It is mid-summer, the gardening season is halfway over. Time for a plant boost. The easiest and effective way to give the plants some instant food is by using compost tea. Compost tea is simply tea made out of good, finished compost, a liquid plant fertilizer. Plants love compost tea.
Compost tea is also a good way to extend the good compost you have. Diluted in water it goes a long way. A little bit of compost makes a lot of liquid compost tea, an all-natural fertilizer.
There are two kinds of compost tea: there is brew and there is steep, or compost extract. To make tea you need an air pump and the compost is submerged in a nylon stocking, more about that below. We like the steep, extract, or maybe I should say just the mix. Let’s get started and you will see what I mean. Compost tea can be made very simply, and this is the way we do it.
How to make simple compost tea
Put some good quality compost into a container, add water, stir, let it steep, and water the plants with it. So simple, right? The water to compost ratio is about 1 to 30, but there is no science to it. More will just make stronger compost tea. You can use composted sheep manure, worm castings, or any good-quality compost.
You can also add comfrey to the compost tea. Comfrey is a wonderful mulch for chop and drop permaculture systems, a fabulous flower for pollinators and beneficial insects, and a fantastic fertilizer, make sure to grow some in your garden.
Eggshells or Epson salt can also be added for more minerals.
We would recommend letting the compost tea steep for about 24 hours if you use a cold tap or well water. Plants do not like cold water with or without compost. If you happen to let it sit a bit longer, make sure to stir it occasionally so the mixture does not start to smell. Usually just a short steep is enough.
The notion the longer the better, so that it starts to smell is not true. If it smells bad, it probably is bad.
Where to use compost tea
In nature, the ground is covered with plant material that slowly decomposes, resulting in a layer of compost. Whenever it rains, the compost and plant material gets soaked into the ground. A natural compost tea for the plants, if you will.
In our garden, we imitate the same result with mulching the garden area with compost or wood chips. Whenever it rains, the plants in our garden too get watered with this natural compost tea.
However, in a greenhouse or raised beds, the environment is not as natural. There is either no natural soil or no rain to water the compost in. This are the places we make simple compost tea for.
If your garden is not mulched, you can also use simple compost tea for the whole garden. However, we would recommend covering the soil each year with 1-2 inches of compost instead.
How to use simple compost tea
Water each plants with about a gallon of simple compost tea. If some compost happens to be left in the bottom you can add more water until everything is gone, or just scoop the compost out and cover the ground around the plants.
If you used comfrey, take the leaves out ad use them in the compost pile or as mulch for the plants.
This simple method has worked for us and many other gardeners. Plants just love compost tea, it provides them with much-needed nutrients in a liquid, easily available form.
Now, if you are not as simple, you can make real compost tea.
Use an old sock or nylons as a “teabag” filling it with good quality compost, making sure the compost does not touch the bottom of the bucket. Add some organic molasses to feed the bacteria. Fill the bucket with water. Add an aquarium aerator (Air Pump) and let the compost tea brew. You will end up with awesome compost tea, and your plants will grow just as great as with a simple compost extract.
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Shirley Wood says
Anna, I made some compost tea but can’t open the lid of the container b/c I have a weak stomach 🙂 I have laughed at myself so much. I actually did open it one day to try to use it all but had to close it quickly. It isn’t going to defeat me though! I intend to get that in the ground around some of my flowers!
Sorry Shirley for your bad experience!. Next time do not close it, compost tea needs air. That’s why some gardeners use an aerator. But just leaving it open and maybe stir occasionally will help too. Compost tea does not smell. BTW good compost, that is done does not smell either.
Shirley Wood says
Good to know Anna. My compost bin does not have an odor at all. I should have realized that!
Kristen from The Road to Domestication says
I had no idea there was such a thing as compost tea, much less that you could make it! I’ll share this with my mom – she just got one of those big tumbling composters, and she would love this, too!
We love a good cup of tea, and so do our plants. Glad you learned something new.
I’ve never heard of compost tea, but I’m going to try it. Looks simple enough and my garden will thank me for it. Thanks, Anna.
You are welcome! It is simple and I like it simple!
That’s why you are a great gardener! I had no idea there was such a tea for plants!
You learn as you go Zan. I did not start with compost tea either, but after a while I learned more and more.
Dave @ OurHappyAcres says
Thanks for sharing this, which proves that not all gardening has to be difficult! I have a an old five gallon bucket I use to make my compost tea. Compost is such magic stuff, I consider it one of the most important things I produce. Of course the micro-organisms do all the real work for me!
Gardening is actually quite simple. Plants want to grow and produce, they are created that way. Thanks for stopping by Dave!
There is no science to it?! Blasphemy!! Making compost tea is a lot like making a cake, if you don’t use the right ingredients in the right proportions you won’t get the desired results. There are even those dedicated enough to monitor their brews with a microscope to determine optimal brewing time. That’s not to say there is an absolute best way to brew the tea, as there are many variables at play. I would encourage others to experiment and see what works best for them. A pretty standard recipe is 2 cups compost and half a cup molasses per 5 gallons water.
Neil, I like your comparison with a cake. You can make a simple cake with whole grain flour, real butter, and beaten farm-fresh eggs. It will be a cake. Or you can make a really fancy cake, with lots of ingredients, it will be impressive, but not necessarily healthier or better for you. Compost tea occurs naturally if the soil is covered with lots of organic matter and the rain is watering it down to the roots. However, not all of my plants are planted in this naturally great environment, so I help the plants out with simple compost tea. Sure, one can make a science out of it, and if you want to do that then go for it. I like things simple.
Tammy H. says
When the compost tea is used, what is done with the compost left in the bucket? Or is the compost to be used as well as the liquid.
If you stir occasionally while watering there will not be anything left. But if you have something left, you can add more water and pour it all out or just put it on top of your soil. Anyhow it will be good for the plants.