What’s the link between Excelsior wine, worms and the Mount Nelson Hotel?

Earthworms are the ‘new’ environmental engineers. Through their tea, these little miracle workers perform wonders on the soil. And Earthworm Tea isn’t just popular with far out tree huggers and biodynamic moon howlers. We’ve been using the brew at Excelsior, where the policy is to be as green as possible and limit the use of synthetic chemicals, and the results have been mighty impressive.

What exactly is Earthworm Tea? This delicious sounding brew fortunately isn’t actually made from squashed earthworms and tea. It’s made by steeping earthworm excrement (also known as castings) in liquid to make a product commonly known as Earthworm Tea. It doesn’t sound all that appealing but it has become hugely popular amongst both organic farmers and farmers, like us, who care about nurturing the soil.

So what’s it all about and how does Earthworm Tea work? In a nutshell, Earthworm Tea restores vital microbes to the soil. As much as 25 – 30 % of carbohydrates made by a plant are secreted from the plant roots into the soil through a discharge (called an exudate), on which microbes feed. We won’t agonize over the detail here but microbes aren’t all alike – suffice to say that it’s important to cultivate ‘beneficial’ microbes and to minimize others (pathogens). Fresh Earthworm Tea maintains high levels of the good kind of microbial activity which helps to suppress or remove pathogens and limit the damage caused by parasitic nematodes and aphids – all of which is excellent news for the vines!

Plants and ‘beneficial’ microbes have a symbiotic relationship – the microbes help to bind nitrogen, and dissolve phosphates and calcium to make them more readily available for plants. Normally these compounds break down rapidly in soil but they stick to the humic acid in Earthworm Tea and then it works like a slow-release capsule – doling out chemicals to the plants as they need it. In addition these lovely microbes produce natural growth hormones and plant stimulants. Studies in the US have shown that the end result can be up to a 50% improvement in plant growth and yields. Pretty miraculous stuff!

We hear so much about the negative impact of over using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides on the land and the knock on adverse effects they can have on the water system. Earthworm tea is a non chemical way of suppressing plant pathogens and pests, reducing the need for the application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and has little or no impact on water quality.

The other major perk is that composting using worms gets rid of organic waste which may otherwise end up in land fill. Even upmarket, eco-minded establishments like the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town are using earth worms to help minimize their impact on the environment. It seems we’re in good company.

Read more about Earthworm Tea

http://www.csrees.usda.gov/newsroom/impact/2009/sbir/08101_earthworm_tea.html

http://ezinearticles.com/?Vermiculture-Composting&id=4652831

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermicompost

Or contact Andrew Southey of Southey’s Earthworms Hermanus

028 316 4309 or southeys@i360.co.za

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