How to Make Compost Tea—A Step by Step Guide
Gardeners know how important compost is to maintaining the nutrients in a garden’s soil, but many people do not know about compost tea. It may sound a bit odd, but it is very similar to brewing regular tea. You steep your compost in water and use the nutrient-rich water to feed your plant. It also contains healthy bacteria that protect your plants from diseases. If you want to learn how to make compost tea, keep on reading.
The Best Compost for Compost Tea
The most crucial part of an effective compost tea is the compost itself. This is where all the goodness comes from, so you have to do it right. You need a fairly balanced ratio between the types of ingredients you use, which is about 25 percent high-nitrogen ingredients, 45 percent greenery, and 30 percent woody materials.
High nitrogen ingredients include materials like manure or alfalfa, bean, clover, or pea plant residues. It even includes the first grass clippings of the spring season because the blades are lush. After that, it is just green material.
Green materials consist of any plant debris (like grass clippings), kitchen scraps, and even coffee grounds. Coffee grounds are not green, but are full of sugars and proteins that bacteria love!
Woody materials include actual wood pieces, newspaper, and paper plates and towels. Just make sure you shred them or cut them into small pieces so they decompose easier.
Temperature is another key part to making a nutritious compost. As the materials decompose, they will generate heat within the pile. This is a good thing. Ideal temperatures are between 135 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit because it will kill off any bad bacteria, weed seeds, and nematodes. If it gets hotter than 160 degrees, the good bacteria will start to die as well, and that will ruin your compost. Use a long thermometer to keep your pile within this temperature range for three days straight.
Turn the Compost
When the temperature hits 155 degrees Fahrenheit, it is time to turn the compost pile. This will help even out the temperature, taking cooler ingredients to the inside and warmer ingredients to the outside. This keeps your compost from getting too hot. You will most likely turn your compost every day or two for the first week and then once or twice in the next few weeks. About six to eight weeks since you started your pile, it should cool down and mature, which makes it ready to use.
Use Your Nose
Compost should have a sweet, earthy smell, so you are doing something wrong if it stinks. Generally, it means that the materials need more oxygen, so you can easily remedy it by turning the compost more often. The good bacteria in the materials need oxygen to live, so no oxygen is bad for the pile.
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How to Brew Compost Tea
Now that you know more about the kind of compost you need, you are ready to brew compost tea. It does not take many materials to accomplish, which makes the process easy for you. Honestly, it is pretty hard to mess up, so you should do just fine making your first batch. Here are the materials you will need:
- 5- or 10-gallon bucket
- Aquarium pump (large enough to run three bubblers)
- 3 bubblers
- Several feet of tubing
- Gang valve
- Unsulfured molasses or a compost catalyst
- Old pillowcase, nylon stocking, or tea towel (to strain the tea)
- Stick (used to stir the tea)
Now that you have your materials, here is a step-by-step guide to making compost tea.
Step 1: Assemble Your Tools
The first step to make your own compost tea is to prepare all of your materials for use. The aquarium pump is crucial to aerating the tea because it provides the oxygen that the bacteria needs to survive. (Fun fact: If you use unaerated tea on your plants, you can damage them.) Attach one end of your tubing to the pump and the other end to the gang valve, and attach the gang valve to the side of the bucket. Attach the three bubblers to the gang valve and let them drape over, into the bucket, and settle on the bottom.
Step 2: Aerate the Water
If you are using regular tap water, you will want to aerate before adding your compost. Tap water contains chlorine, which will quickly kill the good bacteria in the compost. Run the bubblers in the water for at least an hour to make sure all it blows off all the chlorine.
If you use your own well water, you can skip this step and start by filling your bucket halfway with compost.
Step 3: Add Compost
Once your water is aerated, add your compost. You can either place the compost in your strainer and then in the water or you can add the compost straight into the water. Do not pack in the compost because the bubblers will need to properly aerate the tea. Completely filled, your tea should be just a few inches from the rim of the bucket.
After you get it started, add either one ounce of the molasses or the compost catalyst. This feeds the organisms in your compost. Stir the tea well to shake more organisms from the compost, and make sure to stir it a few times a day.
Step 4: Let It Sit
This is the easiest step to making compost tea because you just let it sit for two or three days. Obviously, you will be stirring it a few times a day and making sure that the pump is still going. This is minimal compared to the other steps though.
Step 5: Using Compost Tea When It Is Ready
Once the compost tea is done, you will want to use it right away. How do you know if it is ready though? The finished product looks rich and frothy, which indicates that all the organisms in there are well-fed and ready to use. Strain the liquid into another bucket and your tea is ready. You do not need to dispose of the leftover compost, thankfully. It still has great nutrients in it, so you can either put it back in your compost pile or spread it into your garden.
When using compost tea, the most effective way to help your plants is to spray it onto the leaves. They will not only absorb the nutrients better, but they will also be safe against many of the diseases that plague plants. Some even claim that compost tea improves the taste of garden vegetables! Once you have covered the leaves of all your plants, you can put the rest of the tea into the soil. The roots will also enjoy it.
Making compost tea is pretty easy, now that you know how to do it and have the proper materials. This makes it so you can not only compost many of the materials you use at home, but you can also get rid of the chemical pesticides you may have. This process is environmentally friendly and helps you to live a sustainable lifestyle.
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