compost, compost tea, brewing compost tea, how to make compost tea

Compost Tea: How to Brew It and Use It in Your Garden

By Catherine Winter

“Compost tea” sounds rather disgusting, doesn’t it? When we think of compost, very few of us would associate a well-loved beverage with the squidgy brown soil that’s made from broken-down vegetable matter. You can rest assured that this nutrient-dense drink isn’t for human consumption. It’s a rich fertilizer that’s ideal for nourishing your plants, and we’re going to teach you how to make it and use it.

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What You’ll Need

  • 1 five-gallon bucket
  • Chlorine-free water (rainwater or river water is ideal)
  • A couple of handfuls of high-quality organic compost (let’s say 2 cups)
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Large strainer or colander
  • A large stick for stirring

Directions:

  • Pour about 2 cups’ worth of good, rich compost into your bucket.
  • Add the water, and use that big old stick to stir everything around until the water looks murky.
  • Then, if desired, add in about a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses, stirring well as you dribble it in.

Some people get high tech and use a fish tank aerator for their compost tea, but I just use my stick to slosh everything around for about an hour until it’s properly frothy.
If you have children, this is a great way to keep them occupied for a while AND make plant food in the process. Just make sure they know not to drink any of it, because ew.

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*Note: If you’d rather keep things a bit tidier, you can also cram the compost into the leg of an old pair of nylons, and use it like a giant teabag in the water bucket instead. This technique does work best with an aerator, because you don’t have to stand (or sit) there dipping that manky bag in and out of the water, so there’s another option for you.

You can let the mixture rest for a couple of hours (12 at the most), and just prod at it a little bit here and there to keep the oxygen active. When you’re ready to use it, pour some of the tea through a strainer or colander into a large watering can, and then add more water to dilute it.

You’ll want to dilute this with a 10:1 ratio of water:tea for mature plants, or 20:1 water:tea ratio for seedlings and potted plants.

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A Couple of Notes:

The reason why you need to use chlorine-free water here is because the chlorine that’s added to standard water systems will actually kill the very microbes you’re trying to cultivate in this extract. You WANT the good bacteria in here, and chlorine’s antibacterial properties will destroy all of that.

Also, when you fertilise your plants, trees, water, etc., try to water close to the base rather than on the leaves, unless you see evidence of insect infestation or any kind of infection or blight on the leaves themselves. In those cases, you can pour some of the compost tea into a spray bottle and spritz the leaves and stems, which can often help alleviate the issue.

Related Post: DIY Trash Can Composter Tutorial

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What Good Will it Do?

All KINDS of awesome, really. Feeding your plants with compost tea doesn’t just increase their nutrient density, but can improve their flavour as well.
Effects that can result from using compost tea include:

  • Greener, more flavourful leaves in leafy greens like chard, collards, kale, spinach, and lettuces
  • Larger blooms on flowers
  • Better-tasting vegetables
  • Higher yields
  • Enhanced root system growth, which allows the plants to better draw nutrients from the soil, as well as providing greater stability

Think of compost tea as a tasty probiotic drink for your plants. In the same way that humans thrive when they add beneficial microbes to their gut microbiome (kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchee, yoghurt, etc.), plants also need those happy microbes to help them reach their highest potential.

Compost tea helps to build a more nutrient-rich soil, which in turn feeds your plants, which then turn around and nourish you.
Added benefit: since you’re not pouring any harmful chemicals into the soil, you’re also helping to nourish the local ecosystem as a whole.
And that is fabulous.

IMPORTANT:

Compost tea must be used within 36 hours of being brewed, which is why it’s best to create it in small batches. Compost tea has to be utilised while it’s aerobic: while there are plenty of oxygen molecules booping around inside it. As soon as it goes anaerobic, it can begin to ferment, and that can cause a lot more harm to your plants than good.

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Seeds n’ Soils

By Catherine Winter

Just about every person who’s tried to grow vegetables or herbs has had to deal with “failure to thrive”, whether it’s from seed failure or seedling death. It’s disappointing (even devastating if someone’s dependent upon gardening endeavours for their food), and there are a number of different reasons why it happens. One of the most common reasons is that the plants haven’t been cultivated in the right soil, so it’s important to determine what type of earth your plants need so you can give them the most optimal conditions from day one.

You’ve undoubtedly noticed that you’ll find different plants in different areas. On my land, there’s a ton of coltsfoot and mullein growing in the sandy soils around the creek, but I’m not going to find those plants tucked in amongst stands of birch in the loamy forest soil. They’re growing in the areas that are best for their development, and will fizzle out and die if forced to swap spaces.

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Acidic Soil

Radishes, peppers, and potatoes all thrive in acidic soil. You can add sphagnum peat moss into an all-purpose organic seed-starting mix, and the sphagnum will increase the soil’s acidity and increase the chances that your plants will germinate successfully.

Sphagnum is a good option for container gardening, but if you’ll be planting a large garden’s worth of food, you can get sulphur at your local garden centre and work that into the soil you’ll be planting into.

Here’s a tip: If part of your land is naturally acidic, take full advantage of that area and plant a bunch of perennial berry bushes. They’ll grow really well there, and you won’t have to put any extra effort into making the soil a happy place for them to be.

Cabbage

Alkaline Soil

Brassicas, peas, beans, and most leafy greens (like chard, lettuce, and spinach) prefer alkaline soils, but can do just fine in pH neutral soil as well. If the earth in your garden is on the acidic side and you’re really keen to have a ton of broccoli and beans, you can add some pulverized limestone to increase alkalinity.

If you’re uncertain as to just how acidic or alkaline your soil is, you can test it with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and plain white vinegar: take two samples of soil, and add a bit of baking soda to one sample, and a bit of vinegar to the other. If the sample with baking soda in it fizzes, then your soil is acidic. If the vinegary one fizzes, it’s alkaline. If nothing happens at all, it’s neutral.

You can, of course, also use pH testing strips, but this is an easy way to test your soil using items you likely already have at home.

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Sandy Soil

Root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, and beets tend to do best in sandy soils, as do aromatic culinary herbs like thyme, summer and winter savoury, oregano, and sage. Just like amending your soil with sphagnum, you can work sand into your soil prior to planting your seeds.

*Note: root vegetables can also be stored in sand in a cool, dry place over the winter. If you have a root cellar or cool, dark basement, try this method after you harvest them.

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Rich Soil

Squashes, pumpkins, zucchini, melons, broccoli, and cucumbers are heavy feeders that suck up a lot of nutrients from the soil, so it’s important that whatever they’re planted into is very nutrient-dense and rich. Work aged compost into your seed-starting mixture, and work a good fertilizer into the soil they’ll be planted into about 3 weeks before transplanting them. Once they’re in the soil, it’s good to re-fertilize every few weeks (compost tea is ideal for this), but along the “drip line” (around the edges of your plant) so you don’t burn or damage the plant itself.

 

Many seed companies (especially organic and heirloom dispensaries like Baker Creek) have in-depth information on the backs of their seed packets: they’ll tell you exactly what type of soil is best for your plant, as well as their sun and water requirements. If your seed packets don’t give you this information, a quick Google search should work wonders. We’re in the process of compiling a rather large database of information that will let you know exactly what each species needs, but it’ll take us a little while to get all of that sorted out.

Have you had to amend your soil to suit different plants’ needs? Which techniques did you use? Please let us know in the comments section below!