I have been reading a lot of magazine articles and doing online research on how to improve the soil in my garden.  After I put in a few cool-weather crops in late April, I noticed, for the first time, how different, how course and sandy a couple of areas were.  For a variety of reasons I am off to a late start this year and I didn’t get out into the garden, other than for watering the few plants that were out there, until right before Memorial Day weekend.  There were a few sections that the soil had a great texture but there were more sections that the soil was weak in character or total lacking it and was very sandy.  I had gone too long not feeding my soil at sufficient levels to maintain its quality.  Not enough compost and other nutrient-rich organic materials to sustain the soil’s vitality.

In a kismet-like moment one of my younger sisters gave  me, the March/April 2012 issue of Urban Farm magazine (first discussed here February 2011, Urban Gardening Resource: Urban Farm Magazine click here), and as usual it was loaded with several great articles, but the one that caught my eye immediately was “Prepare Perfect Soil.” The information in the article, as well as, some of the online research I had originally found, served me well as I took a meaningful step in to restoring my soil to premium grade again.

One of the coolest things the article covered was what they called “The Three Amigos” – Compost*, Mulch and Compost Tea.  It was the compost tea section that I was drawn to immediately.  I have been making a potion that I thought I was the only person in the world that knew it existed.  Not knowing if I was really doing something beneficial, I would dump the scant remnants in the compost bags into a bucket, add water and then pour it over my garden plants as far as it would go.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that someone had stolen my recipe and enhanced it quite a bit, made it stronger and technologically superior to my homemade, but feeble tonic.  I have been victimized by a snake-oil salesman and that salesman was me.

Now, you don’t have to worry none, I am not all that despondent.  One of the fun things about gardening or farming (?) is that every day there is always something new to learn.  By necessity, we are always learning, adapting and applying new information on a daily basis.  I knew my compost tea, which I unknowingly called it, was a good idea; I just didn’t know how good it was and take it far enough.

The article had a very simple recipe for making compost tea.  All you have to do is to “add a little well-made compost or manure into a bucket of water, let it steep for a few days and, tada!, you have compost tea!  That’s how our grandparents did it!  It also discussed another more sophisticated recipe that used de-chlorinated water, compost or worm castings, and nutrients for the microbes and pumping air through the batch.  The article states that the bubbling action of the air releases the microbes from the compost and into the tea.  As a result, this type of compost tea has a higher concentration of essential microbes than the best, most perfect compost and is easier to apply.  It can be sprayed directly on the soil, used as a drench to inoculate a new or sickly plant or applied to leaf surfaces as a foliage spray.

After reading the magazine article and doing some online research, I now know exactly how beneficial my little potion could have been if I had done it properly.  Compost Tea does the following…

  • Makes the benefits of compost go farther
  • When sprayed on foliage, it suppresses foliar diseases, increase the amount of nutrients available to the plants and speeds the breakdown of toxins.
  • Increases plant growth

Using compost tea has even been shown to increase the nutritional quality and improve the flavor of your vegetables (Brewing Compost Tea, http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/brewing-compost-tea.aspx/).

Now many of us can’t afford some of the fancy compost tea systems (www.growingsolutions.com) you can buy online, so here is a simple tea maker that you can make on your own or have one of your handy dandy D-I-Y friends make one for you.

Supplies Needed

  • (2) 5 gallon buckets
  • 1 gallon mature compost
  • 1 aquarium pump
  • 1 gang valve (to divide the air supply into several streams)
  • 4 gallons of water
  • 3 feet+ of aquarium hose
  • un-sulfured molasses

Instructions

  1. Attach 3 separate pieces of hose at least 12 inches long to the gang valve
  2. Place the gang valve in the bucket
  3. Add your finished compost and make sure the ends of the hoses are covered
  4. Add the water, filling the bucket within 6 inches of the top. (If you are using from a public source, run the pump and bubble air through the water for at least one hour before adding the water to the compost.  This allows any chlorine to evaporate.  Chlorine can kill beneficial organisms in the tea.)
  5. Add one ounce of un-sulfured molasses to provide a food source for the beneficial microorganisms.
  6. Turn on the aquarium pump and let the mixture brew for 2 – 3 days.  Stir the brew occasionally to help mix the compost and separate the microorganisms from the solid compost particles.
  7. After brewing the mixture you need to strain the tea.  Use cheesecloth and strain the tea/compost mixture into another bucket. (You can put the compost solids back into the compost pile or in your garden) The tea should smell sweet and earthy.  If it smells bad, do not use on your plants, but dump the mixture back into your compost pile.
  8.  Apply the compost tea to your flowers and vegetables immediately.  The beneficial microbes will begin to die shortly after the air source is removed.

You can apply compost tea to your garden every two weeks.

Source: Compost Tea: As Easy As 1-2-3 (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep//deputate/airwaste/wm/recycle/Tea/tea3.htm  

So the next time you are making that potent cocktail for yourself, think about your deep-rooted friends that are probably starving for a drink themselves…Compost Tea, on the rocks…shaken but not stirred!

*Black Gold! http://ninedegreesbelowzero.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/black-gold/

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