I have been gardening in my backyard for years and have experimented with various methods focused on improving my garden outcomes. Over the last several years, I have started to introduce various forms of compost into my garden and have found that my produce looks better than ever!
Most gardeners are familiar with the standard form of composting. Composting is a way for the home gardener to add nutrient-rich humus to the outside soil which will act to fuel plant growth and restore key elements to soil that may be nutrient depleted. In general, composting is a process of breaking down organic waste such as food waste, leaves and trimmings and even coffee grounds into a useful humus-like substance so that the end-product acts as a valuable soil additive to enhance plant growth.
I practice the method of composting listed above, but I have also learned more about adding nutrients via compost tea. I initially learned about compost tea from a local garden shop owner that shared details of this practice. Throughout the rest of this post, I will share steps that you can take to make your own compost tea for use in your backyard garden. Making and using compost tea is just another way that the backyard gardener can improve his/her gardening practice and produce better quality fruits and vegetables. Keep in mind, adding compost tea is a supplemental practice that I use in addition to traditional composting methods. The compost tea supports and compliments my overall gardening process and is not used to replace other basic composting practices.
Compost Tea Overview:
Many gardeners are familiar with using compost, but not as many employ compost tea when developing the garden. Compost Tea is just a liquid extract that contains plant growth compounds and microorganisms that can be quite beneficial. I personally like using the liquid based compost method since the nutrient infused liquid quickly penetrates the soil and almost instantly begins to interact with the plants’ root systems. I believe that utilizing compost tea methods in the garden can be a more effective and efficient way to deliver a specific nutrient rich recipe straight to each plant. Nutrient rich liquid compost has been utilized in agriculture for growing various plants for hundreds of years. The idea of using compost tea in the back yard garden is gaining appreciation as more begin to experiment with various methods. Compost tea ingredients include a wide range of plant materials and/or animal manures and lately, aerated compost tea is a concept that is gaining traction. Below, I will review some of these methods and include steps for making and using compost tea for the back yard garden.
Benefits of Compost Tea:
- I personally like utilizing compost tea because I believe it effectively and efficiently targets my plants’ root systems with nutrient rich liquid that boosts plant development beyond what would have occurred otherwise.
- Compost Tea provides nutrients to soil that may be depleted of the material needed to sustain proper plant growth.
- Compost tea can be applied to soil to act as a microbial inoculant which will act as a catalyst for building soil microbial populations.
- Compost tea provides plants with a nutrient boost which makes them healthier and more likely to resist pests and disease.
Aerated Compost Teas versus other Classic forms of Compost Tea:
Compost tea methods are being developed today that include aeration. It is part of the evolution of the process. Evolution of most things often results in improvement, and many believe that aerated compost tea is an improvement over classic forms of compost tea that do not include aeration. For the record, I include aeration in my process. Think, cheap aquarium pump or air stone that can be purchased at your local Walmart, fish pet store, or even some gardening supply stores. Applying the aeration (air bubbles) to your compost tea liquid will support improved microbe breeding environment that will ultimately make your compost tea liquid more rich with the material plants need. Aeration is something that most gardeners are familiar with if they have a compost pile. It is necessary to aerate the pile routinely (turn the pile) so that the decomposition process happens without bad pathogens to develop. Air is necessary for this process! Just as air supports the process for the compost pile outside, it can support the process of creating compost tea as well. Recent research has revealed that aerated compost tea is better for fighting off plant diseases and ultimately supplies more power to the soil for growing.
Methods for Creating Compost Tea:
There are many methods available for making variations of compost tea. The great thing about compost tea, and the various “recipes” that exist, is that trial and error and experimentation allow the gardener to individualize their process. As all gardeners know, technique and method evolve and likely change as experience builds. My techniques and methods have changed in my ongoing search for what works best. There is not one technique and method that will work best for all given the diversity of environments and growing objectives. The methods listed in this post can be used to help each gardener develop their own individualized system of growing the best quality garden possible.
Compost Tea Please:
Compost tea recipes can be quite creative. In many recipes that I have reviewed, aerobic compost paired with sugar product are often given ingredients.
Basic Compost Tea Recipe:
Use finished compost from your compost pile and fill about a third of a five gallon bucket. The finished compost will supply the beneficial aerobic microbes and soluble nutrients. Make sure that the finished aerated compost looks rich and dark and smells of sweet earth. Next, fill the remaining two thirds of the bucket (leave a little space at the top to control spillage) with water. I use well water. Note that city water will likely contain varied amount of chlorine and fluoride which could be counterproductive. Add in 2 or 3 tablespoons of brown sugar to feed and breed the aerobic bacteria. Mix periodically over a 24 to 48 hour period and aerate. I use an aquarium air pump and a hose which extends into the solution to aerate the tea during the process. I sometimes include an air stone to support aeration during the “brewing” process.
This liquid can then be applied as a soil drench (which is how I apply my compost tea) or it can be sprayed to plant parts or as surface spray. I apply my compost tea immediately after I stop aeration.
If you decide to spray the compost tea solution, use a screen placed over another five gallon bucket and pour the compost tea through the screen which will remove large pieces that would clog your sprayer. You can further filter the strained solution by once again pouring it into a five gallon bucket that has a thin porous cloth stretched across the top and tied. Additional small particles will be filtered out of the compost tea solution.
Note – If you do not have your own compost pile already, organic compost can be purchased and utilized to create your batch of compost tea. I sometimes get organic compost from local farmers as well when making my tea.
Compost Tea Recipe:
Use fully mature compost from your compost pile. If you are unfamiliar with creating and maintaining your own compost pile, click here for additional information. The compost that you use should look dark and rich and smell of sweet earth and have been aerated routinely throughout its decomposition process. Fill a little over a third of a five gallon bucket with your full matured compost and then fill the bucket almost to the top with by adding water.
Then add in about 250ml of unsulphured molasses and stir this into the compost tea solution thoroughly. Connect an aquarium pump with plastic line into the solution to maintain oxygen levels within the compost tea solution. Allow the tea to “brew” from about two to three days.
After this period of time, the compost tea should smell sweet, if it does not, add an air stone to increase aeration . I will sometimes add additional molasses at this point as well and then allow the solution to brew for another day. Once the brew is finished and the aeration is stopped, the brew should be used as soon as possible. I often use my brew by soil drenching within an hour after I stop aeration.
If you decide to spray the compost tea solution, follow the same steps I listed above for filtering the tea. Use a screen placed over another five gallon bucket and pour the compost tea through the screen which will remove large pieces that would clog your sprayer. You can further filter the strained solution by once again pouring it into a five gallon bucket that has a thin porous cloth stretched across the top and tied around the bucket. Additional small particles will be filtered out of the compost tea solution. Now, just pour the filtered compost tea into a watering can or sprayer and you are ready for application.