When I first mentioned I was going to make compost tea, my friends thought I was nuts. They thought I’d be drinking it. But when I explained that it was for my plants, they just nodded their heads. Uh huh, here she goes again!
What Is Compost Tea?
Compost tea is a solution made from compost. You can use any kind of compost, but those that are well aged have the most nutrients. Vermicompost, which is made from worm castings, is probably the best you can find. The worms do the work in a very short time, often cutting years off the normal schedule. Compost normally takes 3-4 years to fully break down. This is, if it’s done naturally. If you use a machine, or a roller, compost will decompose more quickly due to retained heat and moisture. Whatever kind of compost you use, be sure it has no chemicals that may harm your plants.
Directions For Making Your Own
Setting up a home tea brewer is easy. Here are the directions:
Gather these supplies
- a five gallon bucket (find one here)
- an old pillowcase
- string to tie the pillowcase
- a few tablespoons of molasses (find organic molasses here)
- an aquarium pump (find pumps here)
- a length of air hose long enough to go from the pump to the air stone (find it here)
- an air stone for an aquarium (find it here)
- Clean the bucket well with water only. Don’t use bleach or detergents.
- Place a shovel full of compost in the pillowcase and tie it tightly with string. Place it in the bucket.
- Cover the pillowcase with water. Fill the bucket most of the way to the top.
- Add the molasses. It will feed the beneficial bacteria and provide the plants with iron.
- Attach the air stone to the hose going to the pump. Place the air stone in the water and the pump on a surface higher than the water. This will reduce the chance of back-flow if the electricity should be cut off.
- Turn the pump on. The air stone will bubble, feeding oxygen to the bacteria.
It will take a few days for the tea to be ready. When it is, drain the water into a bucket and water your plants right away. There is no holding time as the bacteria will start to die when the oxygen is cut off. If the weather is cool, it may last a day or two, but no longer.
*Want the benefits of compost tea for your plants, but don’t want to make your own tea brewer? No problem – you can find compost tea brewers here and get started right away!
A Few Tips
Use rain water or well water whenever possible. You can use city water, but it must be free from chemicals like chlorine. If it has chlorine, you can let it sit overnight and the chlorine will dissipate. If your municipality adds ammonia to the chlorine to make chloramine, you must first break the bond. Most pet stores carry chloramine breakers for aquariums. Once the bond is broken, you can let the water sit as previously noted. Check with your city to find out what’s in your water.
Be sure your compost is well aged or set. This will help eliminate weed seeds from sprouting in the bag and inhibiting bacterial growth. The enzymes produced by sprouts are good, but when they break down, there is too much bad bacteria. It will also eliminate large sticks and rocks that may puncture your bag. Additionally, well set compost is higher in nutrients.
If your mixture starts to smell after a while, it’s not getting enough oxygen. It should never smell sour or musty. It should only smell like dirt, maybe stronger. If it develops a smell, pour it into another section of your compost and start over.
You can use burlap sacks, but the weave is usually too loose and some silt will be lost. I use old cotton pillowcases. Cotton will biodegrade after a while, unlike synthetic fibers like polyester. Check your fiber content before you start.
The molasses isn’t totally necessary, but I find it gives microbes a lift. If you feed them, they multiply faster. You can use honey, but it lacks nutrients molasses provides, especially iron. You can add an iron supplement, but that can take a long time to get into the soil. Most plants will start to turn yellowish when lacking in iron.
Are you feeding tomatoes? Soak some eggshells in a bucket of water with a few tablespoons of vinegar. (It doesn’t matter what kind.) The vinegar will help leach calcium out of the eggshells. Add this to your tea water to help prevent blossom end rot. It works well for squash, peppers and eggplant too.
This time of the year your plants can probably use a boost. Compost tea is the perfect way to water your plants and add nutrients at the same time.