So what exactly is compost tea? Well as the name suggests it is made by soaking or brewing compost in water and then straining off the liquid – the tea! The water gets infused with the nutrients and beneficial bacteria form the garden compost and this resulting compost tea is a perfect liquid fertilizer and conditioner. It can be applied as a foliar spray or as a drench for the soil, depending on what you need it for.
It is a great addition to just using regular compost. Having a foliar feed can give an almost instant boost to plants and is believed to enhance the flavor of vegetables. If used in an organic garden regularly it can also help to keep the garden healthy and fend off many unwanted pests and diseases. Compost tea contains many good bacteria that can help keep plants healthy.
How to Make Compost Tea
Compost tea can be made in a number of ways and using different ingredients. Experienced growers will all have their own compost tea recipes that they will swear by and may contain many unusual ingredients. The basic choice you have is to buy one of the ready to go compost tea systems or to go the DIY method and set everything up yourself.
The kits are great especially for larger scale production but can be a little expensive to get started, although they will soon pay for themselves with the saving in fertilizer and pesticide costs. Various sizes and prices are available to suit most people’s needs.
The DIY compost tea maker will need to work a little harder to get set up however the results can be just as good and you will save on some of the set up costs. It is best suited to small scale compost tea production but if you are inventive it can be scaled up.
In its most basic form you will have a container to which you add water, compost and molasses. This mixture is then oxygenated using an aquarium pump for 2-3 days to brew. The liquid is then strained off and is ready to use. There are a few important points to keep in mind.
Oxygen is the key to making great tea. make sure you have a constant stream of strong bubbles going through the mixture and give it a good stir from time to time during the brewing process.
The water should be rain water if possible. If you need to use tap water the pump should be ran in the water for a couple of hours before any other ingredients are added to remove some of the chlorine. The chlorine in the tap water may harm the bacteria.
Molasses is added to help provide food for the bacteria and to get them working more quickly. Some recipes will recommend other ingredients.
The compost you use to brew the tea should be good quality and matured. Compost made from mostly green waste will be higher in bacteria and so best suited for making compost tea, but any good organic compost will do. Worm composting is a great source as this vermicompost is very rich and contains lots of good bacteria.
When making the compost and before using it check the smell. In all compost making bad smells usually indicate a problem. Good compost should smell earthy and quite sweet; if it smells bad it is a sign that there is not enough oxygen. For the tea increase the bubbles and for regular compost you need to mix it more frequently. Do not use compost tea that smells bad, it could do more harm than good to your garden.
Using Compost Tea
Once your tea has been strained it should be used as soon as possible. The good bacteria can begin to die quite quickly without a good oxygen supply so use within a day or two at most. As a foliar spray it is a great way to give an instant feed to the plants and as a soil drench it will benefit slow and steady.
The frequency you feed will depend on the plants but an average routine would be to feed once per month during the growing season. For heavy feeders up to once a week may be good, the best system should come from a little testing to see how the plants are growing.
To enjoy the full benefits of compost tea you should stop using all chemicals in the garden. Chemicals such as pesticides can kill the good bacteria and so reduce the benefits of compost tea. Of course this may not suit everyone’s methods.
So who is going to put the kettle on for some lovely Compost Tea?