If you aren’t brewing compost tea and using it on your plants and soil, you are lacking one of the easiest means at your disposal for keeping your soil healthy and your plants supplied with a rich source of organic nutrients. It isn’t hard and doesn’t require a lot of fancy expensive equipment. A five-gallon plastic bucket, an inexpensive aquarium air pump and some time are all the investment you will need to create what some consider to be a magic elixir for the garden.
Brewing Compost Tea
To brew your compost tea, start with any high-quality organic compost. The best source is your compost pile. If you are not composting (which begs the question “why not?”), you can use some of the commercial varieties available from any of the big box garden stores Make sure the product labeled properly and is truly organic. In a pinch, you can use worm castings. Worm castings are probably the purest form of compost available.
You will also need a small air pump available at most pet stores or one of the big box stores that sell pet supplies. It needn’t be huge. You also need a length of plastic tubing and an airstone. Both of these should be available with the air pump.
To make basic compost tea, add about a quart of high-quality organic compost to a plastic bucket, then add about 4 gallons of water and stir. Drop-in your air stone and turn on the pump and leave it for about 24 hours with a lid on the bucket. NOTE: Don’t snap the bucket lid down tight. Just lay it on top of the bucket. Remember, you are pumping air into the bucket, and if you seal it tightly, you risk burning up the air pump or a rather unpleasant explosion.
After 16 to 24 hours, your compost tea is ready to use. There are several ways you can use it in your garden. As a foliar spray, you can feed your plants directly through their leaves. Strain your tea before trying to put it through your sprayer, or you will clog the nozzle with the clumps. Use a gentle spray pressure and apply liberally to all of your plants.
Uses and Applications
You can also use your compost tea as a drench. Pour it directly on the ground around your plantings. Drenching with compost tea is especially useful for giving your soil biology a kick start. The compost tea is rich in bacteria and fungi that will quickly multiply and enrich your soil.
Use your compost tea within 24 hours of turning off the air pump. Compost tea does not store well. The micro-organisms will continue to multiply until they have exhausted all the available nutrients in the solution and then start to die off.
You can add more punch to your compost tea by adding a few additional components.
Molasses (dry or liquid)
Adding molasses to your compost tea adds additional nutrients to the solution that increases the growth and activity of the bacteria in the tea. Use app two tablespoons of either dry or liquid molasses. Molasses is especially beneficial if you want to spray your turf grasses with your compost tea. The great thing about compost tea fortified with molasses is that 4 gallons of molasses enhanced compost tea will cover about an acre of turf. You need to know the application rate of your sprayer so that you can dilute the compost tea so that your applicator delivers the correct amount of compost tea to your turf. (There is more information on the website about how to calculate the application rate of your sprayer and what types of sprayers we recommend.)
Fish emulsion, fish oil, and Sea Weed
Adding any of these protein products to your compost tea while it is brewing will increase the fungal activity in the tea. The higher level of fungal activity is great for building soil and as a foliar spray or drench around your woody plants and even trees. The same application rates apply, but remember, like most of these organic products, it is hard to overfeed them.
There is some evidence that compost tea has benefits as a natural insect repellant and, against some insects, as a pesticide. It also can be effective against some plant diseases when used as a foliar spray. The fact that each use adds life to your soil and encourages a diverse and healthy plant biome is the biggest benefit derived from using compost tea regularly.
Links and Resources
For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.
If you found the information here helpful, you might also find these articles on our website of interest.
If you have more specific questions or problems, you can contact us using the contact form on our website. You can also post your question to our community forum at this page; West Texas Organic Gardening Community Forum.
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