It’s early March here in soggy Portland, and getting started with our raised bed garden is just around the corner. In the meantime, I’ve been reading up on composting, and have come across some good information about a form of compost called compost tea that caught my attention.
There are many different ways to make it, but at its most basic compost tea describes something made using compost as a starting material with the end result in a liquid extract or basically a “liquid version” of the original compost. You can start off with either traditional or worm compost, but the end result is an aerated solution that is teeming with billions of beneficial microorganisms. Just like a cup of hot tea can be a great pick-me-up, compost tea is a boost for your garden and plants. This is because it is a more readily available form of nutrition and it will impact the plant more quickly than compost mixed into the soil.
Depending on the method used, compost tea takes about three days to make (assuming you already have a compost pile or tumbler or kitchen bin with compost already made). Just like making traditional tea, you add water to your compost and let it steep for a few days. It is best to start out with de-chlorinated water, as the chlorine will kill many of the helpful microorganisms in the mixture. It also helps if the water is oxygenated during the process, but that isn’t essential. sulfured molasses can be added to the mixture to provide a food source for the microorganisms.
During the two or three days it is steeping, it helps to stir up the mixture to keep things brewing smoothly. When it’s all done, the team should have an earthy smell, and it will need to be strained so you can use it. Cheesecloth works pretty well for this, and then you can put the solids left over from the process back into your compost pile or into your garden.
After all of that, you have a liquid extract of compost that contains plant nutrients and micronutrients, plant growth compounds and beneficial microorganisms. It isn’t, however, a good medium for distributing nematodes. This “liquid gold” can be applied directly to the leaf surface of a plant as a foliar spray or used as a soil drench to improve root systems. It is 100% organic, safe and non-toxic to children, pets, wildlife and fish, and is easy to apply using traditional application equipment, such as backpack sprayers, watering cans, and fertilizer injectors.
When you are starting your garden, compost tea will help your new plants get established quickly, with less transplant shock and faster root development. It enhances the development of new roots as well. From what I have read and heard, it is all the rave for gardeners who say they get higher quality vegetables, more flowers, and hardier foliage. It’s hard to believe that such an easy process provides a living soil amendment that enriches everything about the environment your plants grow in.