and condenses it into a liquid form.

You may be wondering why I needed to get my tea from a friend. Very simply, my worm bin does not have a standing layer of sludge or liquid. Perhaps because it is still in the establishing phases, I don't have very much substrate. Furthermore, my bin is a one-level set up, meaning that there is no extra reservoir for liquid, or a good way to harvest it even if there were.

This afternoon, I used about 250ml (~1 cup) of tea, diluted in about 2L of water. The Interwebs (here, here, and here) seem to be in some disagreement about how diluted the tea should be, but at a 1:8 ratio, I figured I was in the ballpark. After giving each of my veggie and herb plants a shot of diluted tea, I followed it up with a normal watering, just to make sure that a) the tea wasn't too concentrated, which would result in sadness for the plants, and b) that the nutrients made it deep down into the soil.

My hope is that by fertilizing, I will be giving the garden a boost to keep it going through its producing stage. I still have 3-4 more applications of tea left, but I think I will wait a week or so and see how the plants are doing before applying again. For the rest of the summer, it will be a good idea to continue fertilizing at regular intervals, at least until the plants cease to bear fruit.



One of the many benefits of container gardening is that your precious plants are less subject to the pests and diseases that often plague ground gardeners. Soil-born diseases are nil, as most potting soils are sterilized. Likewise, being up off the ground has its advantages: whatever insects are creeping around in your yard dirt probably have a hard time climbing up into your pots. There are, however, exceptions, and one of the most common and most obnoxious is the aphid.
Turns out I have been harboring these monsters. Aphids basically suck leaves and stems dry, and they reproduce very quickly, leaving you with an infestation in no time. I hadn't been looking for bugs, but when my eggplant plants continued to look sad and stunted, I realized I needed to be checking for pests. Sure enough, the underside of the leaves revealed these little buggers, and I promptly took action.

With aphids, you can usually start by blasting them off the leaves and stems of plants with a strong spray from your garden hose. Unfortunately, my watering can can't quite muster the water pressure, and it certainly cannot wash the undersides of leaves thoroughly. On to Option B.

I started by looking up some homemade insecticide sprays online. Aphids are soft-bodied, so they are pretty weak against oils, soaps, spiciness, and a whole litany of other things. The trick, however, is to avoid killing your plants in the process of killing your pests. You can find recipes all over the interwebs (here and here and here), and a former neighbor and gardener extraordinaire passed on her recipe as well. I hodgepodged together a mix of garlic, onion, hot and red pepper, chili powder, and ginger, boiled it down, strained it, cooled it, added a tiny bit of dish soap, and then loaded it up into a generic spray bottle. A healthy initial dose on the eggplants seemed to kill and/or wash away the visible aphids, and left my garden smelling like a wacky chili.

But then the aphids were back two days later. And I noticed that they had also taken up residence on my zucchinis. (Later I realized that the ants that had been crawling all over the zucchinis were actually attracted to sticky sweet aphid byproduct, and I should have seen it as a warning sign...) I sprayed with the spicy mixture again, this time all over the garden. But then the aphids came back. Obviously, this meant war.

After a little bit of internet research and consulting with the friendly employees at the neighborhood organic home-goods store and a gardening shop, the next step up are insecticidal soap sprays. Made of fatty acids, essential oils, and sometimes anti-fungal agents like sulfur, insecticidal soaps are still organic, and theoretically safe to use around children and animals, but definitely more harsh than anything you can make on your stove top.

Today I picked up Safer Brand 3-in-1 Garden Spray at my local hardware store. It includes treatment for mites and fungus as well as insects. The hardware store also carried Garden Safe brand, which was only for insects, but the Safer was a little cheaper, and I figured I could stand to prevent a mite or fungus infestation while I'm at it.

The directions instruct you not to use the spray in bright sunlight or high heat (both of which we have today), so I will wait until this evening to spray.

This is serious war. Hopefully I'll have good news in a few days.