By Larraine Roulston:
Layering fruit/vegetable peelings with dry yard trimmings makes a great soil conditioner to enhance your garden. When soil is healthy, the helpful microbes greatly outnumber the harmful ones and keep them under control. Finished compost not only feeds the good microbes by increasing their numbers and diversity but also eliminates the need to apply chemical fertilizers.
Compost and vermicompost are most often used in solid form. Many gardeners have discovered that they can increase the efficiency of applying finished compost by making a watery extract which is a nutrient-rich fertilizer known as compost tea. It is necessary to use well-aged, dark and coarsely textured compost, as fresh compost may contain pathogens. This liquid gold can be used to water vegetables as well as garden and house plants. Compost tea will tend to enhance the growth and blooms of plants.
To begin, you will need about 3 gallons (11 liters) of water. Chlorine will kill beneficial bacteria; therefore, if you are using chlorinated tap water, allow it to sit in the sun for several hours. The brewing process requires air bubbles that are best done with the aid of a brewing pump or an air filter such as those in fish tanks. The links below outline the procedure in detail, complete with illustrations.
To brew the tea without the use of an air filter, simply place a shovel full of finished compost in a sack and suspend it in water. For the next couple of days, stir the liquid to ensure that there is sufficient oxygen and circulation. Other methods include partially filling a bucket with water and giving it blasts of water from a hose. Also, you can pour the tea into a gallon jug and shake it. Aerating the compost tea as it brews is important, as stagnant tea will become anaerobic and will have a negative effect on your plants.
Steep the tea anywhere from 36 to 48 hours. More microbes will be introduced into the tea the longer you brew it; however, utilize it within 3 days, as the microbes will not have enough food to last any longer.
This nutrient-rich, well-balanced amber liquid made in your own backyard now can be spread, sprayed or poured at the base of plants in your garden. Begin by dampening the area where you will pour your tea. You may wish to strain the tea further by using burlap or an old shirt. Since this brew can be very rich in nutrients, it should be diluted with water if it is darker than amber in color. You can also add 1/8 tsp. of vegetable oil or mild liquid dish washing soap per gallon to help the tea stick to leaves. Your tea should also have an earthy odor. If that changes, discard it and begin a new batch.
For best results, apply the liquid about two weeks before your plants start to bud. It’s also a great soil conditioner for young plants and for those being transplanted. By creating compost tea, your composting efforts will go much further.
Larraine writes illustrated children’s stories on composting and pollination. Visit www.castlecompost.com