Over the years, tea compost has gone by many names- slurries, watery fermented extracts, and amended extracts are some of the earlier ones. Tea compost is essentially a balanced, nutrient-rich fertilizer. It is made by brewing compost in water and is used on flowering plants, vegetables, houseplants, and crops of all kinds. The term tea technically means an infusion made by boiling water and using herbs to create a healthy, refreshing beverage for us. Along the same lines, tea compost is a biologically rich drink for plants.
While the number of studies that have researched and can prove the benefits of tea compost are only a handful, there are thousands of gardeners all over the world who swear by it. We are witnessing a behavioral shift towards the adoption of tea compost in gardening practices. And the reason for such a shift is the numerous benefits that it offers upon usage. It is these benefits that make tea compost an “elixir for plants”. Let us look at a few of these benefits-
- Upon being placed in water compost releases soluble nutrients into the solution which become readily available when applied. This is perfect for encouraging microbial growth. Bacteria and other microbial matter are attracted to germinating seeds and developing roots. In simple terms, this benefits plant production by increasing nutrient turnover.
- Tea compost is completely chemical free and organic which makes it a more sustainable practice as well as helps restore the natural balance in your garden.
It also helps suppress plant diseases and pest damage. Compost tea helps build up the plants’ immune system. This in turn improves plant size and quality.
So how do you make tea compost?
- The first step in the process to make tea compost is de-chlorinating your tap water. As the name suggests, this only needs to be done if your water has chlorine, which means it does not apply to water drawn from wells or other sources. By leaving the tap water out in the sun and fresh air, you allow the chlorine to break down so that it does not kill the good bacteria in the tea compost.
- Next, take a large bucket and place an aerator from a pond or aquarium pump at its bottom. Then attach this to an external pump so as to ensure that you keep the tea moving as it brews. It’s so the tea does not become stagnant which is bad for the plants.
- Now it’s time to add loose compost. Now that the aerator and the pump are in place, we can add mature compost to the bucket. Generally, the bucket is filled halfway so that it’s not packed down. For the aerator to work, the compost must be loose and there should be space. Two important points to note here are-
a) The compost used must be aged. Unfinished compost might contain harmful pathogens which won’t be good for your plants.
- b) Aged, mature compost smells sweet and earthy as opposed to alcohol.
- After adding the compost, fill the rest of the bucket with water. A few inches from the top can be left empty to allow us to stir the bucket without spilling.
- The final step before steeping the compost tea would be to add molasses. Molasses when added to any organic liquid fertilizer, provides food for the microbes in the soil. This will allow the microbes to grow and multiply and the greater the microbial activity in the compost, the better it is for your plants. An important point here is, the molasses used should be unsulfured. Sulphur can kill the bacteria.
- Once everything is in place and ready to go, plug in the pump and turn it on. The pump will send air to the aerator in the bottom and make sure there is plenty of oxygen.
- The tea compost needs to be steeped for a day and a half to two days maximum. Any more than that and the microbes will not have any food to survive. As the tea brews, keep stirring so as to ensure that no compost matter sinks to the bottom of the bucket.
And finally, we’re done! All that’s left is turning off the pump and straining the tea. First, remove the aerator as well as the tubing from the bucket. To strain, line a bucket with a burlap sack or a large cheesecloth and just pour the tea into the lined bucket.
You now have your elixir and some happy, healthy plants. Although the process mentioned above can seem elaborate and complicated at first glance, it’s really not. All it takes is a little bit of patience and some attention to detail.