Compost tea is a great way to protect your plants by giving them a healthy dose of organic fertilizer and providing them with a cover of ‘good’ microorganisms. Nowadays, an increasing number of gardeners are switching to compost tea than regular compost because of its many benefits and many of them prefer to make compost tea at home rather than buy it.
If you’re thinking the same, we’ve got a quick and easy recipe for you to make your own compost tea in the comfort of your own home. Let’s go ahead and take a look!
What is Compost Tea?
Compost tea in simple terms is liquid compost. It’s what you get when you steep solid compost material in water for a certain period of time. All the nutrients, good microorganisms and other compounds that are beneficial for your plants leech into the water, leaving you with a liquid that looks like tea!
What are the Types of Compost Tea?
Although you may not have realized, there are several types of compost tea to learn about:
1. Plant Tea
Plant tea is made by soaking a plant with nutritious properties in the water so that all its nutrients will be extracted. Some of the best and most commonly used plants for making plant tea are nettle and comfrey which add nutrients such as potassium and phosphorus to the soil which are essential for your plants to grow.
2. Commercial Microbial Tea
These are tea mixes which are readily available on the market in powder form. All you have to do it just add water to the mix. While they’re highly convenient, we don’t recommend using them because they just don’t contain enough nutrients and microbes to make them worth your while. However, on the plus side, they’re usually bad-bacteria-free so you’ve got nothing to worry about there.
3. Manure Tea
One of the most common types of compost tea used by farmers, manure tea is made by soaking various types of aged manures in water. You might want to think twice before trying this one, since it can get quite smelly!
4. Compost Leachate
Compost leachate is similar to regular compost tea since they both require solid compost to soak in water. However, leachate is the liquid that you’ll find oozing out from the bottom of your compost bin. Leachate isn’t fermented so only the nutrients it contains are healthy and not the living microbes.
Making Your Own Compost Tea
Now that we’ve taken a look at what compost is and the different types of compost teas, it’s time to start making your own!
What You’ll Need
Before you get down to making compost tea, you’re going to need a few things, so make sure you have them before hand.
1. Solid Compost
You can either buy finished compost from the store, or you can make your own at home, but what’s important is that it’s completely done composting. Compost that’s been properly finished smells quite sweet, not stinky, so if your compost stinks then don’t go for it. Don’t use compost that has animal manure in it either since it can contain e-coli bacteria that can harm your plants. The processing of making compost tea usually kills e-coli, but why take the risk?
The amount of finished compost you’ll need depends on how much compost tea you’re going to brew. If it’s about 5 gallons, you’ll need to use about 4 cups of finished compost. For 20 gallons, you’ll need about 16 cups of compost.
2. Food for Microbes!
The good bacteria in your compost needs to have food to grow and they sure have sweet teeth! Feed your microbes with sweet maple syrup, molasses, cane syrup or any fruit juice you like and they’ll be sure to repay you later! However, make sure that the sugar liquids you give them don’t contain any sulfure. Just about 2 tablespoons of sugary juice is enough for 5 gallons of water.
3. Water – WITHOUT CHLORINE!
Do not use chlorinated water for brewing compost tea. The chlorine will kill all the good microbes until there’s nothing left. You can dechlorinate the water by injecting oxygen with an air pump or allowing it to evaporate for a day. The air pump method is much faster and takes only about 2 hours.
Don’t worry, this one isn’t as hard as it may seem. Use an air pump with a check valve, tubing, a splitter and two air stones at the least. The size of the pump depends on the size of your bucket so if your bucket holds 5 gallons, use an 18w pump.
5. A Bucket
If you’re a beginner, you might want to start with a smaller batch of compost tea so a 5 gallon bucket would be ideal. You can always use something bigger once you’re used to it and need more compost tea. If you’re already making your own compost tea then go ahead and use whichever size you like.
6. A Sock or Bag
This is to put the finished compost in so that bits and pieces won’t clog up your watering cans or anything else later on. This is optional so if you don’t have either one, you can omit it altogether and just strain your tea once you’re done brewing. You can also use something lying around in the house like an t-shirt, a pillowcase or a cheesecloth.
7. Extra Time – For Brewing
Compost tea typically needs a few days to brew properly. Sometimes, depending on the proportions and types of ingredients you use, it can take as little as one day or as many as three.
Once you’ve got everything ready, the process of making the tea really doesn’t take much time at all.
- Fill up your bucket with the dechlorinated water.
- You can either dump the compost as it is into the water and use a burlap bag to strain it once you’re done to separate the tea and solids, or you can put the compost in the bag, sock or whatever substitute you’ve chosen to act as a filter. This is much easier since you won’t have to go through the hassle of straining it later. If you’re using the filter, tie it up with a long rope and leave the end hanging out of the bucket so you won’t have to put your hand inside to find it later.
- Drop the airstone in, and fire up your oxygen pump. Leave it to sit for 24 hours. Remember not to keep it longer than that since bad bacteria will start going out of control and taking over. If the tea starts stinking, then you know you’ve gone too far and the bad news is, you’ll have to throw it out so be sure to keep your eye on it.
- Remember, when you’re done brewing your compost tea, keep it refrigerated or keep the air pump on until you’re ready to use it or it will spoil. You might also want to remember not to leave your tea out in direct sunlight since the UV rays can kill all the microbes in it.
How to Use the Compost Tea
The general recommendation for the application of compost tea is to dilute 4 cups of tea to 1 gallon of water. Some people often go for a ratio of 1:10, that’s 10 cups to one gallon. You can just apply the tea as it is without diluting using a watering can or a sprayer. If you like, you can also use it like a foliar spray which works great at boosting the health of any plants that are ill. Apply at least twice a week to see results.
How to Know if Your Compost Tea Works
Compost tea isn’t a magic elixir and takes a bit of time to start showing results. Over time, you’ll notice that your plants look healthier and vibrant with possibly a higher yield and better foliage. However, if you want to see these results for sure, keep using the tea.
What are the Pros and Cons of Compost Tea?
If this is the first time you’re going to be using compost tea, you might want to take a look at the pros and cons first, starting with the pros.
Compost Tea Pros
- It’s easy to carry around unlike solid compost.
- It makes the nutrients readily available to the roots of your plants.
- It helps suppress root diseases that are common in plants.
- It improves the growth of plants.
- You’ll find you won’t need to use as much synthetic fertilizer as you used to.
- It’s 100% organic!
- It improves soil conditions for your plants.
Compost Tea Cons
While compost tea has its many benefits, there are also a few downsides to using it. Take a look!
- Compost tea has less carbon compounds in it which the ‘good’ microorganisms need to help them grow so that they can take care of your plants.
- The quality of your compost tea depends on the type of compost you use to make it. You can’t guarantee that the quality will be the same each time you brew it.
- As a fertilizer, it’s slightly weaker than actual compost since it contains a smaller amount of microorganisms and nutrients.
The Take Away
We hope our article was useful in helping you make your own compost tea and we hope you’ll see great results. Once you get used to it, making compost tea can be a fun and rewarding experience. Enjoy the process and happy composting!