This summer has been hot, hot, hot! After such a cold rainy spring, it is actually a really good thing for the gardens, all the plants are vigorously growing now and are making up for lost time. Staying with the theme of growing plants, this post is going to be about brewing up your own compost tea. First, a brief overview of what compost tea is. The name says it all – it is essentially compost steeped in water. The use of compost tea has far reaching benefits; it makes all the minerals and nutrients highly available to whatever plants it is applied to, it goes a lot further than just using straight compost, and supposedly it suppresses many plant diseases. On top of all the benefits of compost tea, it is also really easy to make and to use. What follows is a very basic, DIY, tutorial on brewing up your own batch.
The first thing you will need to do to start your compost tea project is to assemble all of your materials. You will need one aquarium pump, three buckets (one with holes drilled in the bottom), a few good shovel fulls of compost, dechlorinated water (this can be tap water that has sat out for a few days or rain water), and a couple tablespoons of unsulphured molasses. Aquarium pumps can be found at pet stores, but you might be able to find them cheaper at garage sales or thrift stores. The important thing is that they work. The aquarium pump shoots air into the water and keeps it moving and from going stagnant. This is a very important part of brewing up compost tea, without the movement of the water, your tea will go septic and get very stinky.
Once all of your materials are assembled, it is time to get brewin’. I ended up using one round bucket, and one square one. This allowed for the aquarium pump tube to get down into the bottom of the lower bucket, and for more water movement. I filled the upper bucket about half way full with compost, and then started to add my water (I used rain water). I added water until all the compost was submerged, and also when it was about an inch from the top of the bottom bucket. At this point I also added about two tablespoons of unsulphured molasses. This boost of sugar is supposed to get all the micro organisms really rolling, and to help all the minerals and nutrients dissolve into the tea. At this point you are somewhat finished for a few days. Aside from occasionally stirring the brewing tea (when you think to do it), let it bubble away for two to three days.
Now you are ready to filter the compost tea. I used an old bed sheet, but an old pillow case or any large, somewhat heavy piece of fabric should work just fine. You want to filter out the largest of the compost, especially if you are going to be spraying your plants with the finished tea. I lined another bucket with the bed sheet and poured the contents of the top bucket into it. As the pictures show, I then removed it and let it drip into the bucket ( I also tried to squeeze as much of the tea out of this as I could, but you would end up standing around doing this for hours if you tried to get all of it!) Once that was done I deposited the contents of the filter sheet into my compost bin (there is still plenty of good stuff in there that will just be used again in the future), I then found another clean spot on the sheet and filtered the contents of the bottom bucket. There was sediment in this, but not nearly as much as I thought there would be. Now you are ready to use the finished compost tea.
Something worth noting about finished compost tea, because it is something that is alive, you do not want to let this stuff sit around for too long. I would recommend using it within one day of it being finished. My main purpose and use for compost tea is as a foliar spray fertilizer for my plants. When this tea, or any other fertilizer or pesticide is sprayed onto a plant, the leaves readily take it up and you can see the effects of it very fast. This is what makes compost tea so awesome. The batch I made came out to almost two and a half gallons exactly and fit perfectly into my garden sprayer. Two and a half gallons was enough to spray 16 tomato plants and about the same number of peppers. One word of caution when applying this stuff to plants – do not use it if you are planning on harvesting anytime soon after spraying it on. It is not nearly as bad as industrial farm fertilizers and chemicals, but it is alive and could get you sick. So once you are getting tomatoes and peppers that are nearing ripeness, I would stop using compost tea, unless you are feeding it directly to the roots.
Compost tea is one of those things in the life a gardener that is really awesome. It is easy to make, and once you have the aquarium pump and hopefully dumpster-dived buckets it is virtually free! You can see the results almost over night, at least that’s what it seems like to me. It also fills an important role for those of us trying to grow as much food as we can on a small amount of land. When we are trying to squeeze as much out of a short growing season with multiple crops in the same garden, compost tea is great to have in your arsenal of gardening techniques, tools, and ideas. It can help us to not deplete our soils, and also a great way to use excess compost. So for those of you already brewin’ your own compost tea – keep brewin’, and for those of you who haven’t tried it yet, get some buckets and a pump, dig into your compost pile, and watch your garden grow! Cheers!