You’re already familiar with compost–the stuff that turns garden clippings and kitchen scraps into nutrient-rich soil amendments. If you already use compost in your garden, you should consider brewing compost tea, too!
Why Should You Try It?
The main reason to choose tea over traditional compost is that it contains all the benefits and helps deliver soluble nutrients straight to the roots of your plants.
You can use the tea as a soil drench or a leaf spray, ensuring that the good microorganisms and nutrients get exactly where they need to go.
Essentially, you can fertilizer and water your garden at the same time. What’s not to love about that?
How to Brew Compost Tea
Compost tea is a little like the hot beverage for humans–but you definitely don’t want to drink it. You will steep high-quality compost in water for a few days in a 5-gallon bucket. Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?
You’ll need “finished” compost, meaning the stuff that’s been completely broken down. The compost at the very bottom of your pile is the best choice.
You’ll also need dechlorinated water. You can allow the chlorine to evaporate from tap water by leaving it uncovered in your bucket for 24 hours.
There are a few optional ingredients, including a “tea bag,” an aerator, and additional nutrients such as fish hydrolysate or seaweed extract. Some recipes call for unsulfured molasses, too.
At its most basic, all you need to do is fill a 5-gallon bucket a third of the way with compost and top it off with water. Let it steep, uncovered, for 3-4 days, stirring occasionally.
Once it has steeped, strain the liquid through burlap or cheesecloth into a second bucket. Alternately, you can tie the solids up in a large piece of loose-weave cloth before adding them to the bucket, using the bundle as a kind of tea bag. The solid bits can go back into the compost heap or straight into your soil.
Using Compost Tea
The liquid from your bucket can be used in a few different ways. You can pour it directly on the ground as a soil drench. Alternately, you can fill a spray bottle and apply it to the leaves of your plants.
Many gardeners prefer to dilute the tea–up to 90%–with water before using it.
Whatever you do, use up the tea within a day or so of brewing. If you let it sit too long, it can go bad and hurt your soil by introducing harmful bacteria and other microorganisms. Healthy compost tea won’t have a rancid or unpleasant odor; instead, it should have a rich, earthy odor like a forest.
Do You Need to Aerate?
Some compost tea methods say that aeration is essential. Others insist that all you need to do is stir the bucket from time to time.
If you decide to aerate, you’ll need an aquarium pump and tubing. The pump will hang over the side, while the tubing will snake down to the bottom to bubble up oxygen through the brew.
An ounce of molasses works to feed the microorganisms in the tea, helping to preserve as many benefits as possible.
A Quick Fix
Of course, if you’re pressed for time or simply don’t want to brew your own, you can get compost tea powder from a garden supply store. Think of it as the difference between brewing coffee from freshly ground beans versus instant freeze-dried powder.