How to get started brewing your own Vermi-Cast tea.
Cone bottom tank brewer. (Brewer must be easy to clean, and have no sharp inside corners or lips which may hide small spots of bio-film.
Aeration System. Must be capable of providing enough dissolved oxygen into the water so as to keep the bacteria aerobic during the breeding (brewing) process.
Cleaning Tools. Tools must afford the cleaning of 100% of the inside surface area of the brewer, hoses, pump, fittings, filtering system, and anything the vermin-cast tea comes in direct contact with. (It is very important to be in a position to clean every part 100%).
Cleaning Supplies. Non fragrant, bio-degradable cleaner, (Oxy-clean™ or equivalent).
Safety Glasses (had to say that)
Low Velocity Transfer Pump (Higher velocities will destroy your delicate fungi.)
400µm filtering system (cleanable)
¼” Steel Screen
1 Clean 5 gallon bucket
Timer or Stopwatch
Reliable Metering for:
- Electrical Conductivity
- Dissolved Solids
- Dissolved Oxygen
Test Equipment for:
- Chlorine and Chloramines
- Soil or Growing Medium Nutrients (May be done by private labs in your area.)
- Plant Tissue Nutrient Testing Equipment (Optional but recommended) (May be done by private labs in your area.)
Glass Microscope Slides and Cover Glass
Assorted Graduated Cylinders
Test Tubes with caps
Record Keeping System for plotting your successes (and mistakes).
Must have a moderate knowledge of micro-biology to the level that you can differentiate between good microbes, and the bad ones, as well as indentifying problems.
Must have a basic understanding of Scientific Theory in order to obtain useful data from your experiments, (they will be extensive).
Good Compost or Worm Castings. (Must contain the kind of Biology you want to breed and use on your particular crop or plant species. Breeding Fungal dominant, or Bacterial dominant colonies for separate reasons each have their benefits, but not for the same outcomes.)
Reliable Source of Clean Water. (Water must be free of Chlorine or Chloramines which are biological disinfectants.)
Bacterial and Fungal Feedstock’s. (Feedstock’s chosen are relevant to the type of biology you want to breed and what result you desire.) Typical Feedstock’s used are as follows, it is good practice to have all of the below ingredients at your disposal in order to reach particular goals:
- Sucrose or Sugars. (Un-sulfured Molasses works great but can “over-amp” the microbes if over-dosed.)
- Humic Acid or Humus
- Rock Dust
- Fish Emulsion
- Protozoa Inoculant
It is best to breed Bacterial and Fungal colonies separately if possible in order to achieve the best of both.
Lots of Patience.
Four years before writing this I began making Compost Tea or Vermi-Cast Tea from kitchen scraps in a feeble attempt at recycling. Once a friend heard that I was producing small quantities of the “worm juice” he begged me for all I could make. Until I killed some plants. Oops. I didn’t realize that I could produce bad stuff if I wasn’t careful. I assumed all of it was good. As it turns out, if you let the oxygen levels fall in the solution while the breeding process is transpiring, you can produce some pretty nasty things called Anaerobes. These are the bad guys you don’t want.
Once I began to dive into the world of micro-biology in an attempt to understand the mistakes I was making, I realized I was in over my head. I purchased a microscope so I could look at the microbes I was breading, but had no idea what I was looking at. I wasn’t smart enough to stop there. Before I realized I started taking Chemistry and Biology classes in order to work towards a Bachelor degree in Soil Sciences. I didn’t know when to quit. I spent thousands of dollars to develop something that could be consistently safe and contain the same ingredients each time in large quantities. Why, you ask? I like a ridiculous challenge, and I wanted to grow the best vegetables possible without adding harmful agents.
There are many manufacturers of Compost Tea Brewers on the web for you to choose from. My suggestion if you really feel the need is to build your own. It is most definitely NOT rocket science to construct a brewer. The real Science comes when you put all of the ingredients in it and start brewing. Most individuals out there selling brewers don’t want you to understand how difficult it is to produce a consistently safe product to use on your plants, they only want you to purchase their brewer.
I will gladly provide plans to build a cleanable compost tea brewer free of charge, or even sell you one cheaply if you really desire to Do-It-Yourself, but I won’t promise to buy it back from you when you lose interest. I have visited several farms with Compost Tea brewers collecting dust, and we are not in the business of paying for another individual’s learning curve. I will also provide recipes for the best teas, or extracts depending on what you what you need to use it for on the Members Only Section of our Website Coming Soon, (I need to know you are serious before I give up my recipes.)
On a side note: Finding a producer or trying to produce the worm castings yourself requires a lot of research, work and determination. I recommend reading every book you can find on the benefits of Fungi in soils and their effects on specific plant species, as well as Bacteria and their benefits to plants as they become food for the larger Protozoa, Fungi, and Nematodes. Everyone has a purpose and/or specific job to perform, and you must act as their manager.
To begin, your process will be unique to your own batch and your best will not be accomplished immediately. Some tips to note are:
- Type and range of microbial colonies available in your compost or vermi-compost. As mentioned before, this is as the old mantra goes: what you put into it determines what comes out. Select the feedstock for your compost pile or worm-bin based on what type of product you desire, be it Bacterial Dominant or Fungal Dominant. Each have their place and specific function.
- The amount of finished product you wish to produce next determines the amount of ingredients you will use. Various recipes call for a 10:1 to 50:1 mix of Vermi-compost or Compost to water by volume. This too is dependent upon your desired outcome and the Microbial-population available in the Compost you are using.
- Next considered is the type and amount of feedstock you will use for the Bacteria or Fungi you wish to breed. Start slow with small amounts. As you ad food into the mix the microbial community present will consume it and begin mitosis or multiplication.
- The aeration system attached to your brewer is most likely not adjustable, and if it is, its effectiveness is finite meaning there is a limit to the amount of oxygen you can dissolve into the water. It has more to do with the surface area of the water then the size of the pump you are using.
- Keeping the last two issues above in mind; when the microbial population begins to increase, so does their Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD). If they are given too much food too fast, they will over-amp on the sugars and aspirate much too fast. With only so much oxygen available in the water, and too many microbes breathing, the dissolved oxygen levels in the brew will drop. If it drops below 6 Parts per Million (ppm) then the microbes become Anaerobic. If that happens then they can transform into something you don’t want to use. This is the reason for the Timer/or Stop watch and the Dissolved Oxygen meter on your material list. Oxygen levels need to be checked every hour. If the level ever drops below 6 ppm, discard the brew, and start over adding less food into your recipe.
- Obviously detailed recordkeeping is necessary in order to find the product you want with the correct bacteria or fungal mix you desire for your specific project. It also tracks your mistakes so you don’t repeat them, and eventually you will find the recipe that works for you, and will be in a position to repeat it.
- Your best brew should be finished in around 24 hours. This time may even be as much as twice that if the temperatures are low. Microbes will breed best at warmer temperatures but we breed them according to the temperature they will realistically be used.
- The Tea is finished when the microbes are finished breeding. You can only know that by looking at them under the microscope. After 24 hours when the dissolved oxygen in the brewer returns to the starting level, you can begin testing under the microscope. This is where you need to know what you are looking at, what you are looking for, and how to document what you see in order to track your success. If you discover anaerobic bacteria in your brew at unsafe levels, then you will have to discard it. If you find no anaerobes, and your microbial population is done multiplying, then your tea is finished. You should be able to count thousands of bacteria of several types, several strands of aerobic fungi, a few bacterial feeding nematodes, very few ciliates, a varying colony of protozoa and amoebae, and a few flagellates.
- Counts are recorded as Biological Mass. If the Vermi-Cast or Compost Tea contains a higher Biological Mass of Bacteria over Fungi, then the tea is considered Bacterial Dominant, the reverse would be Fungal Dominant. Remember; they each have their own purpose.
- Cleaning is of the highest importance. After each batch you must clean every surface that came in contact with the tea, and is likely to come into contact with your next batch. Microbes have a protective coating of polysaccharides which also acts as a glue to hold them together and in place. This is the slimy feeling you find inside the brewer and all of its parts. If any of this “Bio-film” is left it can be detrimental to your next batch. This layer of bio-film or left over microbes is a dangerous mix of anaerobes. You don’t want them in there when you start feeding your next group of microbes because these anaerobes will multiply as well. They enjoy the same types of foods.
- I will stop here. As you can see; it’s not as easy as buying a brewer and throwing in some ingredients. You must have a basic knowledge of microbiology in order to safely produce the correct final product. You need to first begin with testing to determine what type of Microbial Population you wish to employ for your specific job, follow that with more concise testing and recordkeeping.
Contact me directly for more information if you still wish to tackle this on your own at: email@example.com
On a final note: I started with small goals in mind but found that the entire process makes no sense unless I am making large quantities. The cost is prohibitive and the time involved is much more than one would originally think. (As you may have noticed, the banner you clicked on to get to this page was a little sarcastic by claiming that “It’s Easy”, and can “SAVE $$$”, I apologize, that was my attempt at being funny).
XLNT3 Vermi-Labs, LLC. was created to make Consistent quality Vermi-Cast Teas in large amounts available to those eager to join the biological agriculture movement.
At XLNT3 Vermi-Labs, LLC we work with large and small growers to develop solutions to common problems usually controlled in harmful ways. Our knowledge base is growing and we invite you to take advantage of our services. We offer affordable consulting, crop and soil analysis, and finally, affordable biological solutions to your needs.