Compost Tea – Perfect for Suburban Gardens

Posted by on May 15, 2016 in Do-It-Yourself, Frugal For Everyone, Gardening, Green Living | 25 comments

compost tea

Compost Tea – Strained and ready to use.

Compost tea is an inexpensive, easy-to-make, fast-working plant food that results in nutrient rich soil and strong, healthy plants. Every book or article written about organic gardening includes the need for adding compost to the soil. Easy enough to understand why since compost truly is a marvelous soil amendment – it improves nutrient retention of the soil while adding many beneficial organisms making for a more productive garden.

However, most municipalities have bylaws that prohibit homeowners from having compost piles in suburban areas which makes compost tea such a great alternative.  A compost pile isn’t required. With compost tea only one or two purchased bags of top quality compost will do. Add non-chlorinated water (rain water is free and perfect for this) and the right size pail and you’re set to go.

compost tea

Before getting to the Compost Tea recipe, there are a few things to know:

  • Compost Tea does not keep – when it’s ready you need to use all of it so make it in batches small enough to meet your immediate needs. There’s no sense wasting any.
  • The finished tea should not bubble or have a foul odour. That may mean it could be anaerobic and not much good can survive in that. If it has become anaerobic, throw it out and try again.
  • Make a test batch. A large coffee can or similar size container is ideal. Fill the can 1/3 full of compost, then fill the container with non-chlorinated water. Stir well with a stick, really move all the ingredients around. The stirring is extremely important as it aerates the tea and adds oxygen. Stir well several times a day for a week.
  • After 5 days to a week strain through a cheesecloth or strainer, rake the solids into the garden and pour a cup of the tea around each of the plants you want to feed.
    Compost Tea

    Adding the compost

To Make the Compost Tea:

  • Work only with clean materials. You can use any size container depending on the size of your garden although a five gallon pail or garbage bucket is used most often. As in the test batch, fill the container 1/3 full with compost, then fill the pail/bucket with non-chlorinated water. Stir well. Place in a handy location so you don’t forget about it.
  • The compost will settle on the bottom of the pail so stir 3 or 4 times the first day, making sure to move all the compost around, it needs to be well-mixed, then stir several times a day for the next week. Check often.
Compost Tea

Stirred and brewing

  • After 5 days to a week, strain the tea. The easiest way is to line a cheap colander with cheese cloth and just empty the tea into a very clean pail or bucket.
  • Dump and rake the solids into the garden. Use all of the tea to feed your plants, about 1 cup per plant.
  • Strain some of the compost tea into a spray bottle, add 1/2 teaspoon of dish detergent and spray on plant leaves to deter foliar disease.
  • Feed your plants and leaves every couple of weeks all summer long. This can also be used once a month on houseplants.

Note:  You can increase the nutrient value of the tea even more by adding powdered seaweed or worm castings to the finished tea.

Start a new batch brewing a week before you need more or better yet, split the garden up, feed half one week and the second half the second week and keep a continuous batch of compost tea brewing.

Both the finished compost tea and the discarded solids will add valuable nutrients to your soil, keeping your plants strong, healthy and producing abundantly.

Talk to you again next week,

Lenie

25 Comments

  1. Lenie, would you call this, then, “ultimate plant food”? Or maybe not plant food? In terms of coffee grounds or the leaves of actual tea: Is their function to enrich the soil somehow?

    Could you say more about what it means for soil to be anaerobic? Thanks!

    • Hi Ramona, great questions. The ultimate plant food – depends on the quality of the soil to begin with. We made raised garden beds and used top quality three-way mix (soil, peat, vermiculite) to fill them. Then we added a lot of compost. So our beds were good to begin with and all they need is the compost tea although I do add worm castings a couple of times during the summer. If your soil isn’t the best, then you should do a soil test to see what’s missing and add that to the soil. Once your soil is in good shape you can just feed with the compost tea, maybe adding the powdered seaweed or worm castings a few times during the season.
      Coffee grounds and tea – both have some beneficial value but they acidify the soil. That’s great for acid-loving plants plants like Azalea, Blueberry, Sweet Peppers, Tomatoes. Also good to scatter around hostas since slugs love hostas but won’t crawl over the coffee grounds.
      Anaerobic means without air and all plants need light, water and air to grow so basically anaerobic soil is dead soil.
      Hope this helps and sends you scurrying to your garden 🙂

      • Thanks for the informative response, Lenie.

  2. Found your post fascinating Lenie. All completely new to me.

    • Glad you liked the post Ken. Gardening – all of it – is an interesting topic.

  3. What a clever idea! I usually just buy the organic compost bags but this sounds good too. I will have to try it out. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sabrina, the nice thing about this is that a bag of compost goes much further and since you also spray it on the leaves to deter foliar disease it does double duty. Try it, I think you’ll like it and as long as you remember to stir you really can’t go wrong.

  4. Hi Lenie, well it is understandable why the don’t want a bunch of compost heaps in city limits. 🙂 this is great stuff and good alternative – worth making!

    • Susan, it certainly is understandable. I have a compost pile and a composter which was knocked over this past winter, top removed and emptied. All those wild creatures that never got to hibernate because of the mild winter. It’s one thing here but you certainly wouldn’t want that mess on a city lot – think of the rodents it would attract. That’s what makes this compost tea so great – there’s nothing there to attract wildlife.

  5. Food for plants – you certainly like gardening and all things green!

    I doubt one could write an in depth post with this much passion. I look forward to having (or perhaps making) the time to explore such interests. Work and other duties can take over.

    • Phoenicia, that’s the great thing about retirement – work no longer gets in the way of the fun stuff. When I was still working my husband was the gardener and I have to admit mine is nothing compared to what his was back then – at least a quarter of an acre with support structures for vertical growing plants, etc. It was gorgeous.

  6. This is well and truly beyond me, but my neighbor will just love this because she is obsessive about her garden which – lucky me – I can see from my kitchen window. I’m going to forward your article to her right away. 🙂

    • Marquita, thanks for sharing this with your neighbour – hope she makes good use of it. Lovely to have a garden to look at out of your kitchen window. Mine looks onto Conservation Land and I often see critters – Deer, Wild Turkeys, Porcupines – in my yard. The other day we saw our neighbours African Guinea Hens back there. Absolutely love that.

  7. I found this very interesting. In my previous house, where I had a fairly large yard, I used to have a compost bin but never quite got the hang of composting. I now have just a couple of small raised beds bordering the house. This might be something I could try.

    • Donna, I find this the easiest form of composting. There is absolutely no smell or mess and a bag of compost lasts forever. Much better than dumping the entire bag on the garden then having to fertilize every couple of weeks with an additional fertilizer. As long as you remember to stir it you really can’t go wrong. 🙂

  8. Sounds like a fantastic idea, Lenie. Love it.

    • Hi Catarina, this is an easy to do composting project but probably won’t work on your orchids LOL

  9. I hadn’t heard of compost tea before, but what a great idea. I’m going to be expanding my garden and know I need to pay better attention to taking care of my dirt so it doesn’t get too zapped of nutrients.

    • Jeri, you’re right. We often don’t think about all the nutrients being absorbed by plants but with this compost tea it’s easy enough to replace those and maybe even add some additional nutrients. For city gardens, it’s the only way to go (keeps the raccoons and other vermin from scattering the compost). Have a great gardening season.

  10. Ok, your mention of gathering rainwater made me laugh. I forget that rainwater is so easy to come by in most places in the world. Where I live, we have almost a 0% chance of rain between May and October. It once rained in the middle of my friend’s birthday pool party in August and we were all stunned. It was like seeing snow in August in the rest of the world.

    OK, enough about that. Compost tea seems like a great idea and from the way you described it, it seems pretty easy to make. I love that you can put it in a spray bottle and just spritz it on your plans. I’m a big fan of your gardening posts, so thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Erica, we’re going to make a gardener out of you yet although with no rain it will definitely have to be small-space gardening. 🙂 So glad you like my gardening posts – lovely to get that kind of feedback.
      As to no rain for six months – I’ve been trying to picture that and just can’t. No rain and lots of heat – the ground must turn hard as a rock during that time. Question – do you then have 6 rainy months?

  11. This is a great post, and tips, especially for someone like me who spends much of his time in an apartment.
    I must say I also liked one of your relies that indicated this does not smell. That was a downside to much compost heaps, being decayed matter it does have a tendency to put out an odor.
    Thank you for sharing these tips with us.

  12. I don’t know anything about compost tea. This article has educated me a bit.

  13. Lenie, have you ever tried to resuscitate a seemingly dead tree? If so, is compost tea something you would press into service therefor?

    • Morning Andy – I haven’t tried to resuscitate a seemingly dead tree but I have dug up wild lilac bushes and dumped compost tea in the hole before I replanted them. Worked like a charm so can’t see where it would hurt with a seemingly dead tree.