How to Make Compost Tea: The Tea Elixir for Plants
When you think of tea, you're mind probably goes to a variety of types from peppermint and chamomile to green tea and black tea. Compost tea is very rarely the first thing you think of.
Compost tea gets its name from its dark amber color and because it is 'brewed'. While not technically a tea for humans, compost tea is a healthy elixir that protects and promotes the growth of plants. So while you can't actually drink compost tea, you can use it to keep your plants—including tea plants—healthy and happy.
What is Compost Tea?
Compost tea is a liquid organic fertilizer for plants. Compost tea is usually applied as a foliar spray to plants during times of stress including temperature fluctuations and root damage.
Like true teas and herbal teas, compost tea is nutritionally rich and packed with vitamins and antioxidants. It is also chock full of beneficial microorganisms and other organic materials that promote growth. Like real teas, it's not just what's inside the tea bag that matters. Geographical location and compost composition all affect the quality of a compost tea.
The tea is made from broken down organic matter from the compost pile. It can be brewed right at home or purchased at a variety of garden centers. Compost tea is naturally made by compost piles and known as leachate. This byproduct of worm composting and traditional composting forms at the bottom of the compost bin.
Most compost bins aren't designed for easy removal of the leachate. That's why many gardeners choose to brew their compost tea at home. Read on to find out the benefits of compost tea and the best way to start compost tea brewing.
Benefits of Compost Tea
Compost tea is full of nutrients that help the plant grow healthy and quickly. Plants treated with compost tea tend to be hardier and more stress tolerant than other plants.
Encourages Plant Growth
This liquid fertilizer encourages plants to grow bigger leaves and results in healthier harvests and brighter flowers. The nutrients support higher yields of fruits and vegetables.
Compost tea contains beneficial bacteria that help protect plants from disease. These beneficial microbes are sprayed onto the leaves of plants where they prevent the invasion of harmful pathogens. Compost tea effectively prevents damage caused by blight, fungi, and mold.
Alternative to Toxic Chemicals
One of the best reasons for using compost tea is that you can forgo the toxic and chemical-laden fertilizers. Toxic fertilizers can harm useful gardening creatures such as ladybugs and worms.
These fertilizers can also have negative effects on humans and animals that consume harvested fruits and vegetables. Some traditional fertilizers can also burn plant root systems and leaves. Compost tea offers the same growing powers of toxic fertilizers without the negative effects.
Tips For Brewing Good Compost Tea
Focus on Quality
Compost tea is most effective when quality ingredients are used, just like in real teas. Always use well-aged compost when brewing compost tea.
Compost materials that are too old won't contain many nutrients. Compost that isn't broken down may contain damaging pathogens that can harm plants.
Aerating the compost tea ensures the mixture will have as many beneficial microbes as possible. The simplest way of aerating compost tea is to stir it occasionally while it is steeping.
Aerated compost tea can also be created using an aquarium pump, air stones, or an air pump.
Add Powerful Ingredients
You can increase the effectiveness of compost tea by adding things like fish emulsion, powdered seaweed, coffee grounds, and worm castings. This helps to increase the nutrient factor of compost tea and boosts plant growth.
Take Your Time
Brewing compost tea is straightforward and doesn't take a lot of time. The brewing process can take anywhere from 24 hours to one week depending on how powerful you want your fertilizer to be.
Many compost tea brewers aim for at least 48 hours. The longer the tea brews, the stronger it will be.
Compost Tea Recipe
What You’ll Need:
- 2 5-gallon buckets
- 1 watering can
- High quality compost
- Water (pond, rain, or well water)
- Strainer (cheesecloth, t-shirt, burlap sack)
- Organic additives (OPTIONAL)
1. Fill a 5 gallon bucket about 1/3 full with finished compost material. Make sure to use quality compost for the best results. The compost should consist of fine materials and be rich black or dark brown in color.
2. Use a watering can to fill the rest of the bucket with non-chlorinated water. Rain water, well water, or pond water are typically best. Avoid using tap water.
3. Steep the tea concentrate for 3 to 4 days. Stir the mixture in the morning and evening each day.
4. Strain the tea mixture using a large fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth into a second five-gallon bucket. You can also use another porous fabric like an old t-shirt, pillowcase, or a burlap sack. Take the solid organic materials and return them to your garden or compost bin.
5. Before applying the tea to garden plants, add water to dilute the tea concentrate. Dilute using a 10:1 ratio of water to tea.
6. Apply as a soil drench or spray directly to plant leaves. For best results, add 1/4 teaspoon of plant-based oil such as vegetable oil or coconut oil to the compost tea when using as a foliar spray.
Using Compost Tea
Brew compost tea at home using organic materials from the compost bin or the worm bin. This liquid fertilizer makes it easy to start organic gardening. It helps promote plant growth and increases harvest yields without having to use toxic chemicals or environmentally damaging fertilizers.
Tea making is fun whether you're brewing a hot cuppa before bedtime or creating a tea concentrate for your garden. Remember to always use quality materials for the best results.
Apply the compost tea to sandy soils, clay soils, or rocky soils to increase nutrient density and make the area more suitable for growing healthy plants. The soil food web will reward you with higher yields thanks to the added nutrients. You can also spray compost tea directly to plant leaves to fend off harmful pathogens and prevent infections. However you decide to use your compost tea, you're sure to have great results.