By Peter Lowe, Native Landscape Manager
There is nothing like a warm night of rain to get your gardening gears turning. During a recent rainfall I shut off my T.V., phone, ipad, and computer, while throwing open all my windows and doors to let in the sounds of raindrops falling outside. It was just the meditation I needed to rejuvenate over a stressful and busy few weeks. It didn’t take long for me to begin thinking about what my garden needed besides a little rainfall. Somehow I always find my way back to soil; it is, after all, the building block of a healthy and functioning garden. I could muse about the benefits of natural and sustainable soil amendments, but what avid gardener hasn’t already started a compost pile?
We all know the advantages, reducing our input to landfills, utilizing the nutrients of our own wasted produce, increasing microbial activity, and limiting our dependence on chemicals. But, admit it! Sometimes it can be a pain to spread and work that compost into the ground. Do your neighbors really want to see a lawn full of compost? I know mine don’t. I have a solution that has all the nutritional benefits of compost, without all the normal back-breaking labor. Compost tea will be your new best friend. It’s simple, effective, and cheap!
Although compost tea does not replace occasional composting, it does help reduce the amount you’ll need to incorporate into your soil. This is a great addition to your garden tool arsenal. Brewing compost tea is delightfully easy. To begin, you need a five gallon bucket, aquarium aerator, water, molasses (bacterial) or kelp powder (fungal), stirring stick, strainer, and of course compost. A great tea can be brewed in as little as 24 hours! I recommend using an aquarium aerator to kick start your microbes into multiplying. Using molasses helps feed the bacterial microbes, while kelp powder helps to feed the fungal microbes. Use only kelp POWDER not kelp liquid, which can contain sulfur or anti-fungal agents. Start your tea in a shady and warm, but not hot or humid location. The cooler the temperatures are, the longer your tea will brew, usually 48 to 72 hours. Your water will turn a rich, deep brown color and will smell earthy. Think of fresh brewed coffee. If your compost begins to smell foul, like rotting meat or fish, start over!
Once your tea is brewed you can fill a clean or new sprayer and begin foliar applications or even use your tea as a soil drench. Use your new homemade fertilizer once or twice a month, or as needed. I know what you’re thinking, I’ve written about this great fertilizer but how do you make it? Well here you are a great recipe to get you under way.
Compost Tea Recipe:
1. Fill your 5-gallon bucket a few inches from the top with water and aerate the water for an hour. This will help remove any existing contaminants.
2. Add up to 4 quarts of compost to your bucket. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of kelp powder or molasses and stir.
3. Allow your compost tea to brew for 24 hours. Make sure the aquarium aerator is running the entire time and is weighted to the bottom.
4. Strain your tea using mesh, a tea towel, window screen, or old noodle strainer.
5. Fill your sprayer and apply generously to your plant material.
There you have it—a sustainable solution to fertilizing: happy gardening!