Monday, May 27, 2013

Compost Tea

Those that know me, know that I love to drink tea. Almost any kind of tea. Well, except for compost tea.

We were first introduced to the idea of compost tea at our homesteading class. Apparently, gardeners have used some form of this type fertilizer for years - just ordinary compost (or manure) soaked in water for awhile, then sprayed over the garden. In more recent years it has been discovered that if air is introduced into the water while the compost is soaking, the benefits are multiplied, exponentially.

I went along a few weeks ago to a free talk about making compost tea at the local organic garden center. The owner demonstrated how to make your own system. I took furious notes and made sketches as he talked. It looked easy enough, so afterwards I went straight to Walmart and started to gather all the equipment I needed.

It cost me about $30, not including the compost which I bought from the garden center for about $13 (only because we don’t have our own yet). Several of the things can be found in the fish tank section at Walmart. (I’ve given estimates of costs in brackets.)

I would recommend assembling the tea bucket and brewing the tea outside, either in a garage or back porch. You will need access to an electrical outlet and a water source. And a table would be helpful.

1 - 5 gal. plastic bucket with lid ($4)
1 - fish tank pump suitable for a 20-60 gal. tank with a double outlet ($11)
8 ft of fish tank plastic tubing ($2)
2 - 5” bubble stones ($4)
2 - small air stones ($2)
2 - “T” valves same size as tubing ($2)
1 - one gal. paint strainer, mesh bag ($2)
thin craft wire used for flower arranging or twine  ($2)
Revitalizer compost ($13)
drill with 1/4” bit

Prepare the bucket:

1. Drill two 1/4” holes in the plastic bucket, large enough for the tubing to fit through. Drill them about 1-2” apart near the top just under the edge. Drill another hole in the lid near the edge.
2. Cut the plastic tubing roughly in half to make 2 x 4 ft. lengths. Then from each of  these, cut off two pieces roughly 3” each (you will have four 3” pieces).
3. Connect one “T” valve with two 3” tubing, and connect those to the two large bubble stones. Connect the remaining valve to one long section of tubing.
4. Set the two large bubble stones in the bottom of the bucket and thread the tubing through one of holes in the side of the bucket.
5. Repeat this process using the two small bubble stones, and thread through the other hole.
6. Assemble the pump, attaching the (included) back flow valves pointing away from the pump.
7. Attach the tubing from the bubble stones to the pump.

To use:
1. Fill the bucket with about 4 gallons of water. If your water is chlorinated, leave the water to sit for 24 hours to let most of the chlorine evaporate. (Chlorine will undo all the good that the compost is going to do.)
2. The two large bubble stones should be in place at the bottom of the bucket with tube coming out the side.
3. Insert the small bubble stones into the mess bag. Fill the mesh bag about half full with compost. Tie securely at the top (including around the tubing) with one end of a 12-15” length of craft wire. Thread the other end of the craft wire through the hole in the lid. Tie the wire to the handle so that the bag hangs near the middle of the bucket.
4. Plug in the pump. Brew for 12-24 hours at a temperature between 65-85 degrees. The tea should be dark brown with a pleasant earthy smell.
5. Dilute the compost tea with equal amounts of water and distribute generously on all garden areas needing improvement. A watering can or pump spray device is useful. Use all tea within a few hours of brewing. It will not burn your plants, so you cannot use too much.
6. Repeat often.
For added benefits you can add additional natural products for pest control and growth enhancement.

To each gallon of water, add any or all:
2 oz. Agrispon (fertilizer)
2 oz. Soil Menders Fish and Seaweed (fertilizer)
2 oz. Nature’s Gate Garlic Concentrate (for insect control)
2 oz. Medina Molasses (for insect control)
1 drop SuperThrive (to boost growth)

Thanks to Daughter for taking all the photos while I was demonstrating. After using it a few times I think you could improve upon this model.

Most of the equipment is for fish tanks.

I used Revitalizer compost.

Drill three holes: two in the bucket and one in the lid.

Don't completely fill the bucket with water because it will bubble up.

Cut four short lengths of tubing.

Attach the two large bubble stones to the longer tubing with the T valves.

Thread the tubing from the large bubble stones through one hole in the bucket.

Repeat the same process with the small bubble stones.

Add compost to the mess bag.

Put the small bubbles stones in the mess bag.

Cut a length of wire. You could use string as well.

Tie up the top of the mess bag with the wire.

Set the bag into the water.

Thread the wire through the hole in the lid.

Tie the wire to the handle so the bag is floating near the top.

The compost tea is brewing.

I put the pump on the top of the lid.

Here is the compost tea after it has brewed about 24 hours.

Here are some products you can add to the compost tea.

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