Using Putrid Worm Tea

Here is a question from Debra:

Good AFternoon,
I am relatively new to the vericomposting craft. I just love the
ideal of making use of all that we are blessed with. My Grandmother
used to tell me “waste not…want not”.
Anyway, I have a vericompost bin set up (approximately 5 months now).
I have been harvesting the liquid; keeping it in gallon jugs until
Spring. I live in the Pacific Northwest and we have some pretty
extreme temps during the winter. I’ve noticed a very strong smell
from the liquid with a thin film on top. I am assuming that this
indicates anarobic (the bad bacteria) growth. Can I use this liquid
with the bad smell; should I try to airate it with air stones before
use? I don’t want to harm any of my precious plants come spring time.
But I also do not want to discard something that I could make usable.
Thank you for your website and your words of wisdom. We, in the
field, appreciate all you do!

Hi Debra,
Interesting question. In all honesty, I definitely wouldn’t put worm bin leachate in bottles and just let it sit for months – the potential for it becoming a putrid mess is pretty high!
I hate to recommend getting rid of ANY potentially useful resource though (remember – even ‘wastes’ are just misplaced resources), so I certainly wouldn’t tell you to just chuck it.

Bare minimum, you really should dilute it and start aerating it well before trying to use it. Use your nose as a quality tester – as long as it has any bad odor you definitely don’t want to use it. Even once it is fairly odorless, I’d still recommend using it with caution – maybe pour some in an area of your garden you aren’t all that concerned about. Or simply pour it on some weeds – who knows, maybe you’ve invented the ultimate weed killer and don’t even know it! (just for fun, maybe you could try out the pure, unaerated stuff and see what happens)

Once it looks as though it’s not going to harm your plants, you can probably get a little more bold with your use of it.

Hope this helps!

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    • Kim from Milwaukee
    • February 25, 2009

    My sister used some of my first worm tea, which really stunk (I didn’t know that it shouldn’t!). She said the smell goes away pretty quickly, and her plants love it!

    I diluted it down alot, though. Maybe that helped.

    • Bentley
    • February 28, 2009

    Hi Kim,
    Dilution definitely helps (makes it more aerobic and reduces concentration of any potentially bad stuff).
    Stink doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to harm the plants, but there certainly is a greater likelihood than if it doesn’t stink.

    • Jessica
    • April 2, 2010

    I have a flow through bin. The active trays have a wonderful earthy smell. However, the harvested tea is definitely smelly. I understand from this post that I should handle this with care, i.e. dilute and aerate before adding to plants. But, what about using the tea to prepare a bed? We won’t be planting outdoors for another 6 weeks or so. Do you think it would still be a problem for the roots? Also, just because the tea has gone “bad” does that mean it’s no longer nutrient-rich? Or rather that it just has some additional “bad” stuff too (i.e. alcohol)? Thanks.

  1. Hi there,
    I make apox. 46 galons a week yes it does smell.With that being said it does not harm your plant and yes the smell does go away very quickly in less than about 1 min there won’t be a smell after you put iit on your plants. You can keep it cold and the smell will not be bad at all.

    • Rich
    • August 27, 2011

    Is it best to use Leachate in the soil and at the base of plants, or should you spray it onto the leaves or both?

    • Nikki
    • June 13, 2012

    I heard that if the worm tea stinks then it has parasites in it and you can’t use it. Is this true?

    • Cheryl McKenzie
    • July 13, 2012

    I’ve just begun to have the odor problem. I think it’s the heat. Here’s what I found on anothe site.

    “Leachate usually smells because it doesn’t contain much oxygen and therefore anaerobic decomposition is going on. One of the by-products of anaerobic decomposition is ammonia, which is one of the things that gives leachate that bad smell. Some people suggest throwing out leachate; I spoke to a retired soil scientist about it (happens to be my father) and he suggested that leachate should contain good nutrients for plants but that it should be mixed at least 50-50 with water to dilute the ammonia which can harm plants if it is too concentrated.

    It is also recommended that worm tea or leachate not be used on the parts of any plant that you will be eating in the near future as both worm tea and leachate can harbor harmful bacteria.”

  2. So u r saying your edible fruits and veg, peppers cannot have the tea or don’t actually spray it on the plant when u say (parts or the plants). I’ve had two pepper plants and both have died diluted the water and just pour it in at the soil and all I used was the compost soil but now I mixed it was just plan soil from wal mart. I used my first worm tea on my parents place and the have exploded they look awesom but no edible plants and lik I said I’ve have two pepper plants die and also I diluted the water at my parents house. What do y’all think its going on? And if I get it right how much could u sell a gallon of worm tea and how much for the compose soil

    • dave
    • May 12, 2015

    I have been raising red worms since I was eleven years old, 44 now.
    I make Worm Tea in 55 gallon batches.
    1 horse aerator and a 1/4 horse water pump ( To Mix while aerating )
    using Molasses as the starter I mix for 24 hours…..
    I clean old 1 gallon glass wine bottles to fill with worm tea.
    The bottles are relatively new as packaging so I’m not sure if a complaint is valid or not.
    Someone said they placed the bottle in direct sunlight and forgot about it.
    Some time later the bottle exploded with enough force to actually imbed glass into a tree.
    Is this actually even possible ?
    The only thing I can figure (If it even happened) is simply a build up of steam…. Thanks for any help if anyone has ever seen or even heard of Worm Tea exploding :/

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