Brewing Your Own Compost Tea: When and How to Use it
Do you have a green thumb, or do you find it difficult to make plants thrive, even with proper care and an ideal environment? If you struggle with growing – and even if you don’t – compost tea can achieve or improve the success of your endeavor in growing a garden or any number of plants. Making compost tea really isn’t difficult; it’s more a matter of gathering the supplies than anything else.
What is compost tea? This liquid fertilizer is all-natural and is like a healthy steroid for any plant, be it flower, fruit, or vegetable, and you’ll find that your growth is greener and vegetation and flowers larger and longer lasting. The rich nutrients in compost tea fertilizer seep into your plants, easily taken in by the roots, to feed them strength.
Table of Contents
- It Goes Farther
- It Prevents Disease
- It Improves the Flavor
- Great for the Environment
- Supplies You’ll Need
Most people know about compost, especially gardeners who often use special compost bins, even if they don’t know exactly how to make the tea. However, taking that compost and brewing it in water can really make a much bigger difference in the growth of various plants. There are a number of ways that compost tea offers greater benefits than traditional compost.
Sure, you can take the time to work compost into the soil and have healthier, more productive plants. However, if you take the time to brew compost tea, you can spray it on the leaves, which suppresses diseases that affect the foliage.
While the idea of compost may have you thinking of a putrid smell, the truth is that using organic compost tea can actually make your fruits and vegetables taste better. Not only is the flavor brighter and more succulent – you actually get more nutritional value from each piece of produce.
When you make your own compost tea, there are other benefits to consider as well. Aside from having a stellar turnout with your garden, you’ll actually be environmentally friendly.
You could opt to buy plant food and treat your garden with chemicals to prevent diseases, but consider the health risks involved in this. As we learn more about what our bodies can and can’t handle and become more susceptible to non-organic ingredients, it’s pertinent to start growing with non-chemical options.
Compost brew negates the troubles we have when we ingest the final product. It also means we keep the environment cleaner. Not only are we no longer introducing unnatural chemicals to the soil and water supply; we’re also returning organic matter to the earth, completing a natural cycle that is often interrupted by human hands. Anyone can see the benefit to this.
In addition, once you’ve purchased the necessary materials for brewing and aerating compost tea, you no longer have the added expense of purchasing all the additives that you would otherwise be using to increase the output of your garden. No one can argue with the idea of saving a buck!
When it comes to brewing your compost elixir, you’ll have an initial investment to gather the equipment and supplies you’ll need. Think of the savings, though, when you aren’t running to the store for plant food and insecticides all the time. Much like the gardening equipment you use every day, these supplies will last a long time and are completely worth the investment.
There are a multitude of ways to put together your system. But, the best way to prepare it to have a sturdy system you can rely on, is to start with the following:
- An aquarium pump – this should be large enough to run three bubblers or air stones.
- Tubing – make sure you have enough (several feet is best).
- Three bubblers
- One gang valve
- A stick – this should be long and sturdy enough to stir the mixture.
- Molasses – this should be unsulphured and is best if it’s organic.
- A strainer – you’ll need to strain the tea with something like a tea towel, nylon stocking, or pillowcase.
- A bucket – a five-gallon plastic bucket should suffice.
- A spray bottle – this will be the best way to use the compost tea in your garden or house plants.
- A funnel – to get the liquid into your spray bottle without making a mess, you will probably want to use a funnel.
Let’s face it – compost stinks. And if you make anaerobic compost tea, it’s going to stink as well. Especially if you’re using it indoors on houseplants, you don’t want this smell.
The fact is, the stink is created by not aerating your mixture – aeration makes the mixture aerobic (breathable). When you don’t aerate the compost tea the organisms in the compost use up the oxygen too quickly. That’s what creates the smell you find in most compost. By aerating the mixture, you slow down this process and offer more oxygen to the organisms, which leads to a scentless mixture.
Aside from the odor created when you don’t aerate, while you brew your compost tea, you can create a mixture that’s going to harm your plants rather than help them. This is a very important part of the process, so make sure you have the correct supplies and don’t leave out this part. In short, be careful of what you compost, and be sure to aerate properly.
The great thing about gathering compost tea ingredients is that there is no specific formula to create the compost. You can include a number of organic materials that are readily available to you without spending any money. Include things like:
- Leaves, bush trimmings, and grass clippings from your yard
- Manure (you can also use dog feces, which can help you clean your yard)
- Non-animal food scraps – think peels, bread, coffee grounds, tea leaves, and pieces of fruits and vegetables)
- Old wine
- Bedding from an herbivorous pet (like hamsters or rabbits)
- Dry cat and dog food
Amounts don’t matter, as long as you have a good amount to use when you start the process. It makes it especially easy to go about the process since there isn’t a set recipe for compost tea.
What does matter is properly creating your compost. You have to actively manage it if you want it to work properly. That means turning it several times while it sits in the heat, which helps to kill pathogens and weed seeds. You can utilize worm compost as well, also known as vermicomposting, which will help reduce the need for turning it. Make sure it steeps long enough in the heat to actually foster the growth of good bacteria and fungi before using it to brew compost tea. Mixing it frequently with something like a pitchfork will help aerate it and make sure the cooler material on the outside of the pile is brought into the center so it all heats more evenly and doesn’t have a noxious smell. Turning also aids in the breeding of bacteria as opposed to fungus, which is better for overall plant health.
Another good trick is using a good amount of paper or wood in your compost creation. This makes the product higher in humic acid, which is an organic substance that can especially be good when trying to aid the growth and health of perennial plants, citrus trees and potted plants.
Of course, the best compost has a good amount of greenery to it. If you create a formula with about 25 percent high-nitrogen ingredients, half green material, and the rest paper or wood, you’ll have the breeding grounds for a perfect compost pile.
The compost tea brewing time is probably the only thing that requires any patience. Since it takes two to three days for the compost to brew in the water, you’ll want to plan ahead and start the process on a day that means the tea is ready on a day that you’re available to use the mixture instantly.
So, if you have Saturdays off, you’ll want to start the brewing process on Wednesday, so your compost tea has the proper time to steep. Also, you’ll need to prepare your water ahead of time, which can add an hour or so to the process. If you have well water, you can use the water without treatment. However, if you have city water, you’ll find that it’s treated with chlorine. It’s important to aerate the water for an hour or two in order to get the chemicals out. The chlorine will actually kill the organisms you want to have in the mixture for the compost tea to be effective, therefore making the entire process useless.
Once you have safe water, you can start the process of brewing compost tea.
- Start with the empty bucket, and fill it about halfway with compost. Don’t pack the compost tight, or the bubblers can’t work. They have to be used in loose compost in order to aerate as they should.
- Cut the tubing you have to the proper length for use. One end of the length of tube will attach to the pump and the other to the gang valve.
- Cut three more lengths of tubing. Each of these should be long enough to reach from the rim of your bucket to the bottom. This will avoid stretching and if it moves it will still reach all the way down.
- Connect each of these three lengths to one of the ports on the gang valve. Insert a bubbler into the other end of each of these tubes.
- The gang valve should hang on the lip of the bucket, and the end of the tubes with the bubblers should be buried in the compost at the base of the bucket.
- Fill the bucket with water. The water should come to 2 or 3 inches below the rim for best results.
- Start the pump.
- With the pump running, add 1 ounce of your molasses, and stir it vigorously with the stick. Once you’ve stirred enough, reposition the tubes so that the bubblers are again at the bottom of the bucket and spaced fairly evenly.
The molasses is a catalyst. It feeds the bacteria and starts the growth process for the beneficial organisms that are going to be part of your fermented compost tea.
At this point, you’ve finished the setup and only need to maintain it over the next three days. This involves stirring the mixture again at least 2 to 3 times a day. This helps loosen the organisms that are growing from the compost and ‘float’ them into the water to make the tea.
Remember, every time you stir, you will need to reposition the tubes with the bubblers, as these will be dislodged with the motion. It’s important that these are always at the bottom, so your tea can ‘bubble up’ over time.
You also need to remember that using the compost brew is time sensitive. If you find that you’re unable to finish the process on the third day, you’ll need to add more molasses. If you don’t, the organisms you want to add to your awesome garden through the compost tea will go to sleep for lack of food. You need them awake and active if they are going to do any good.
When you’re ready to fill your compost tea containers (spray bottles work best so you can get leaves and soil and spread it evenly over the garden), you’ll want to first turn off the pump. With the pump off, walk away for about 20 minutes so that the compost can settle to the bottom, leaving mostly water at the top – or rather, tea.
When it’s had time to settle, you’ll be ready to strain the mixture. Place the pillowcase, towel, or other straining material on top of a second bucket and pour the liquid through it. The pieces of compost will gather on top while the fluid seeps through, a clear liquid. You can also opt to strain the liquid directly into your spray bottles, but this is more difficult. It’s easier to use funnels to make sure you don’t lose any of your compost tea without the straining cloth, from the new bucket.
You should use the compost tea right away so that the live organisms can start working immediately on your garden or indoor plants. You have the option to add micronutrients to the compost tea if you want, such as kelp or rock dust. You can also use it as-is and have incredible results.
You’ll end up with somewhere around 2-1/2 gallons of compost tea based on this particular method. That’s quite a dose for your garden, indoor plants, and any other organic growth you want to supplement.
In addition to your organic compost tea, you’ll still have the compost solids. Because there are plenty of good nutrients left in it, you can actually mix it back into the soil for added benefit.
This is a question that you have to answer yourself, based on the overall health of your garden and how often you use other supplements, if at all. While you probably don’t have to treat it every week but once a month would be good, especially if your garden is struggling. Use your compost tea at the beginning of spring, and let the beneficial insects spread it around for you through the season.
If you have neighbors who use pesticides, you may have to spray more often. Because these pesticides could interfere with the value of your compost tea treatment, and negate the presence of the insects you want, which would otherwise keep spreading the organic compound throughout the garden. If this is the case, every 10 to 14 days may become a necessity. Trees and shrubs should be sprayed about two weeks prior to blooming so that they get the most out of the treatment.
Learning how to make compost tea for plants can benefit you greatly, especially if you maintain a garden year-round. You’ll find that you save money, grow fuller, healthier plants, and waste less. Your trash pile will be smaller, and if you have environmental concerns, you’ll be leaving less footprint.
Best of all, learning how to brew compost tea allows you to reap the benefits of your work. When you harvest your first garden full of plants treated with compost tea, you’ll find that they taste better and offer additional nutrients that make you feel healthier and stronger in return.