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Your Garden is Thirsty for Compost Tea

written by: Brian Jones•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 9/21/2009

While compost is widely used in organic gardening, many people don' take the time out to create a highly beneficial compost tea. Now you can using this recipe.

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    We all know gardens require care and even though we are living green we are sometimes tempted to cheat when we compare our first attempts at organic gardening with the neighbors chemical-laden vegetables about 3 times the size.

    Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way and one of the things we can do to achieve fruits and vegetables of comparable size and visual pleasance is to get down and dirty. We’ve all heard of compost and it’s a necessity in the organic garden, but what canGarden2  make a bigger difference is the use of compost tea.

    Compost tea is about exactly what the name implies, except instead of it being a healthy drink for yourself, it is a healthy drink for your garden. In short, compost tea is compost steeped in water, with a few extra tricks to increase microbial growth with sugars and aeration. Below I've outlined a compost tea recipe to get you started.

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    Required Materials

    Only a few simple materials are needed to make up a batch of compost tea:

    • 2 5-gallon buckets
    • aquarium air pump
    • 3-way gang valve for the air pump
    • 5 feet of tubing
    • 3 air stones
    • 1 stirring stick
    • length of porous cloth for filtering (cheese cloth, old nylons, t-shirts)
    • compost
    • 4 gallons rain or well water
    • 1 small bottle unsulfured molasses

    Attach 2 feet of the tubing directly to the air pump. At the end of this attach the 3-way gang valve. To the gang valve, attach 1 foot lengths of tubing and at the ends the air stones are connected.

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    Now it’s time to prepare the tea. Fill one of the buckets only 1/3 of the way full with mature compost. Keep it loose. We don’t want it packed down as the water must easily be absorbed. Pour in the water, filling the bucket with only 2 - 3 inches to spare from the lip.

    Garden1 It is vitally important not to use tap water. The chlorine content of “fresh" tap water is enough to kill all the precious microorganisms that we are trying to grow and harvest. If, for some reason, you must use tap water, a lot of the chlorine can be removed by aerating the water overnight with the aquarium pump and stones.

    Once we have the compost and water together, 1 oz of the unsulfured molasses can be added. The thick molasses must be uniformly mixed, so the stirring stick is used to stir the mixture vigorously for a couple of minutes. After stirring, attach the gang valve to the side of the bucket and add the aerating tubes and stones into the mix. Turn the air pump on and let it steep for 3 days.

    After no longer than 3 days, the tea will be ready. Remove the air tubing and stones from the mix and give it about 20 minutes to settle. Strain the liquid into the other bucket using the porous cloth. Once separated, the solids can be added back to the compost pile.

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    The compost tea is now ready for use. For best results apply once per week directly into the soil put some into a sprayer to apply as a foliar on the leaves in the early evening. For lawn use, dilute the mix by 100%. Otherwise full strength is great for gardens and potted plants indoors or out, shrubs, trees, and flowers.

    Use the tea the same day it is ready because the microorganisms are health and prepared to work their magic. If it sits more than a day, you run the risk of using up all the oxygen in the tea. It is easy enough to just make a new batch for next week. In no time at all your garden will show improvement in growth and health.