Compost Tea is a microbial solution that improves soil structure, adds beneficial organisms to the soil to sustain plants, builds organic matter in the soil, and aids in nutrient uptake.
A mature, finished compost contains millions of beneficial organisms. That is why gardeners spread compost on their crops. This is beneficial to the soil, but very labor intensive.
Compost Tea, on the other hand, contains BILLIONS of beneficial organisms, doing in one application what spreading compost onto crops does in multiple applications. A true actively aerated tea is brewed in one of the many commercial brewers on the market. It is not a ‘steeped’ or leachate product. Many gardeners soak their compost in a bucket and pour it into the soil. While this will add a small amount of organisms to the soil, chances are that this product will not significantly improve soil health and may be anaerobic as well.
A good rule of thumb in making compost tea is: if it stinks, it is not an actively aerated product. This product should have a rich, earthly smell, like duff from under trees and shrubs.
Brewing compost tea needs to include aeration and food sources for the organisms to multiply and grow during the brewing cycle. While many gardeners build their own brewers, it’s best to stick with commercial systems. These manufacturers test their end result, showing what organisms are in the tea.
If you are thinking of purchasing a brewer, ask to see lab test results!
While there are many commercial compost tea brewers on the market, my favorite is the Growing Solutions System. These are available in large sizes for growers, as well as 25 gallon, and their newer 10 gallon homeowner size. Tea brewed using these systems is often diluted at a rate of 5:1. A 10 gallon unit would yield 50 gallons of tea.
Any true compost tea product must be applied to the soil within 5-7 hours. Because the solution contains microbes, food sources are depleted quickly as soon as the tea is finished brewing. Do not purchase a pre-bottled compost tea product – these are not worth the price and you are not getting a true benefit by using them. Microorganisms cannot be ‘bottled’ – they would die off.
Applications should be made in spring, summer, and fall for best results. This is especially true if you have used conventional methods for fertilization, which leaves chemical residue in the soil and depletes beneficial organisms. Once you are on a program using compost tea, soil health will be re-established over time.
Compost Tea is not a quick fix, and not a stand-alone product. Think of it as building soil health over time – adding beneficial organisms that aid in plant health and growth. This product does not offer NPK and is not a fertilizer or pesticide.