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Backyard brew


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POSTED: Monday, March 23, 2009

Pulling into the dirt parking lot at Olomana Gardens in Waimanalo, visitors find nothing unusual until they learn the pile of fertilizer they parked next to is actually earthworm droppings.

Then owner Glenn Martinez explains that the horse stable on the other side of the lot is part of an innovative chain of green farming that uses worms, chickens, horses and fish to grow organic produce.

Olomana Gardens is a demonstration farm for modern, sustainable food growing systems, according to its Web site.

At a workshop yesterday sponsored by the University of Hawaii Outreach College, Martinez demonstarted how to make worm-cast tea, a concoction full of minerals and nutrients for plants. Worm poop tea as fertilizer is just one of the innovations in the quest for the perfect vegetable at Olomana.

About 25 people, including gardening hobbyists and college students, were in attendance.

One of the attendees, Gabrielle Serna, said she wanted to pick up some lessons and share them with co-workers who also garden.

She wants to try worm composting because she believes it will be the least offensive way, for her neighbors, of composting.

Serna has a 50-square-foot plot where she grows lettuce, herbs, tomatoes and other vegetables.

She likes the idea of compost tea because it is an organic way of adding fertilizer, but conceded that it could take a lot of time.

“;I feel like I want the food to taste better,”; she said.

She used a water bottle to take home a sample of the tea that Martinez made.

Martinez said the worm tea is nutritious because worms take the compost to the next level, turning waste into fertilizer that is pathogen-free.

Martinez, who speaks continuously and often references gardening books he has read, also explained how to make a tea brewer with a 5-gallon bucket, a fish pump, an aerator and a sieve. The entire ensemble costs about $250, compared with a manufactured one for about $500.

That might sound expensive, but compost tea can be sold for about $7 a gallon, he said.

The benefit of the tea is that it has the same nutrients of the compost, but in a more convenient and usable spray form.

The tea will seep into the ground, bringing the nutrients from the worm waste, or vermicast, making roots of the plants grow deeper. That helps stabilize plants and makes them more drought-resistant.

To demonstrate the effect of vermicast, Martinez showed a papaya tree on his property that is about 2 feet thick and with six branches of papayas.

Martinez brews the tea by placing a gallon of vermicast into a sieve that is placed in 10 gallons of water. The tea maker creates vigorous bubbles that move the water around the vermicast. In 12 to 24 hours, the tea is ready to be sprayed onto the soil and plants.

Quinn McCarty, who grows bamboo for eating, timber and ornaments, said he is looking for something that will help replace micronutrients in his plants, and thinks the worm tea will help.

“;It's all fascinating,”; he said. “;In 50 years of agriculture, we've destroyed the topsoil. I think so many of our techniques are outmoded. (Worm cast tea) is part of a new arsenal of techniques that should be incorporated in growing things.”;