If you’re a gardener who’s been conscientiously composting your kitchen waste and using the rich, crumbly material as a soil conditioner in your garden, it’s time to take your composting to the next level.
By mixing that earthy concoction with water and allowing it to steep, you can create a beneficial tea loaded with the nutrients that plants love.
Digging compost into flower and vegetable beds is an important part of any gardening program, but why stop at adding millions of beneficial bacteria to the soil when you add billions of bacteria instead?
The process of brewing compost into tea not only makes the organic matter more effective, but it improves its usefulness, too.
Compost tea can be used as both a foliar spray and a soil drench.
- As a foliar spray, the tea’s soluble nutrients give the plant a healthy boost and help control plant diseases like black spot and early blight.
- As a soil drench, compost tea builds healthy soil by increasing microbial activity and providing soluble nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.
There are two methods for brewing compost tea: passive and aerated.
Passive compost tea results in a compost extract like the one farmers have used for hundreds of years. Small batches of compost extract can be made by filling a burlap sack with compost and steeping it for about 2 weeks in a bucket filled with water (using a 1:5 ratio of compost to water). The compost extract should be used immediately for best results.
Aerated compost tea uses an inexpensive aquarium pump to keep oxygen circulating in the compost and water mixture. Research shows that this method significantly increases the number of beneficial bacteria in the tea.
Gardeners can buy ready-made compost tea, but it’s less expensive (and more fun) to brew up a batch using your own home-made compost.
Two 5-gallon buckets
5-8 feet aquarium tubing
1 aquarium-size pump
1 gang valve to split tubing into three outlets
3 air bubblers
Decomposed compost (do not use manure)
1 stirring stick
1 ounce unsulphured molasses
Burlap sack, cheesecloth or old nylon stocking
1. Run the bubblers in a bucket of water for at least an hour to remove the chlorine.
2. Fill the second bucket ¾ full with compost.
3. Attach one length of tubing to the pump and the other to the gang valve.
4. Cut three lengths of tubing to reach from the bucket rim to the bucket bottom.
5. Connect each piece of tubing to a port on the gang valve; connect each end to a bubbler.
6. Place the valve on the rim of the bucket and bury the bubblers under the compost.
7. Fill the bucket with water; start the pump.
8. Add molasses to the mixture; stir well. Reposition the bubblers if needed.
9. Aerate tea for three days; stir several times each day.
10. Unplug the pump and let the mixture settle for about 30 minutes before straining through the burlap into a bucket.
For best results, plan the three-day brewing cycle so that you can apply the tea as soon as it’s ready. Be sure to sanitize the equipment before making your next batch of tea.
Aerated tea can be used to help prevent damping-off in seedlings, as a fertilizer for newly planted garden beds and as a spray to keep insect pests at bay.
Some experts say using compost tea not only makes plants healthier, but it enhances the flavor of fruits and vegetables, as well.