One of the benefits of any style of composting is that you can make compost tea. Compost tea is basically a brew made from water and finished compost. It has a myriad of benefits and I like to think of it as a natural alternative to the “miracle growing” products sold at the gardening stores in town. It’s a fantastic, easy way to improve your garden soil and is a great way to bring the benefits of your compost into your indoor plants as well.
Not only does compost tea add extra nutrients to your soil, it also has the potential to increase the microbe population in the soil. This is great and not just because I’m a big fan of good germs, which you should be, too. No, it is because, as science is teaching us, most plants on planet Earth have some type of beneficial relationship with microbes!
When you start to learn about compost tea, you’ll quickly learn there are approximately nine million different compost tea methods, techniques, and recipes…
And that is where it begins to get confusing. The biggest differentiation in compost teas are the aerated or non-aerated varieties. Aerated compost tea (ACT) uses an electronic device of some sort (usually a bubbler for a fish tank, or something along those lines) to force oxygen into the brew, while non-aerated tea simply relies on water, compost, time, and a bucket.
As you can imagine, there is much debate as to which method is superior. Some folks swear by ACT and claim it is the only appropriate way to brew compost tea, while others reason that there is no scientific research backing these claims. After a lot of digging around, I’ve settled on non-aerated compost tea for my method of choice, and here’s why:
- Simplicity- While I will be the first to admit that there are benefits to the ACT method (which my buddy Robbie prefers), I simply do not have the time to add another semi-labor-intensive project to my gardening routine. If gardening is your primary passion, then by all means, I encourage you to do some research and become an aerated tea expert. But keeping it simple is always my number one priority.
- History- Different cultures have been brewing forms of compost tea for centuries. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have fish tank motors three hundred years ago, but they still had compost tea.
- Laziness – Wait, Err… I meant efficiency, yes that’s it efficiency. Steeping and stirring sounds better to me than babysitting an aeration system. I am after all a self-admitted lazy gardener.
- A 5-gallon bucket
- 1 shovel-scoop of good-quality finished compost (as you can see, the quantities here are super-scientific)
- Non-chlorinated water (rainwater is great for this!)
- Dump the shovel-full of finished compost into the five-gallon bucket. Fill the rest of the way with water. Stir vigorously and set aside for about a week. Stir it once or twice a day.
- When you are ready to use it, strain the compost from the water. If you want to skip the straining you can put the compost into an old, clean, cotton pillowcase and then put the pillow case into the bucket and fill with the water. Instead of stirring it daily you can dunk it!
- Your finished compost tea can be used undiluted on houseplants or established garden plants, or if it turns out very dark, try diluting it one-part compost tea to one-part water.
- Dilute it 3 to 1 for newly sprouted plant babies.
- Use it directly on the ground around the plants or put it in a spray bottle.
- It may be sprayed directly on the leaves of your plants or poured around the roots and allowed to soak into the soil (I personally prefer using it as a soil drench). If you are applying your tea to a large area, it can be diluted further to make it stretch.
A few extra but important notes on compost tea:
- I suppose you could buy compost for this recipe, too, but buying compost sounds a wee bit crazy to me.
- You can also use worm castings for homemade compost tea.
- Some sources warn against compost tea since they are worried it could harbor dangerous bacteria like salmonella or E.coli, since these organisms reside in manure. This is why it is important to use finished compost, and not raw manure.
- Other experts warn not to spray the foliage of a plant if you plant to consume it or its fruit right away. Personally? I’m not too worried about this, but I wanted you to have the full story. Since I am using only plant materials to make what I like to call kitchen compost, and I am not using any animal waste manure at all, I do not worry too much about this. But you should make compost from healthy, grass-fed animals, instead of using manure from questionable sources if you are planning on using manure in your compost – which is a great use for the stuff your animals give you for free.
- As mentioned above, if you use animal waste in composting, as does my good friend Mike whose compost pile is a giant pile of horse and cow manure that he turns with the tractor, be sure to allow it to fully “cook” until it becomes beautiful, mellow compost.
Me? Well, I like to keep it simple, so let’s just say I like my compost tea the same way I like my whiskey, straight.