We first learned about compost tea during a visit at a local nursery. There, they sold this super-nutrient plant food by the gallon, and it promised to help my ailing plants like no other prescription could do. Now that we know what it's good for, and have our own compost pile in the backyard, we're ready to make our own — it's cheap and easy, and it's like gold for plants!
The basic premise here is to steep your compost in water, which concentrates all the nutrients into the "tea." Then, you dilute your concentrate with water and use it to feed the plants. It takes all those highly-concentrated nutrients directly (and quickly) to the roots and can be applied on an as-needed basis.
What You Need
High-quality Compost (made in your own yard or bought at a local nursery); compost made from manure is best for this project
Two large buckets (5 gallon or larger, depending on the size of your garden)
Strainer or mesh (Alternately, turn to a pond pump and see links at the bottom of this post)
1. Start with good, nutrient-rich compost. You'll want to use compost from your own yard or purchase some from a local nursery.
2. Fill your bucket about three quarters of the way full with compost. Don't pack it in like brown sugar; instead, let it fall loosely into the bucket. You want water to be able to steep the compost as if it was loose-leaf tea.
3. Prior to adding water, be sure to relocate your bucket to a spot where it won't get direct sunlight. You'll want it to be in a place where it'll be warm, but not where it's in danger of being scorched by the sun or sitting in shade all day. Think "happy medium." Some sources say that the compost brew should reach 135 degrees; others just say make sure it gets warm but doesn't boil.
4. Once you've found just the right place for your bucket, add water to fill to the brim.
5. Steep the compost for about a week, stirring once a day.
6. Time to strain! You want to pour your compost tea through a strainer or mesh and into your second bucket. It might be good to enlist a friend to help with this step.
7. Your bucket of compost tea is almost ready to use. To fertilize and replenish plants' nutrients, dilute your compost tea in a watering can, one part compost tea to ten parts water in a watering can.
8. To use your diluted tea, pour it directly into the ground surrounding the plants, being careful to avoid the leaves (if your tea is high in nitrogen, it might burn the leaves if direct contact is made).
9. The strained compost can be added back to your compost pile, or spread around your plants like mulch. (Don't use it for another batch of tea right away, though, as it's not a little drained of nutrients.)
We turned to the easiest and most accessible way, with many tips coming from this article at DoItYourself.Com and even more tips coming from the helpful folks at our local nursery.
Want to kick it up a notch, avoid the straining, and use a pond pump? Follow these directions at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, or these instructions at FineGardening.Com.
(Re-edited from a post originally published on 2.18.2011 - CM)
(Image: Amber Byfield)