How to Make (and Use) Compost Tea

How to Make (and Use) Compost Tea

By Michael Jenkins

Composting is a great way to both support healthy plant growth and make best use of what would otherwise go to waste. We’ve written a lot about composting and many other informative resources are available, but for this blog we’d like to focus on another way of utilizing compost in your garden. Compost tea is an easy way to give your plants extra nutrition while making best use of kitchen and garden scraps. So what is compost tea? Are there other fertilizer teas? How can we make and use them? Let’s dig in!

What is Compost Tea?

There are a number of approaches to compost tea and other fertilizer teas, but the short answer is this: by letting a source of nutrients soak in water for a few days up to a few weeks, nutrients from the source move into the water. The water can be then applied to soil and thus fast-track nutrition to the plants.

How to Make Compost Tea

There are a number of ways to make compost tea. Some are rather elaborate, involving large barrels of water mixed with compost and mechanically agitated and aerated. There are some DIY approaches that we could try—and which may appear in a future blog—but for now we’re going to focus on some basic  compost and fertilizer tea recipes that you can make fairly simply at home. They’re easy and effective, and when used in conjunction with healthy plants and good soil they can create great results.

Let’s look at some compost tea and fertilizer tea recipes:

To make an easy compost tea, you’ll need compost—either from your own compost bin or store-bought. The first step is to give your compost a good sift. You don’t need a sieve or mesh, your hands or a garden fork are fine. We just want to remove the big “chunks” that haven’t quite broken down yet, and make use of the fine, dirt-like compost. Fill a bucket or other sturdy waterproof container about 1/3 full with compost, and then add water. Rainwater works best, but you can use tap water if you let it sit out for a while so the chlorine can evaporate away. Fill the bucket the rest of the way—give yourself space between the rim and the water so you don’t spill when you move it—and then stir the mixture thoroughly. Let it sit for a week or so, stirring a few times a day, and then apply as you would water.  You’ll know when your compost tea is ready as it will likely start to smell like healthy, active compost due to the microbial action in the mixture. Try to use this mixture quickly as it does lose potencey over time.

Even easier is banana compost tea, which is best made indoors and is a great way to use your banana peels (the other option being the composter of course). Fill a container about 2/3rds full of either rainwater or de-chlorinated tap water and then add banana peels—it’s best to keep this mix in the fridge with a lid on the container. You can add banana peels as you generate them. Let the mixture stand in your fridge for a week or two. Strain, let come to room temperature, and then apply to the soil at the roots of your plants.

You knew this was coming: if there’s compost tea, there’s also manure tea. You follow the same process for making compost tea, only using animal manure. We strongly recommend avoiding human manure—it needs to be processed properly to be safe—or cat and dog manure, which can carry pathogens. Horse and cow manure work well, but aged manure from these animals is best. Chicken manure is best composted the old-fashioned way. Rabbit manure is excellent, as it can be used as soon as it is, um, produced. Let your tea age for a week or two, pour off the liquid part while reserving the settled solids at the bottom for the compost heap, and dilute about 50/50 with water before using. Dilution is important, this mix at full strength can burn the roots of your plants. It may smell a bit funky, but it’s wonderful for your plants.

A final, easy option is kitchen scrap tea. It’s exactly what it sounds like—a fertilizer tea made from kitchen scraps. Meat and dairy scraps are best avoided, but eggshells and veggie scraps work wonderfully for this. Place in a large pot, cover with water, and simmer for an hour or two. Let cool and strain. Reserve the liquid and let it cool to room temperature before applying to plants. The solid scraps remaining can go to your compost heap to nurture future plants.

There’s a lot more to this—and we’ll almost certainly be revisiting the subject. We’re still learning too, so if you have experience with compost tea please let us know—we’d love to learn from you!

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