Compost Tea: Garden's Secret Liquid Gold
Plants love this secret concoction. Compost tea is a wonderful fertilizer to utilize, for any part-time plant enthusiast or professional gardener. Instead of adding liquid fertilizer nutrients for the soil bacteria and fungi to eat, compost tea takes it one step further by creating a biomass of microorganisms in the fertilizer itself. This allows for more immediate absorption of nutrients since the addition of already broken down carbohydrates, minerals, and enzymes is like putting rocket fuel into the fire.
Compost tea is a natural alternative to synthetic, chemical, salt laces fertilizers that are readily promoted and available on the market. The most important ingredient for compost tea is compost; more specifically the microorganisms and fungi that live in compost. The best compost is one made at home, but there are a multitude of options to buy, and they all will work more or less the same; though the more expensive, the higher the quality compost with more ingredients is preferred.
The second ingredient to compost tea is oxygen. The process of creating the ideal conditions for beneficial soil microbial life requires an aerobic environment, one that is high in oxygen. Using an air pump is a vital component for making compost tea. While brewing, if the tea is not constantly supplied with oxygen bubbles, anaerobic bacteria will proliferate; which will cause a foul smell, as well as remove most of the benefits for living plant life.
A third ingredient is required for compost tea, and that is some sort of food for the microorganisms to eat while the tea is brewing. The best and probably most used nutrition for the tea is unsulfured black strap molasses, sweet and delicious. The best food sources provide not only ample amounts of carbohydrates but also many proteins, minerals, and micronutrients that microorganisms crave. Other forms of sustenance include seaweed or kelp meal and extract, fish emulsion, humic acid, fulvic acid, bat guano, oat meal, alfalfa meal, worm castings, rock powders and other organics. The best compost teas offer a variety of ingredients to support the most diverse range of bacteria and fungi.
It is interesting to note, that the microorganisms in compost and soil do not necessarily eat the organic materials by themselves. The bacteria produce enzymes that speed up chemical reactions feeding on easy to digest carbohydrates and simple sugars and thereby releasing nutrition; cycling nitrogen, phosphorus, other minerals that sustain plant life. Fungi also play an important role in this ecosystem, gaining sustenance on more complex carbon compounds, as well as the simple sugars offered by its host plant; producing fungus enzymes that provide defenses against disease and parasites, being connected to the roots, creating a mutually beneficial relationship.
With all the ingredients added, freshness is the key to properly made compost tea. It is important to utilize the tea before all the nutrition and oxygen is depleted. Microorganisms only live for a short amount of time, and as the tea brews, the food that was originally added will be eaten. For a homemade batch, the timeframe is around 24-48 hours for peak microorganism activity. The best indicator that the tea is still fresh and ready to use is aroma. If the tea smells sweet, or earthy, then it is still a good batch. Once the tea starts to give off unpleasant fumes, it is already past its prime and needs to be recycled; since lack of oxygen or nutrition creates unwanted microbial life that is undesirable.
It is interesting to note that different ingredient compositions for food sources will create varied microbial life. For instance, utilizing grains such as oat flour will result in a tea that is strong in fungal life activity, while using high sugar content sustenance such as molasses will result in more bacterial life. Different plants prefer different types of symbiotic microorganisms in their soil. It is important to understand that the role of native microbial life as well these native microbes are ultimately preferred over imported additions. Harnessing rich local soil microorganisms will provide marked improvement compared to nonnative life and health soil.
With a few simple ingredients, a small batch of compost tea can be brewed in a gallon sized container with minimum investment. A fish tank air pump bubbling fresh air at the bottom of the container will work just fine to keep oxygen levels high enough; while brewing in a larger system requires a stronger air pump to supply more oxygen. Add in some compost, a little native soil, and organics to feed the tea, and in a day or two the batch will be ready.
With this knowledge on how to make a powerful combination of microorganisms, bacteria, and fungi, that a garden and all of its inhabitants can benefit from, some delicious compost tea. It is easy to do, supporting and nurturing an unseen world in the soil underneath foot, drinking up every last drop of that liquid gold. Creating compost tea is another great option for making fertilizers at home that are better and more cost effective than what is offered at a retail store. Using all natural and organic means to get plants happy is always the best way. Happy brewing!