A great tutorial on molasses: vermicompost tea

A great tutorial on molasses: in vermicompost tea

Taken from an online forum on compost tea and the issue was to use or not use molasses? then one wise bunny jumped in with a good tutorial so I copied it all up for this article to save!


vermicompost tea

Posted by gmw1 9 (My Page) on

Thu, Jun 10, 10 at 19:16
equipment needed is an airstone with a motor, I presume, a bucket with a lid, and vermicompost and water, plus some molasses. Is there anything else I need to make this? I am ready to harvest the compost, but can’t remember the equipment necessary..to “cook” it up, I place the airstone in the bucket, plus vermicompost in a muslin bag, molasses, and water, and allow to percolate all night, right?


Follow-Up Postings:


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by pjames 8/LA (My Page) on
    Thu, Jun 10, 10 at 20:23
I don’t do it that way. I drop 2 cup of castings into the 5 gallon bucket of water and aerate. No molasses or sugar. I find that the castings stir around and I get a very strong tea after a day or so.. It does require filtering however. I have tried coffee filters but actually the best is the foot of pantihose. I think it might be a knee high.. but it stretches over a funnel and I simple pour a little tea at a time into it.I use a pump-up sprayer and use the tea straight. The dregs at the bottom is usually good for another batch with the addition of another cup of castings. If anything else is added to my mix it might be a little urine as a direct nitrogen source. I will certainly add some when I don’t use the tea within 48 hours.


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by equinoxequinox (My Page) on
    Fri, Jun 11, 10 at 0:54
Although I have never made vermicompost tea I am obviously an expert in my own mind.motor = pump. Usually an aquarium air pump, a tiny square box.

The pump should be new. Old used aquarium air pumps usually have old, smelly, used diaphrams that are cracked and thus will not pump air. You should be able to feel a good whistle of air from the pump and see some good bubbles from the stone.

an airstone – for a 5 gallon bucket you might want 4 large airstones. A single small airstone might be right for a gallon container.

with a lid – no idea what the lid would be for unless it spaces out the airline… what is used to get the air from the pump to the stone… around the bucket or the bucket is being driven to a location during brewing. Maybe it is a shelf for the air pump? You are using a recently tested ground faulted circuit to plug this into right?

You might want to try a one galloner. Put the airline down the handle of a milk jug. A smaller pump (thus -$$$) will be needed. And how much did you need to spray? Just make it on consecutive days. A gallon should be enough for a household if you start making your next batch.

Like pjames said, No molasses or sugar. which may encourage the bad wee beasties. Others may have different opinions. That is ok. I’ll let you know when having a different opinion than me is not ok.:-)

Is there anything else I need to make this? How are you going to spray it? Try a big nozzle. Try the gentlest of sprays so as not to hurt the good guys. Try before? after? a misty rain. Maybe not on a dry day. Even a squirt gun should work. Super soaker!!!!

Can you feel the wee beasties and think about what they might be doing to help the garden? Just buying and spraying does not work. Understanding the process does.

muslin bag – I do not think it needs to be muslin. An old sock or no bag should work fine.

God loves knee highs.

The straining is so it will not clog up the sprayer nozzle.

Some people spend $$$ on equipment to brew maybe not as good stuff as pjames does. ie the Martha.

percolate all night – that or I hear 24 hours. Maybe all night during a heatwave.

“If anything else is added to my mix it might be a little urine as a direct nitrogen source.” pjames you so need to meet some biochar. It would so appreciate your efforts. Modern societie’s use of 5 gallons of drinking water to “dispose of” a few drops of what could be agriculture enriching sterile urine is insane and criminal. We flush the resource to pollute the rivers and ocean with one hand and purchase the resource in bags for a greener lawn with other hand.

So gmw1, Whatca spraying? Roses? Onions? Fruit trees?



RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by randomz (My Page) on
    Fri, Jun 11, 10 at 4:02
I tend to use my tea as a drench, so I don’t need to be fussy about filtering.I use 9 litre buckets as they are easier to handle.
Aquarium pump – mine has 2 nozzles.
I have 2 flexible 24″ air “stone” tubes that I curve around the bottom of each bucket. I then bubble the water for a few hours to evaporate off any chlorine.

Add 1-2 cups of castings and let bubble for a day, stirring occasionally.

I then add a small amount of molasses and let it bubble for another day or two – still stirring occasionally.

I then use a water can without a shower head to pour it over plants and onto the soil.

I just found trying to filter it well enough to use a sprayer to be too much hassle.


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by mendopete (My Page) on
    Fri, Jun 11, 10 at 10:16
I strain through a 5 gallon nylon paint strainer bag that sits nicely in a bucket. It is cheap and reuseable. Put the strainings back in the bin and watch the worms have a party! I apply with a watering can. I also add kelp and bio-char.


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by jim08204 (My Page) on
    Sat, Jun 12, 10 at 9:32
I’m a little confused here. Some don’t use molasses and some do. I thought it was necessary to feed the tea? I have made about 4-5 batches so far and spray it on plants, flowers and vegies. Is it just a personal choice or can I be doing any harm? Thanks- Jim


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by steamyb 7 (My Page) on
    Sat, Jun 12, 10 at 10:07
If you have made and used 4-5 batches, you probably have more experience than anyone on this forum.
So how’s your garden growing?


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by pjames 8/LA (My Page) on
    Sat, Jun 12, 10 at 10:21
Jim, here is my logic for NOT using molasses other than the expense no matter how little..What kind of microbes do we hope to generate in our composting/worm bins? —Types that have the enzymes to consume cellulose and convert it. This is lacking in alot of microbes. In our own gut (humans) we use bacteria to also break down some cellulose and macrostarches…we get the benefit of some of our vitamins this way. And some other byproducts- gas from beans, cabbage etc..

It is one of the reasons there is research to develop one that can convert grasses sugars to ethanol. Remember Bush’s speech on using wild grass as a source for conversion to fuel? Yeasts etc consume simple sugars and convert to ethanol but they can’t do this with cellulose.

There are pathogens can use simple sugars so if they happen to be present, you might be increasing their numbers. This idea is also the opinion of Clive Edwards at Ohio State who recommends against the use of sugar.

Now I add a little urine to my compost tea. Urine is for the most part sterile unless you happen to have something. It is a good direct nitrogen source, a ‘green’ in composting. Nitrogen is a building block for the amino acids the microbes need. Whether they really need an additional source or not is another issue, but urine is free.

The way I see my casting tea bucket is as a very wet composting system designed to generate and support unnaturally high numbers of microbes. Plus it dissolves the other enzymes, hormones, etc into an aqueous solution for easy dispersion…

Anyway, that’s my general logic at this point, right or wrong and I’m sticking to it…LOL At least until something better comes along.


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by steamyb 7 (My Page) on
    Sat, Jun 12, 10 at 13:41
I wonder if Bush remembers Bush’s speech?
I wonder if Bush remembers?
I wonder if?


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by jim08204 (My Page) on
    Sat, Jun 12, 10 at 18:35
Pjames- Your logic makes sense and I will look up Edwards and his theory. Besides using the tea in my garden, I pour it back into the bins to help innocculate the bedding. I don’t mind experimenting but my issue is that I would like to turn this into a small business and I would like my tea to work for all who try it and of course work well, so that is my dilemna. – Jim


  • Posted by equinoxequinox (My Page) on
    Sat, Jun 12, 10 at 18:46
The dilemna I see is packaging the product, a living substance that needs constant oxygen.


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by jim08204 (My Page) on
    Sat, Jun 12, 10 at 19:57
equinox- I am planning on local sales mostly, so the tea would be capped for a short period of time, hopefully. At this point, it’s just an idea on a napkin. – Jim


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by pjames 8/LA (My Page) on
    Sat, Jun 12, 10 at 23:13
Here are a couple of the studies from Edwards on his aerated tea studies that I referred to in my earlier post.http://www.wormdigest.org/content/view/311/2/


One thing that caught eye was the fairly large amounts of castings used for the humic acids and growth hormones. It seems the microbial effect is seen at very low concentrations of castings in water.

My own formula has been only 2 to 3 cups of castings in about 5 gallons of water. This has been giving me a very dark solution, so I thought I was doing well. I might rethink my concentration for the growing season. It would also mean I need to step up production and harvesting of castings.


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by gmw1 (My Page) on
    Sun, Jun 13, 10 at 14:53
thanks for all the feedback. For some reason my computer would not let me see this thread until today. I actually logged in in order to repeat the question.
I am going to use the tea on veggies, mostly, in pots and on my terrace, they need feeding and watering, and wanted to give them that something extra.
(I just moved, and so did they.)
You all have given me a bunch to think over, though. I had, at one point, simply considered scattering castings over the soil in the pots and then watering, but decided the tea might actually go over better.thanks everyone!


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by gmw1 (My Page) on
    Sun, Jun 13, 10 at 18:14
I have been reviewing all the information people were kind enough to send me, and it appears that molasses or sugar should NOT be used for all sorts of healthy reasons.
The url to the pdf file actually includes three papers, including the first one mentioned.
http://growingsolutions.com/shop/images/bc0711_51.pdfand I reviewed them all. Interesting papers, I must admit. So~ aeration seems to do the trick, and one should keep the ratio of about 1/8 compost to water, which I thought pretty interesting. The range from five to ten percent seems to cover the gamut of tomatoes to cucumbers.

So, now have to figure out the actual amounts of water and compost, harvest the compost, and get my air stone and motor. Hmm.



RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by gardenfanatic MO zone5b (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 14, 10 at 22:52
Jim, you didn’t mention what, if any, effect it’s had on your garden.Deanna


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by randomz (My Page) on
    Tue, Jun 15, 10 at 1:24
I have read plenty about molasses being good for the garden, so I am now planning to add molasses just before sprinkling on to the garden.However, there is also good evidence that adding sugars can be beneficial to teas.



RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by jim08204 (My Page) on
    Tue, Jun 15, 10 at 10:39
Deanna- Although I have nothing to compare it to….the garden is doing very well. I harvest lettuce every week and all the flowers seem healthy. – Jim


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by mendopete (My Page) on
    Tue, Jun 15, 10 at 10:43
I have about 10 gallons of kelp that I cut-up 4 months ago and put in a tote. It has gone very anaerobic (it smells really bad) and has liquified. Does anyone know if it is ok to add some to my tea brew?


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by pjames 8/LA (My Page) on
    Tue, Jun 15, 10 at 13:17
I do not think I would risk it.


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by equinoxequinox (My Page) on
    Tue, Jun 15, 10 at 14:36
I would add cardboard or bedding as you have it by the tons, a bit of vermicompost, and not smell it for a long while. But then again that is my solution for everything.


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by pjames 8/LA (My Page) on
    Tue, Jun 15, 10 at 19:08
Randomz: I don’t know if you have ever heard of Jerry Baker. He had a radio gardening show10 to 15 years agoa and has written several books using homemade “tonics”. Alot of his tonics started out with “a can of beer and can of coke, a cup of ammonia etc…” I used to laugh at the beer and coke thinking I’d rather drink the beer. But there was something there.


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by equinoxequinox (My Page) on
    Tue, Jun 15, 10 at 23:10
He probably used real beer with live yeast not today’s popular equestrian urine lite.


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by kmrayburn (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 21, 10 at 6:04
Regarding Molasses (or brown sugar), you should add some to your tea as it has been proven to increase the amount of micro organisms in your vermicompost tea.As for the pathogen dangers some others have spoken of, if you actually read Dr. Edwards research paper on the subject, you see he says that the molasses will increase not only the good micro organisms, but the any bad pathogens as well. However, he says that the pathogens are only found in vermicomposts that involve manures, and if you let worms process the manure for at least 50 days, there should not be any pathogens.

So if you want to get the most out of your tea, add some simple sugars while brewing. If you use a manure in your vermicomposting, just make sure to let the worms have at it for at least 50 days, and you should have pathogen free vermicompost.

Dr. Edward’s article in question can be found at:


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by pjames 8/LA (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 21, 10 at 17:41
My problem is that I can NOT say for sure that I have not added anything within the past 50 days that I can guraantee is pathogen free. I often put a little compost from my outside bins into my worm bin. Some of that may have been contaminated to some degree… even though I also hot compost.I do spray my tea on food crops, so I figure I will be careful and omit the glucose component. Now saying that, I will add urine to my tea since that is fairly clean (I’m pretty sure I do not have a UTI) and I want the extra nitrogen content in my tea. Actually after brewing my tea for between 24 and 48 hours it isn;t that easy to smell the urine. I even had my 11 year old nephew do the sniff test. I did not tell him I put urine in it. I just asked him if it smelled like worm poop. His moment was ‘it doesn’t smell like much of anything..”


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by jim08204 (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 21, 10 at 19:39
I use composted cow manure in my bins and I know it hasn’t been 50 days. I’m brewing a batch of tea now, so I guess I will skip the molasses? Who knew tea could be so confusing??? – Jim


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by protea_king 10 (treeboy2001@hotmail.com) on
    Mon, Jun 28, 10 at 19:03
Hi. I haven’t used any molasses yet, in fact I haven’t even made any worm tea yet as I still need to buy a pump from an aquarist shop, but I intend to use it after everything I’ve read. Sounds like good stuff.
Here is some useful info on molasses for anyone wanting to know more:The 3LB’s Molasses Manual – a growers guide to soil sweeteners

This is the second in our series of threads on organic gardening techniques and tools started with the Guano Guide / Manure Manual. That particular guide was designed to be a fairly comprehensive look at the uses of poop in gardening. While we tried to keep that topic (and our puns) tasteful – there’s no avoiding the fact it’s not exactly an appetizing subject (unless you happen to be a plant!)

Like manure, this subject is another one of those “magical” organic goodies that contributes to plant health in more than one way. It’s also like manure in that it’s a waste or by-product, but when we think about it, this topic really is the “other end of the stick”!

Now it’s time to move on to a much much sweeter topic . . . Molasses . . .

like the boy’s on South Park are sometimes known for saying – “That’s what I call a sticky situation!”

Sweet Goodness – Magical Molasses
There are a number of different nutrient and fertilizer companies selling a variety of additives billed as carbohydrate booster products for plants. Usually retailing for tens of dollars per gallon if not tens of dollars per liter, these products usually claim to work as a carbohydrate source for plants. A variety of benefits are supposed to be unlocked by the use of these products, including the relief of plant stresses and increases in the rate of nutrient uptake. On the surface it sounds real good, and while these kinds of products almost always base their claims in enough science to sound good, reality doesn’t always live up to the hype.

The 3LB are pretty well known for our distrust of nutrient companies like Advanced Nutrients who produce large lines of products (usually with large accompanying price tags) claiming to be a series of “magic bullets” – unlocking the keys to growing success for new and experienced growers alike. One member of the three_little_birds grower’s and breeder’s collective decided to sample one of these products a while back, intending to give the product a fair trial and then report on the results to the community at Cannabis World.

Imagine, if you will, Tweetie bird flying off to the local hydroponics store, purchasing a bottle of the wonder product – “Super Plant Carb!” (not it’s real name) – and then dragging it back to the bird’s nest. With a sense of expectation our lil’ bird opens the lid, hoping to take a peek and a whiff of this new (and expensive) goodie for our wonderful plants. She is greeted with a familiar sweet smell that it takes a moment to place. Then the realization hits her. . .

Molasses! The “Super Plant Carb!” smells just like Blackstrap Molasses. At the thought that she’s just paid something like $15 for a liter of molasses, our Tweetie bird scowls. Surely she tells herself there must be more to this product than just molasses. So she dips a wing into the sweet juice ever so slightly, and brings it up to have a taste.

Much the same way a sneaky Sylvester cat is exposed by a little yellow bird saying – “I thought I saw a puddy tat . . . I did I did see a puddy tat . . . and he’s standing right there!” – our Tweetie bird had discovered the essence of this product. It was indeed nothing more than Blackstrap Molasses, a quick taste had conformed for our Tweetie bird that she had wasted her time and effort lugging home a very expensive bottle of plant food additive. Molasses is something we already use for gardening at the Bird’s Nest. In fact sweeteners like molasses have long been a part of the arsenal of common products used by organic gardeners to bring greater health to their soils and plants.

So please listen to the little yellow bird when she chirps, because our Tweetie bird knows her stuff. The fertilizer companies are like the bumbling Sylvester in many ways, but rather than picturing themselves stuffed with a little bird, they see themselves growing fat with huge profits from the wallets of unsuspecting consumers. Let us assure you it’s not the vision of yellow feathers floating in front of their stuffed mouths that led these executives in their attempt to “pounce” on the plant growing public.

And the repackaging of molasses as plant food or plant additive is not just limited to the companies selling their products in hydroponic stores. Folks shopping at places like Wal-Mart are just as likely to be taken in by this tactic. In this particular case the offending party is Schultz® Garden Safe All Purpose Liquid Plant Food 3-1-5. This is a relatively inexpensive product that seems appealing to a variety of organic gardeners. Here’s Shultz own description of their product.

“Garden Safe Liquid Plant Foods are made from plants in a patented technology that provides plants with essential nutrients for beautiful flowers and foliage and no offensive smell. Plus they improve soils by enhancing natural microbial activity. Great for all vegetables, herbs, flowers, trees, shrubs and houseplants including roses, tomatoes, fruits, and lawns. Derived from completely natural ingredients, Garden Safe All Purpose Liquid Plant Food feeds plants and invigorates soil microbial activity. Made from sugar beet roots! No offensive manure or fish odors.”

That sure sounds good, and the three_little_birds will even go as far as to say we agree 100% with all the claims made in that little blurb of ad copy. But here’s the problem, Shultz isn’t exactly telling the public that the bottle of “fertilizer” they are buying is nothing more than a waste product derived from the production of sugar. In fact, Schultz® Garden Safe 3-1-5 Liquid Plant Food is really and truly nothing more than a form molasses derived from sugar beet processing that is usually used as an animal feed sweetener. If you don’t believe a band of birds, go ahead and look for yourself at the fine print on a Garden Safe bottle where it says – “Contains 3.0% Water Soluble Nitrogen, 1.0% Available Phosphate, 5.0% Soluble Potash – derived from molasses.”

The only problem we see, is that animal feed additives shouldn’t be retailing for $7.95 a quart, and that’s the price Shultz is charging for it’s Garden Safe product. While we don’t find that quite as offensive as Advanced Nutrients selling their “CarboLoad” product for $14.00 a liter, we still know that it’s terribly overpriced for sugar processing wastes. So, just as our band of birds gave the scoop on poop in our Guano Guide, we’re now about to give folks the sweet truth about molasses.

What Is The Story Behind This Sweet Sticky Garden Goodness?
Molasses is a syrupy, thick juice created by the processing of either sugar beets or the sugar cane plant. Depending on the definition used, Sweet Sorghum also qualifies as a molasses, although technically it’s a thickened syrup more akin to Maple Syrup than to molasses. The grade and type of molasses depends on the maturity of the sugar cane or beet and the method of extraction. The different molasses’ have names like: first molasses, second molasses, unsulphured molasses, sulphured molasses, and blackstrap molasses. For gardeners the sweet syrup can work as a carbohydrate source to feed and stimulate microorganisms. And, because molasses (average NPK 1-0-5) contains potash, sulfur, and many trace minerals, it can serve as a nutritious soil amendment. Molasses is also an excellent chelating agent.

Several grades and types of molasses are produced by sugar cane processing. First the plants are harvested and stripped of their leaves, and then the sugar cane is usually crushed or mashed to extract it’s sugary juice. Sugar manufacturing begins by boiling cane juice until it reaches the proper consistency, it is then processed to extract sugar. This first boiling and processing produces what is called first molasses, this has the highest sugar content of the molasses because relatively little sugar has been extracted from the juice. Green (unripe) sugar cane that has been treated with sulphur fumes during sugar extraction produces sulphured molasses. The juice of sun-ripened cane which has been clarified and concentrated produces unsulphured molasses. Another boiling and sugar extraction produces second molasses which has a slight bitter tinge to its taste.

Further rounds of processing and boiling yield dark colored blackstrap molasses, which is the most nutritionally valuable of the various types of molasses. It is commonly used as a sweetner in the manufacture of cattle and other animal feeds, and is even sold as a human health supplement. Any kind of molasses will work to provide benefit for soil and growing plants, but blackstrap molasses is the best choice because it contains the greatest concentration of sulfur, iron and micronutrients from the original cane material. Dry molasses is something different still. It’s not exactly just dried molasses either, it’s molasses sprayed on grain residue which acts as a “carrier”.

Molasses production is a bit different when it comes to the sugar beet. You might say “bird’s know beets” because one of our flock grew up near Canada’s “sugar beet capitol” in Alberta. Their family worked side by side with migrant workers tending the beet fields. The work consisted of weeding and thinning by hand, culling the thinner and weaker plants to leave behind the best beets. After the growing season and several hard frosts – which increase the sugar content – the beets are harvested by machines, piled on trucks and delivered to their destination.

At harvest time, a huge pile of beets will begin to build up outside of the sugar factory that will eventually dwarf the factory itself in size. Gradually throughout the winter the pile will diminish as the whole beets are ground into a mash and then cooked. The cooking serves to reduce and clarify the beet mash, releasing huge columns of stinky (but harmless) beet steam into the air. Sometimes, if the air is cold enough, the steam will fall to the ground around the factory as snow!

As we’ve already learned, in the of sugar cane the consecutive rounds of sugar manufacturing produce first molasses and second molasses. With the humble sugar beet, the intermediate syrups get names like high green and low green, it’s only the syrup left after the final stage of sugar extraction that is called molasses. After final processing, the leftover sugar beet mash is dried then combined with the thick black colored molasses to serve as fodder for cattle. Sugar beet molasses is also used to sweeten feed for horses, sheep, chickens, etc.

Sugar beet molasses is only considered useful as an animal feed additive because it has fairly high concentrations of many salts including calcium, potassium, oxalate, and chloride. Despite the fact that it’s not suitable for human consumption and some consider it to be an industrial waste or industrial by-product, molasses produced from sugar beets makes a wonderful plant fertilizer. While humans may reject beet molasses due to the various “extras” the sugar beet brings to the table, to our plant’s it’s a different story. Sugar beet molasses is usually fairly chemical free as well, at least in our experience. Although farmers generally fertilize their fields in the spring using the various arrays of available fertilizers, weed chemicals (herbicides) are not used for this crop due to the beet plant’s relatively delicate nature.

There is at least one other type of “molasses” we are aware of, and that would be sorghum molasses. It’s made from a plant known as sweet sorghum or sorghum cane in treatments somewhat similar to sugar beets and/or sugar cane processing. If our understanding is correct, sorghum molasses is more correctly called a thickened syrup rather than a by-product of sugar production. So in our eyes sorghum molasses is probably more like Maple Syrup than a true molasses.

In the distant past sorghum syrup was a common locally produced sweetener in many areas, but today it is fairly rare speciality product that could get fairly pricey compared to Molasses. Because sorghum molasses is the final product of sweet sorghum processing, and blackstrap and sugar beet molasses are simply waste by-products of sugar manufacturing, it’s pretty easy to understand the difference in expense between the products. The word from the birds is – there isn’t any apparent advantage to justify the extra expense of using sorghum molasses as a substitute for blackstrap or sugar beet molasses in the garden. So if you find sorghum molasses, instead of using it in your garden, you’ll probably want to use it as an alternate sweetener on some biscuits.

That’s a quick bird’s eye look at the differences between the various types and grades of molasses and how they are produced. Now it’s time to get a peek at the why’s and how’s of using molasses in gardening.
Why Molasses?
The reason nutrient manufacturer’s have “discovered” molasses is the simple fact that it’s a great source of carbohydrates to stimulate the growth of beneficial microorganisms. “Carbohydrate” is really just a fancy word for sugar, and molasses is the best sugar for horticultural use. Folks who have read some of our prior essays know that we are big fans of promoting and nourishing soil life, and that we attribute a good portion of our growing success to the attention we pay to building a thriving “micro-herd” to work in concert with plant roots to digest and assimilate nutrients. We really do buy into the old organic gardening adage – “Feed the soil not the plant.”

Molasses is a good, quick source of energy for the various forms of microbes and soil life in a compost pile or good living soil. As we said earlier, molasses is a carbon source that feeds the beneficial microbes that create greater natural soil fertility. But, if giving a sugar boost was the only goal, there would be lot’s of alternatives. We could even go with the old Milly Blunt story of using Coke on plants as a child, after all Coke would be a great source of sugar to feed microbes and it also contains phosphoric acid to provide phosphorus for strengthening roots and encouraging blooming. In our eyes though, the primary thing that makes molasses the best sugar for agricultural use is it’s trace minerals.

In addition to sugars, molasses contains significant amounts of potash, sulfur, and a variety of micronutrients. Because molasses is derived from plants, and because the manufacturing processes that create it remove mostly sugars, the majority of the mineral nutrients that were contained in the original sugar cane or sugar beet are still present in molasses. This is a critical factor because a balanced supply of mineral nutrients is essential for those “beneficial beasties” to survive and thrive. That’s one of the secrets we’ve discovered to really successful organic gardening, the micronutrients found in organic amendments like molasses, kelp, and alfalfa were all derived from other plant sources and are quickly and easily available to our soil and plants. This is especially important for the soil “micro-herd” of critters who depend on tiny amounts of those trace minerals as catalysts to make the enzymes that create biochemical transformations. That last sentence was our fancy way of saying – it’s actually the critters in “live soil” that break down organic fertilizers and “feed” it to our plants.

One final benefit molasses can provide to your garden is it’s ability to work as a chelating agent. That’s a scientific way of saying that molasses is one of those “magical” substances that can convert some chemical nutrients into a form that’s easily available for critters and plants. Chelated minerals can be absorbed directly and remain available and stable in the soil. Rather than spend a lot of time and effort explaining the relationships between chelates and micronutrients, we are going to quote one of our favorite sources for explaining soil for scientific laymen.

“Micronutrients occur, in cells as well as in soil, as part of large, complex organic molecules in chelated form. The word chelate (pronounced “KEE-late”) comes from the Greek word for “claw,” which indicates how a single nutrient ion is held in the center of the larger molecule. The finely balanced interactions between micronutrients are complex and not fully understood. We do know that balance is crucial; any micronutrient, when present in excessive amounts, will become a poison, and certain poisonous elements, such as chlorine are also essential micronutrients.

For this reason natural, organic sources of micronutrients are the best means of supplying them to the soil; they are present in balanced quantities and not liable to be over applied through error or ignorance. When used in naturally chelated form, excess micronutrients will be locked up and prevented from disrupting soil balance.”
Excerpted from “The Soul of Soil”
by Grace Gershuny and Joe Smillie

That’s not advertising hype either, no product being sold there. That’s just the words of a pair of authors who have spent their lives studying, building, and nurturing soils.

Molasses’ ability to act as a chelate explains it’s presence in organic stimulant products like Earth Juice Catalyst. Chelates are known for their ability to unlock the potential of fertilizers, and some smart biological farmers we know are using chelating agents (like Humic Acid) to allow them to make dramatic cuts in normal levels of fertilizer application.

One way to observe this reaction at work would be to mix up a solution of one part molasses to nine parts water and then soak an object which is coated with iron rust (like a simple nail for instance) in that solution for two weeks. The chelating action of the molasses will remove the mineral elements of the rust and hold them in that “claw shaped” molecule that Grace and Joe just described.

As we’ve commented on elsewhere, it’s not always possible to find good information about the fertilizer benefits of some products that aren’t necessarily produced as plant food. But we’ve also found that by taking a careful look at nutritional information provided for products like molasses that can be consumed by humans, we can get a pretty decent look at the nutrition we can expect a plant to get as well.

There are many brand’s of molasses available, so please do not look at our use of a particular brand as an endorsement, our choice of Brer Rabbit molasses as an example is simply due to our familiarity with the product, one of our Grandmother’s preferred this brand.

Brer Rabbit Blackstrap Molasses
Nutritional Information and Nutrition Facts: Serving Size: 1Tbsp. (21g). Servings per Container: About 24. Amount Per Serving: Calories – 60;
Percentage Daily Values; Fat – 0g, 0%; Sodium – 65mg. 3%; Potassium – 800 mg. 23%; Total Carbohydrates – 13g, 4%; Sugars – 12g, Protein – 1g, Calcium – 2%; Iron 10%; Magnesium 15%; Not a significant source of calories from fat, sat. fat, cholesterol, fiber, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C.

The How’s of Molasses
Undoubtedly some folks are to the point where they are ready for our flock to “cut to the chase.” All the background about molasses making and the various kinds of molasses is good, and knowing how molasses works as a fertilizer is great too, but by now many of you may be thinking – isn’t it about time to learn how to actually use this wonder product?! So this section of the “Molasses Manual” is for our birdie buds who are ready, waiting, and wanting to get going with bringing the sticky goodness of molasses into their garden.

Molasses is a fairly versatile product, it can serve as a plant food as well as a an additive to improve a fertilizer mix or tea. Dry molasses can be used as an ingredient in a fertilizer mix, and liquid molasses can be used alone or as a component in both sprays and soil drenches. Your personal preferences and growing style will help to decide how to best use this natural sweetener for it’s greatest effect in your garden.

We will try and address the use of dry molasses first, although we will openly admit this is an area where we have little actual experience with gardening use. We’ve certainly mixed dry molasses into animal feed before, so we’re not totally unfamiliar with it’s use. Folks may remember from our earlier description of the various kinds of molasses that dry molasses is actually a ground grain waste “carrier” which has been coated with molasses. This gives dry molasses a semi-granular texture that can be mixed into a feed mix (for animals) or a soil mix (for our favorite herbs). Dry molasses has a consistency that was described by one bird as similar to mouse droppings or rat turds, (folks had to know we’d fit a manure reference in here somehow).

The best use we can envision for dry molasses in the herb garden is to include it in some sort of modified “super-soil” recipe, like Vic High originally popularized for the cannabis community. As we admitted, the use of dry molasses in soil mixes isn’t something we have personal experience with, at least not yet. We are planning some experiments to see how a bit of dry molasses will work in a soil mix. We believe that moderate use should help stimulate micro-organisms and also help in chelating micronutrients and holding them available for our herbs. The plan is to begin testing with one cup of dried molasses added per 10 gallons of soil mix and then let our observations guide the efforts from there.

Another option for molasses use in the garden is it’s use alone as a fertilizer. The Schultz Garden Safe Liquid Plant Food is a perfect example of the direct application of molasses as a plant food. Garden Safe products are available from a variety of sources, including Wal-Mart. Although we consider them overpriced for a sugar beet by-product, Garden Safe products are fairly cost effective, especially compared to fertilizers obtained from a hydroponics or garden store, and they can serve as a good introduction to molasses for the urban herb gardener.

Here are the basic instructions a gardener would find on the side of a bottle of this sugar beet by-product – Mix Garden Safe Liquid All Purpose Plant Food in water. Water plants thoroughly with solution once every 7-14 days in spring and summer, every 14-30 days in fall and winter. Indoors, use 1/2 teaspoon per quart (1 teaspoon per gallon); outdoors, 1 teaspoon per quart (4 teaspoons per gallon). 32 fluid ounces (946ml). Contains 3.0% Water Soluble Nitrogen, 1.0% Available Phosphate, 5.0% Soluble Potash derived from molasses.

In our own experience with Garden Safe Liquid fertilizers, we’ve used a pretty close equivalent to the outdoor rate on indoor herbs with some good success. Our best application rate for Garden Safe 3-1-5 ended up being around 1 Tablespoon per gallon ( 1 Tablespoon = 3 teaspoons). Used alone it’s really not a favorite for continuos use, since we don’t see Garden Safe 3-1-5 as a balanced fertilizer. It doesn’t have enough phosphorous to sustain good root growth and flower formation in the long term. It’s best use would probably be in an outdoor soil grow where there are potential pest issues. Animal by-products like blood meal and bone meal are notorious for attracting varmints, so Garden Safe sugar beet molasses fertilizers could provide an excellent “plant based” source of Nitrogen and Potassium for a soil that’s already been heavily amended with a good slow release source of phosphorous, our choice would be soft rock phosphate.

Blackstrap molasses could also be used in a similar fashion, as a stand alone liquid fertilizer for the biological farmer who needs to avoid potential varmint problems caused by animal based products. But, we really believe there is a better overall use for molasses in the organic farmer’s arsenal of fertilizers. Our suggestion for the best available use, would be to make use of the various molasses products as a part making organic teas for watering and foliar feeding.

Since many of the folks reading this are familiar with our Guano Guide, it will come as no surprise to our audience that molasses is a product we find very useful as an ingredient in Guano and Manure teas. Most bat and seabird guanos are fairly close to being complete fertilizers, with the main exception being that they are usually short in Potassium. Molasses is turns out is a great source of that necessary Potassium. As we learned earlier, molasses also acts as a chelating agent and will help to make micronutrients in the Guano more easily available for our favorite herbs.

A good example of a guano tea recipe at the Bird’s Nest is really as simple as the following:
1 Gallon of water
1 TBSP of guano (for a flowering mix we’d use Jamaican or Indonesian Bat Guano – for a more general use fertilizer we would choose Peruvian Seabird Guano.)
1 tsp blackstrap or sugar beet molasses
We mix the ingredients directly into the water and allow the tea mix to brew for 24 hours. It’s best to use an aquarium pump to aerate the tea, but an occasional shaking can suffice if necessary and still produce a quality tea. We will give you one hint from hard personal experience, make sure if you use the shake method that you hold the lid on securely, nobody appreciate having a crap milkshake spread over the room.

Some folks prefer to use a lady’s nylon or stocking to hold the guano and keep it from making things messy, but we figure the organic matter the manure can contribute to the soil is a good thing. Using this method we feel like we are getting the benefits of a manure tea and a guano top-dressing all together in the same application. If you prefer to use the stocking method, feel free to feed the”tea bag”leftovers to your worm or compost bin, even after a good brewing there’s lots of organic goodness left in that crap!

We also use molasses to sweeten and enrich Alfalfa meal teas. Our standard recipe for this use is:
4 gallons of water
1 cup of fine ground alfalfa meal
1 TBSP blackstrap or sugar beet molasses
After a 24 hour brew, this 100% plant-based fertilizer is ready for application. Alfalfa is a great organic plant food, with many benefits above and beyond just the N–P-K it can contribute to a soil mix or tea. We do plan to cover Alfalfa and it’s many uses in greater detail soon in yet another thread. We prefer to mix our alfalfa meal directly into the tea, but many gardeners use the stocking”tea bag”method with great effectiveness, both work well, it’s really just a matter of personal preference.

The alfalfa tea recipe we described can be used as a soil drench, and also as a foliar feed. And foliar feeding is the final use of molasses we’d like to detail. Foliar feeding, for the unfamiliar, is simply the art of using fine mist sprays as a way to get nutrients directly to the plant through the minute pores a plant”breathes”through. It is by far the quickest and most effective way to correct nutrient deficiencies, and can be an important part of any gardener’s toolbox.

Molasses is a great ingredient in foliar feeding recipes because of it’s ability to chelate nutrients and bring them to the “table” in a form that can be directly absorbed and used by the plant. This really improves the effectiveness of foliar feeds when using them as a plant tonic. In fact it improves them enough that we usually can dilute our teas or mix them more “lean” – with less fertilizer – than we might use without the added molasses.

Of course it is possible to use molasses as a foliar feed alone, without any added guano or alfalfa. It’s primary use would be to treat plants who are deficient in Potassium, although molasses also provides significant boosts in other essential minerals such as Sulfur, Iron and Magnesium. Organic farming guides suggest application rates of between one pint and one quart per acre depending on the target plant. For growing a fast growing annual plant like cannabis, we’d suggest a recipe of 1 teaspoon molasses per gallon of water.

In all honesty, we’d probably suggest a foliar feeding with kelp concentrate as a better solution for an apparent Potassium shortage. Kelp is one of our favorite foliar feeds because it is a complete source of micronutrients in addition to being a great source of Potassium. Kelp has a variety of other characteristics that we love, and we plan that it will be the topic of it’s own detailed thread at a future date. But, for growers that cannot find kelp, or who might have problems with the potential odors a kelp foliar feeding can create, molasses can provide an excellent alternative treatment for Potassium deficient plants at an affordable price.

That looks at most of the beneficial uses of Molasses for the modern organic or biological farmer. Just when you think that’s all there could be from our beaks on the topic of molasses, that molasses and it’s sweet sticky goodness surely have been covered in their entirety, the birds chirp in to say, there is one more specialized use for molasses in the garden. Magical molasses can also help in the control of Fire Ants, and perhaps some other garden pests.

Molasses For Organic Pest Control
One final benefit of molasses is it’s ability to be used in the control of a couple of common pests encountered in gardening. The most commonly known use of molasses is it’s ability to help control Fire Ants, but we’ve also found an internet reference to the ability of molasses to control white cabbage moths in the UK, so molasses could be an effective pest deterrent in more ways that we are aware.
As we said before, there are several references we’ve run across refering to the ability of molasses to control Fire Ants. Since we’re not intimately familiar with this particular use of molasses, and rather than simply re-write and re-word another’s work, we thought we’d defer to the experts. So for this section of the current version of the Molasses Manual, we will simply post a reference article we found that covers topic in better detail than we currently can ourselves.

Molasses Makes Fire Ants Move Out

By Pat Ploegsma, reprinted from Native Plant Society of Texas News – Summer 1999

Have you ever started planting in your raised beds and found fire ant highrises? Are you tired of being covered with welts after gardening? Put down that blowtorch and check out these excellent organic and non-toxic solutions.
Malcolm Beck1, organic farmer extraordinaire and owner of Garden-Ville Inc., did some experiments that showed that molasses is a good addition to organic fertilizer (more on fertilizer in the next issue). When using molasses in the fertilizer spray for his fruit trees he noticed that the fire ants moved out from under the trees. “I got an opportunity to see if molasses really moved fire ants. In my vineyard, I had a 500 foot row of root stock vines cut back to a stump that needed grafting. The fire ants had made themselves at home along that row. The mounds averaged three feet apart. There was no way a person could work there without being eaten alive! I dissolved 4 tablespoons of molasses in each gallon of water and sprayed along the drip pipe. By the next day the fire ants had moved four feet in each direction. We were able to graft the vines without a single ant bothering us.”
This gave him the idea for developing an organic fire ant killer that is 30% orange oil and 70% liquid compost made from manure and molasses. The orange oil softens and dissolves the ant’s exoskeleton, making them susceptible to attack by the microbes in the compost, while the molasses feeds the microbes and also smothers the ants. After the insects are dead, everything becomes energy-rich soil conditioner and will not harm any plant it touches. It can be used on any insect including mosquitoes and their larvae.
Break a small hole in the crust in the center of the mound then quickly!!! pour the solution into the hole to flood the mound and then drench the ants on top. Large mounds may need a second application. Available at Garden-Ville Square in Stafford, it has a pleasant lemonade smell.
According to Mark Bowen2, local landscaper and Houston habitat gardening expert, fire ants thrive on disturbed land and sunny grassy areas. “Organic matter provides a good habitat for fire ant predators such as beneficial nematodes, fungi, etc. Other conditions favoring fire ant predators include shading the ground with plantings, good soil construction practices and use of plants taller than turfgrasses.” He recommends pouring boiling soapy water over shallow mounds or using AscendTM. “Ascend is a fire ant bait which contains a fungal by-product called avermectin and a corn and soybean-based grit bait to attract fire ants. Ascend works slowly enough to get the queen or queens and it controls ants by sterilizing and/or killing them outright.”
Malcolm Beck also did some experiments with Diatomaceous Earth – DE – (skeletal remains of algae which is ground into an abrasive dust) which confirmed that DE also kills fire ants. He mixes 4 oz. of DE into the top of the mound with lethal results. According to Beck, DE only works during dry weather on dry ant mounds. Pet food kept outdoors will stay ant free if placed on top of a tray with several inches of DE

1Beck, Malcolm. The Garden-Ville Method: Lessons in Nature. Third Edition. San Antonio, TX: Garden-Ville, Inc., 1998.
2Bowen, Mark, with Mary Bowen. Habitat Gardening for Houston and Southeast Texas. Houston, TX: River Bend Publishing Company, 1998.

As we had also mentioned earlier, while researching the uses of molasses in gardening, we also came across a reference to it’s use in the control of white cabbage moths. Here’s what we found on that particular topic.

“I came across this home remedy from the UK for white cabbage moths.

Mix a tablespoon of molasses in 1 litre of warm water and let cool..
spray every week or every 2 weeks as required for white cabbage
moth..they hate it..and I think
it would be good soil conditioner as well if any drops on your soil..
It works for me…but gotta do it before white butterfly lays
eggs…otherwise you might have to use the 2 finger method and squash
grubs for your garden birds..
“nutNhoney” wrote in message
> To the kind soul who posted the tip for spraying members of the cabbage
> family with a molasses solution, thank you so much. Today, I noticed a
> white moth hovering around my brussel sprouts. I quickly made up a
> solution of molasses and rushed back to the garden to spray. The moth
> did not land! It seemed to be repelled by the molasses. I sprayed the
> broccoli too for good measure. I think I will spray again for the next
> few days. If it keeps the cabbage caterpillars off, I will be so happy.
> Thanks again!”

So there you have it, not necessarily straight from our mouths, but simply one more potential use we’ve discovered for molasses, with at least one testimonial for it’s effectiveness. As we said before, the use of molasses as an foliar spray, in addition to it’s potential use as a pest deterrent, would also serve to provide some essential nutrients directly to our plants, and would especially serve as an effective boost of Potassium for plants diagnosed with a deficiency in K. Healthy plants are more resistant to the threat of pests or disease, so molasses really is a multi-purpose organic pest deterrent.


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by steamyb 7 (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 28, 10 at 20:10
Damn! For someone who has never made tea, damn!


RE: vermicompost tea
  • Posted by pjames 8/LA (My Page) on
    Tue, Jun 29, 10 at 9:10
A great tutorial on molasses. But you left out my absolute favorite use: Molasses is used in the production of rum.I generally do not buy anything to add to my garden. But i am considering making an exception as a separate tool in my arsenal for the applications you mentioned. However I still do not think it would be prudent to brew it directly into my own vermicompost tea. Others may not share those same concerns.

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