How to compost tea?

Fossil Fuel Fertilizers v. Compost Teas on the Farm

Around the home and garden you may know it as Miracle-gro®, Phostrogen®, Baby bio®, Growmore® or by one of its other fertile names. On the farm its many forms may be referred to as ‘super triple phosphate’, Nitram®, ’20:10:10′, just ‘nitrogen’ or – rather euphemistically – fertilizer. On our farm it’s simply known as NPK, the acronym of this compound’s most common chemical ingredients – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Synthetic fertilizer was essentially developed to stave off the limits to population growth and it’s been estimated that almost half the world’s human population are currently fed as a direct result of its use. But, this once heralded silver bullet for ‘feeding the world’ has certainly come at a cost; from vast oceanic dead zones to accumulation of heavy metals in our top soils to the release of greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere.

I’m not going to get into debating the global merits or otherwise of synthetic fertilizer but, when it comes to our farm I will slam my wellied foot down with some defendable authority because there is another obvious drawback of NPK and that is its lack of sustainability in the true sense of the word. The P (Phosphorus) and the K (Potassium) are both mined from depleting mineral sources and the N (Nitrogen) is pulled from the air using large amounts of natural gas or coal.

Our goal on this farm is to create an economically, ecologically and socially resilient business so the notion of relying on a depleting, fossil fuel hungry overseas resource as the basis of fertility on the farm is completely nuts. However, stopping using NPK is not as straightforward as some might think. Even my father who has been merrily spreading it on the fields for decades describes it as a drug and farmers like junkies for using it.

The drug analogy isn’t a new one but I don’t think many people know quite how fitting it is on so many levels. Like a narcotic, the first hit is the best and from then on you’re hooked.

One of the reasons the first rush is sooo gooood is that you actually still have functioning living soils at that point so you are genuinely adding ‘extra plant nutrients’ to an existing fertile system. I often wonder what wonderful growth rates my father and uncle must have witnessed when they first applied NPK to our then organic fields, what a hit they must have seen.

Naturally, essential plant nutrients and minerals in the soil are taken up by the soil biology. As the saying goes, “Once the mineral becomes life, it’s available to all life,” meaning once a mineral has been taken up by a soil microbe it’s then a plant available nutrient or available to support the life of another microbe.

The sheer volume and variety of microscopic life in healthy soil is mind-boggling. Just one teaspoon of healthy organic soil carries around a billion soil microbes. If you’re familiar with the work of such scientists as Dr Elaine Ingham or Dr Patricia Richardson you’ll have probably seen incredible electron-microscope footage of this wonderful underworld.

It’s a world full of fungal forests and peculiar plants, of bizarre little grazing herbivores that are prey to fang-toothed hunters that in turn are devoured by positively petrifying looking apex predators whose dead bodies are scattered by innumerable little scavengers. They are all their under our feet, unseen.

What’s not so commonly known is when you first sprinkle on the NPK these microbes die off in their trillions with each tiny body releasing a small package of nutrients to the plant roots around them. To the naked eye we just see an impressive surge in plant growth but on the microscopic scale it is the apocalypse!.

If, like us, you’re one of those farmers or gardeners without your own electron microscope, there is one soil dweller we can observe that can tell us all we need to know about the life in the soil and the effects of chemical fertilizers – the earthworm. We all know that a soil rich in earthworms is healthy and fertile so you can imagine how distressing it was to find dead and dying worms scattered across one of our fields during the first rains after the NPK had gone down.

Like an addictive narcotic, once you start using synthetic fertilizers, it is a one way ride. Each application onto to fields burns off more and more soil biology which in turn severely reduces the amount of available minerals and nutrients from the soil to the plants. Each year you have to add a little more just to stand still and eventually it’s a case of add the NPK or go out of business.

Holistic Rancher Greg Judy sums it up by saying, “When you put chemical fertilizer down on your farm you’re killing your farms future, and the fertilizer companies are laughing all the way to the bank because you’ve now got sterile soil, and they know you’ve got to comeback to them to buy more of their fertilizer.”

That’s the trap my father and uncle are seemingly in, the only way they view they are going to get any growth out of our fields is by mainlining a direct hit of chemicals straight into the plants roots because they no longer can rely on the now impaired soil biology to help grow healthy plants.

It is possible to wean your farm off chemical fertilizer but it’s not easy – it’s called ‘organic conversion’. As any farmer who has made the move to organic can tell you, going cold turkey from synthetic NPK can be a painful business. Curiously it is not just the land that becomes addicted, the whole way of working the land changes and, in effect, the farmer is just as hooked as his soil.

Intriguingly over the last couple of years since we’ve started applying pressure for my father and uncle to stop using the stuff, that junkie farmer mentality has unwittingly risen to the surface.

The tale starts four years ago, Tim (my other half) and I sat down with my father and discussed the damaging nature of synthetic NPK. He completely agreed with us and promised not to spread it on the fields on the west side of the farm as a small trial.

The following week I heard the unmistakable rumba-shaker noise of the fertilizer spinner… it was in the next-door field to me. Dad had purposely driven the long way round the farm to avoid driving past Tim and myself so he could ‘fertilize’ the fields he promised not to touch.

That was just the start or this behaviour; since then they’ve taken to hiding their NPK ‘stash’ behind the backs of barns in the hope we won’t find it. Each year they may have got away with it if the deliveries hadn’t been the same size as a grey whale.

They promise not to buy as much only to either buy the same amount if not more each year. Even the language they use sounds like an addict, “Oh I’ve only used a little bit”, “I used to use a lot more then I do now – I’ve cut right back”, “You’re right we should give it up… but we’ve bought it all for this year now so we can’t waste it”.

The point being my father fully admits NPK is bad for wildlife and knows it damages the soils and is dangerous in waterways and doesn’t like using the stuff yet, like a person with a habit, he’ll go into complete denial when actually out scattering it on the fields.

As a result we realised pretty early on that if we were going to make any headway we needed to find an equivalent to soil methadone to try and wean the Old Boys off their magic white granules.

Our answer came in the form of cold brewed aerobic compost tea. Compost tea (or more correctly, we think, compost beer) has grown and grown in popularity over the past few years, particularly with gardeners but is now making headway into the world of farming. You can make it at home for next to no cost and, if brewed correctly, it’s packed full of beneficial micro-organisms who then provide the ‘fertilizer effect’ by making biologically available those nutrients already present in the soil.

We started using it three years ago and risked a head to head challenge to prove to my father and uncle this bizarre alternative had some merit.

My father doused half a field in NPK and we sprayed the other half in compost tea. When it came to hay harvest time we all walked the two sides of the field to compare the results. Stupidly I never took any photos that day but although the sward wasn’t as heavy with the compost tea it still held its own to the fertilized side. Particularly seeing we made the tea for pennies compared to the hundreds of pounds spent on fertilizing the other half. As a result of that trial, the following year we were given the go ahead to spray an additional field and this year a couple more.

In our case, the biggest benefit from using compost tea was to stop the NPK going down which is essential if our soil life is to start building again. Rule one for regenerative agriculture should be the same as in medicine – do no harm! The added bonus of compost tea is that by adding trillions of beneficial microbes it should also be helping to jump-start the biological cycle within the soil.

There are some farmers we know of who swear by compost tea and apply it in quantity several times a year but, for us, we see it as a temporary measure. By changing our land management and grazing practices, we hope to rebuild a truly healthy, self-sustaining cycle of life in our soils powered solely by the sun. Compost tea application will definitely have a role to play in getting things started but hopefully we won’t have to apply it for too many more years. To use a thoroughly inappropriate analogy, compost tea is our starter motor and we will only be using it until the main engine kicks in.

Useful links

PDF from Elaine Ingham on compost tea

Video clips of Paul Taylor on making compost

Teaming With Microbes – the organic gardener’s guide to soil food webs reviewed by Patrick Whitefield.

The Ultimate Compost Tea Guide

Water Quality

To read an article on water quality and compost teas by my father, Leon Hussey, .

To summarize the article though, different sources of water can produce different levels of microorganisms. In general, I like to use rain water or we even pull water out of our local stream when making ACT. For those using municipal water, you’ll want to remove any chlorine or chloramine from the water prior to brewing.

Chlorine can be removed by letting it off gas or bubbling the water for 24 hours or until the smell is gone. You can also add some form of organic matter, that can be as simple as a handful of garden soil. Charcoal water filters will also remove chlorine. If you want to take a more scientific approach to chlorine removal, you can use ascorbic acid. Two grams of ascorbic acid will neutralize 2 ppm (typical tap water levels) of chlorine in 100 gallons of water.

Chloramine is a much more stable and will not off gas. You can use any of the other methods though to complex the chloramine or remove it from the water.

Temperature

Lower temperatures can cause the microbial growth to slow down in ACT. Higher temperatures can have the opposite effect. I like to let the water adjust to the ambient temperature before adding my other ingredients. If I want to speed this up, I will run the brewer with just the water until the temperature stabilizes. My preference is to brew at ambient air temperature, as we are then selecting for the microorganisms that will be most successful at the temperature at which we are applying them.

In general, I like the air temperature to be above 55F and below 85F. That being said, you can brew at temperatures outside this range but then it’s nice to have a microscope to monitor the results. Optimal range would be 65F to 75F.

Brewing length

As a general rule, 18-36 hours is a good range to stay within when making ACT.

How To Apply Aerated Compost Teas

ACT can be applied both as a foliar application to the leaf surface of the plant or as a soil drench. When we go out to spray a property we will typically do a combination of both by soaking everything.

The simplest way to apply the tea is to use a watering can or just dump the tea right at the base of the plant. If you have a larger area to cover you can use a sump pump with a hose attached. While you shouldn’t brew with an impeller pump (sump pump), Tim Wilson has shown with his microscope work, that one pass through the pump does minimal damage when used to apply ACT.

One important consideration when looking to spray ACT is remember that the tea is alive. That means we want a larger droplet size and lower pressure, sort of a “rainbow” effect when spraying the tea.

Also, the nozzle tip you choose is a consideration.

Recommended Tip

Not Recommended Tip

These handheld sprayers below don’t work well for applying compost teas and will damage many of the microbes in ACT.

Concrete sprayers work well for applying tea. My favorite small sprayer is the Chapin 1949. They have multiple nozzle tips, and I just chose one that allows for larger droplet size and more volume.

However, even the cheaper 1 gallon pump sprayers that you find at Home Depot typically work just fine.

For larger commercial applications, you may want to consider a setup like ours. We use an orchard gun with this setup and use the motor to both continue aerating the tea while driving and also apply the tea.

Application Rates and Frequency

The nice thing is you can’t over apply ACT, the only issue would be overwatering. Generally accepted application rates are 20 gallons per acre for soil drench or foliar applications. For small scale applications, I like to just apply a pint or two at the base of a plant and then come back over the top with my regular watering.
Application frequency will vary based on your soil health, microclimate, watering habits, and goals.
For first time users in a garden, outdoor landscape, or farm, I like to do 5 applications throughout the growing season. I see gardeners and growers applying teas at rates ranging from once per week to 3x for the entire year. You’ll need to determine what works best for your garden based on plant response, labor and cost.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I’m growing an annual plant and it looks like annual plants prefer a bacterial soil so should I make a bacterial dominant tea?

A: You want a “balanced” tea when making ACT. I see recipes all over the internet for a fungal tea or a bacterial tea or a vegetative tea or flower tea. The main benefit of ACT is nutrient cycling. It’s a shotgun approach. That means you’re putting out all the beneficial microbes you can and letting the plant determine what it wants in the rhizosphere basses on its exudates. The plant is in control. If the plant wants more bacteria in the root zone it will put out more bacterial exudates. People get confused when they see the plant succession table and see that annuals prefer a bacterial soil so they think they want a bacterial tea. I contend that having the fungal spores/hyphae in the tea will serve to improve the quality of the tea and overall soil health. And in general, if you have good fungal activity and biomass in your soil, you’ll still have all the bacteria/archaea as well.

Q: Is it possible to brew perpetually? Can I just keep adding new ingredients to keep the tea going?

A: This is one of the most damaging claims I’ve heard from other brewer makers. The short answer is “no” and I’ll explain why. When ACT is brewed for 24-36 hours (approximate times based on multiple variables), you’re creating an unsustainable amount of aerobic microbial activity and diversity. At some point your tea “peaks.” There’s no way to tell for sure without a microscope but hopefully if you bought a brewer the manufacturer can give you guidelines based on your ambient air temp, compost/food inputs, elevation, etc..). Regardless, after this “peak” point the microbes will have eaten most of the food sources you added at the beginning of the brew cycle (molasses, microbe catalyst, kelp meal, alfalfa meal, etc…). When this occurs you will start to see monocultures over time, meaning one morphology (shape) of bacteria will dominate the tea, which will then be consumed by one type of flagellate. Your tea will fluctuate back and forth between bacteria and flagellates. The flagellates will eat all the bacteria until there’s not enough food left and then die off, only for the bacteria to bloom again and repeat the cycle. Think of it as a Darwinian experiment inside your brewer where “survival of the fittest” dominates. Remember that ACT is a “shotgun approach” to increase nutrient cycling. Well over time that diversity completely disappears and you lose much of the benefit of ACT. Of course, the first thought then is “why can’t I just add more compost or food sources to the brew after a certain time period?” This sounds like a great idea but in reality it just doesn’t work. I’ve tried brewing over the period of a week on multiple occasions where I took a brewer to trade shows and pulled samples every 10 minutes throughout the day. I found it very difficult to manage the tea and the quality of the brew would vary wildly from hour to hour. I’m not saying it can’t be done but I found even with intense monitoring with the microscope it was very challenging and I would have been much better off just throwing out the tea and starting over. Of course, these brews were just for demonstration purposes and not for actual plant or soil applications.

Q: My tea didn’t foam this time but last time it had a bunch of foam. Does that mean it’s no good?

A: Foaming is not a good indicator of microbial activity or growth*. This myth has been around for years and is simply not accurate.

Q: Are vortex brewers are better than other designs?

A: I hear this argument a lot but it doesn’t hold water from a scientific perspective or in my own experience with direct microscopy. Yes, they look cool and it is possible to make a good tea using a vortex design. What ultimately affects the quality of your tea is the ability of your brewer to maintain appropriate levels of dissolved oxygen throughout the entire brew cycle. An air lift, whether a vortex is formed or not, is the most efficient way of raising dissolved oxygen, however many other designs are possible. The important thing is that the microbes are extracted from the compost/soil particulate and that there are no “dead zones” in the brewer where dissolved oxygen levels can drop or material can settle.

Q: How do I judge a compost tea or compost tea brewer or product?

A: This is a tough question and frankly the answer isn’t what you’ll want to hear. The only way to evaluate ACT is with direct microscopy. I’ve seen some companies that will show you some great before and after pictures, but these are typically done without any controls to determine efficacy. If they can’t show you any real data or microscope work, then I wouldn’t waste my time with what they have to say. There is a lot of snake oil salesmen in the ACT and organic gardening industry who can make any product sound amazing. The factors I look for are the following: Do they have microscope work and lab tests to support their brewer? What sort of DO levels and air pump are they using? Are there any “dead zones” or are you getting good agitation? Is the brewer itself easy to clean?

Q: I see a lot of recipes on the internet with mycorrhizal fungi in them. Is this a good thing to add to my tea?

A: Mycorrhizal fungi is a root symbiont. That means it needs to come into direct contact with plant roots in order to become active and grow. Adding it to an aerated compost tea certainly isn’t going to hurt anything, but it may just become an expensive food source for other organisms in the tea. Also, ACT is typically applied as a soil drench, which is not the best method for applying mycorrhizal fungi. Save your money and keep it out of your teas. You can read more about mycorrhizal fungi on our blog by clicking here.

Q: How do I make a nematode tea?

A: You don’t. Nematodes don’t like a liquid medium and you may get some in your ACT but they aren’t going to increase in numbers or be very happy in your tea. Best way of increasing bacterial feeding nematodes in teas that I’m aware of is to add oat flour or “baby” oatmeal to your soil or inoculate compost. This will create a mycelium mat and increase your nematode population.

Q: I want to do my own testing? Do you have any microscope recommendations?

A: Tim Wilson has done an excellent write up regarding microscopes which you can read here. He also sells a DVD on his website that is very helpful in identifying these sets of microorganisms under the microscope. It is available for download for $28 by clicking here.

Q: Do I need to worry about e. coli or salmonella or other pathogens in my ACT?

A: By keeping the tea aerobic for the entire brew cycle we reduce the possibility of any pathogens growing in the tea. And if you use compost material that is free of pathogens and has been composted properly then there’s really no concern.

Q: Can I put the tea through my irrigation, hydro system, or use them with Blumats?

A: The big concern in these situations is biofilm buildup in the tubing or reservoir. Some people have reported success when flushing the systems after applying, but my choice is usually to avoid this altogether and apply the tea separately using one of the methods described in the “application” section.

Resources

KIS Organics – www.kisorganics.com

Microbe Organics – www.microbeorganics.com

Gardening With Microbes – www.gardeningwithmicrobes.com

Logical Gardener Forum – www.logicalgardener.org

Soil Food Web, Inc. – www.soilfoodweb.com

*credit to Tim Wilson of Microbe Organics for his extensive microscope work and ACT research.

How To Apply Compost Tea

Apply teas as soon as possible:

Compost teas are alive, and should be served fresh.

  • Compost teas are best if used immediately at the end of a brewing cycle.
  • If your tea sits too long and smells foul discard; in a compost heap, broadcast across the lawn, or away from precious plants.
  • Compost tea should not be kept for more than 72 hours after removing from active aeration.
  • Compost teas can be refrigerated for up to 30 days.
    • Check them with microscope analysis or your nose prior to use
    • Garden teas such as plant extracts or home brewed fertilizers may keep for longer periods in refrigeration.
    • Allow all teas to return to room temperature and re-activate with stirring or aerating for 1 or more hours.

When to apply compost teas:

  • Apply compost teas when plants and soil are moist
  • Early morning and/ or near dusk, when dew conditions are present will help to ensure that beneficial organisms cultivated in compost teas remain active.
  • For best results apply compost teas monthly or at regular watering intervals.
  • In late winter or early spring:
    • Spray all trees, shrubs, and perennials with fungal dominated compost teas.
    • Again before the formation of flower / leaf buds.
    • Apply when flower / leaf buds break but have not opened.
    • Apply after petals have fallen.
    • Apply a balanced compost tea to all annual beds prior to planting or amending
  • During the growing season: Treat disease such as blight and leaf spot with fungal or balanced compost tea
    • At regular watering intervals.
    • Apply at the first sign of any disease or insect infestation
  • Treat disease such as blight and leaf spot with fungal r balanced compost tea
  • Treat insect infestations with bacterial dominated compost teas.

Severe illness and infestation in plants are signs of nutritional and biological deficiencies. Plants treated with an organic fungicide or pesticide, to quickly diminish an illness or infestation, should be followed the next day with compost tea. Serving as a pro-biotic for your plants and soils, compost teas will help to rebuild the proper biology and nourish both plant and earth.

How much compost tea do I apply?

With properly made compost tea possessing a diversity of active aerobic organisms, you can never apply too much compost tea.

  • For best results use teas at full-strength.
    • A full-strength tea will possess the maximum active biological diversity or nutrition content and be most effective
    • Compost and garden teas can be diluted at any ratio up to 10:1
    • Repeated applications of compost teas will only help to increase the diversity and populations of beneficial microbe
    • Root drench; apply 5-10 gallons (full-strength or diluted up to 10:1) per 1/4 acre
    • Foliar spray; apply to the point of runoff
    • Field spray; apply 5 gallons across up to 2 acres

How To Apply Compost and Garden Teas:

Soil Drench

  • Apply as a soil drench or root dip when transplanting.
  • Apply at regular watering intervals for outstanding results.
  • Apply from the base of plant as far out as the plants drip line or root mass.
  • Use plastic watering vessels as bacteria can eat-away at the zinc in metal.

Leaf/ Foliar Applications of Compost Tea:

    • Use a clean hand pump or pressurized sprayer
      • Use a diaphragm type sprayer
      • Use a Solo brand or equivalent backpack sprayers
        • I find the Solo 400 Series Backpack Sprayers work great for the money.
        • They come in 3, 4 & 5 gallon capacity depending on your ability and strength
    • If using a Gilmore or equivalent brand 2-gallon type of handheld sprayers we suggest upgrading the sprayer wand with a more durable and versatile sprayer wand.
  • Do not exceed 70 psi (slow dispersion is better)
    • Most hand pump and diaphragm sprayers will not exceed 70 psi.
  • Spray Pattern should be wide and gentle with no hard splattering
  • Teas should cover at least 70% of the leaf surface for maximum effectiveness and remain moist for 15 minutes or longer
  • Avoid spraying open flowers and fuzzy-leafed plants, like African violets.
  • In dry conditions, spray teas early in the morning or in the evening to allow the organisms in the tea to remain moist and active after application.

Best time of day to apply compost and garden teas.

  • Ultraviolet rays from the Sun can also be harmful to microbes. It is best to apply teas before 10:00am or after 6:00pm regardless of cloud cover and the time of year.
  • Moist and misty mornings or after rain is an excellent time to apply compost teas.

Sanitation:

Clean your brewer, air diffuser, watering vessels, and/ or spray applicators immediately after each batch of tea or application

  • Thoroughly clean brewer bucket, air hose, air diffuser and spray applicator after each batch of tea.
  • Use dish soap and a scrub brush to clean all residue known as bio-slime from all of your components before storing.
  • The air-diffuser included with our Garden Tea Brewer can be safely cleaned in the dishwasher.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide can also be used to sanitize your equipment.
    • Hydrogen Peroxide will kill many microbes and using it with dish soap and warm water works as a thorough cleanser.
  • Baking soda can be used as an abrasive cleanser.
  • “No Rinse Cleansers”, such as One-Step, used to sanitize bottles and equipment for the home brewing of beer and wine making works well to sanitize your equipment.

The Complete System

Introduction

Continuous Credit to Clackamascoots, Gascanastan and all the others before me.

The reason we put this system together is for those that want to have a birds eye view of the entire process from start to finish. Many people want to grow naturally and just don’t trust that it will work. Some are doing it now but they are missing some key element and it’s not coming out quite right. Once you get the full picture and understand how flexible this whole system is you will “get it” and create your own system that works for you and your situation.

The ultimate goal is to use nothing but home made compost that has been created with all of the nutrients built in. If you can get to the point where your soil is so alive and healthy that all you have to do is plant a seed and add water, then you have arrived. Having the best soil doesn’t have to take forever and in the mean time there are many Compost teas, Botanical Teas and fertilizer inputs that you can add to Build a soil for long term production.

The modern way is to use chemistry to make NPK and several micro-nutrients available to the plants through use of plant ready water soluble nutrients. The PH of the nutrient supply will heavily effect the outcome of the plant. This is the “Feeding the plant” Paradigm.

The organic way is to build a compost based on the plants that are high in nutrient content and to utilize organic amendments that work in harmony with the plant and the soil. The BuildASoil way is to combine premium compost materials with diverse mineral inputs and utilize biology along with science. We are constantly getting our soils tested and adjusting so you don’t have to. We want diversity and we want it all in the soil. The nutrients aren’t immediately available in the organic system, we will rely on the biology of the soil to naturally produce nutrients for our plants based on it’s growing needs. The soil food web is the cornerstone to cultivating plants in a Living Organic Soil System. The soil life is active and healthy and helping to make these nutrients available, and the plants growing on this Living Organic Soil have free-choice of any nutrient they want, in balance, a balance designed by intelligent science and observation. But it doesn’t come in a bottle. The other nice thing about Building A Soil for All Natural production indoors, is that you have a blank canvas to work with… you can literally build the best soil possible. While working on large outdoor farms, you have to work with the existing soil and improve it over time.

The System

This guide is for Vegetables and Medicinal Herbs but will work with most fast Annual flowering plants. If you have a strange plant that you want to grow, consider it’s native soil and best recreate that. This information works absolutely perfect for food and medicinal herbs. The entire system is meant to be more sustainable and also use local resources when possible.

This information is mainly for growing in containers and raised beds for the home gardener. If using containers for the patio, the greenhouse, or indoors, use as much soil as you can afford. I prefer a minimum of 5-30 gallons of soil per plant if growing in containers. Tomato’s love the half whiskey barrel size, but bigger wouldn’t be an issue except for moving it around. The larger the soil volume in your container the easier it will be to keep moist and keep alive with many different microbes and critters. The smaller the container the more botanical teas and compost teas you will end up using along with a little more attention to detail.

Rule #1: Don’t try to grow a plant, instead BuildASoil that does that for you: Use Premium inputs and get premium results. Your goal is to build the best soil possible and keep it like a pet. Keep it moist and alive as best as you can, input more than you take out and the soil will last forever as it continues to evolve and become more blessed with life.

Rule #2: Learn to make your own compost and your own Earthworm Castings: You would be surprised how small of a space you can make quality compost in. Search our website for “indoor compost” and you will see what I mean. But if you really can’t do the whole compost or worm bin thing, then I suggest you learn to find a really good source for local compost that is affordable. If you can’t find compost local then use our pure worm castings. The shipping keeps the price a little high, but my goal is to make this as affordable as possible for everyone to benefit from.

Rule#3: Use premium quality compost or earthworm castings, preferably home made. Yes I said this twice. It’s that important.

Rule #4: Don’t be tempted to go back to the bottled nutrients: Even if they say organic, because nothing will be as good as you own soil. The big bottled nutrient companies buy ingredients in bulk and often use soy and cotton that are GMO and full of pesticides. Get this right and your garden will be more productive and more nutritious than ever before. Don’t worry about growing plants, focus on building soil!

Rule #5: Avoid ingredients that say they are organic but really aren’t good for the environment. The Organic Label is slowly selling out in the marketplace depending on who is doing the certification. Don’t worry if it’s not organic as long as you know where it came from and that it is good stuff. Think about each ingredient in the products you purchase. Just because the nutrients at the grow shop have cool labels and high prices does not mean that they will grow better plants.

Rule #6: No matter what else you do, make sure you MULCH. If you skip Mulching you are missing the boat.

Integrated Pest Management: Use a basic home made pest spray every 3-7 days during vegetative growth phase for pest prevention.

Seedling or Cuttings:

I always prefer to start seeds in the most amount of soil possible, so if you are starting a small garden and can afford to mix up 1/2 gallon of soil per seed or cutting you will be very well off, but start with whatever you can. I prefer to avoid stressing the seedlings with multiple transplants. So if you can sow the seeds directly into their final home that will be ideal, weather or garden space permitting. Choose the bests organic seeds possible. Do NOT sprout them in a paper towel. Use the standard living organic soil recipe and once your soil is moist and ready for the seeds, plant them according to the package. Most seeds you can just push barely into the moist soil and cover lightly. Keep the top of the soil moist while you wait for them to sprout. I suggest using a sprayer as opposed to heavy splashes of water that will dislodge your seeds. Anyways, once you have your cloning and seedling soil all mixed up you will want to store it in a Rubbermaid tub, trashcan or whatever is most convenient for you for future use. If you would like extremely detailed information on starting plants from seed or cutting, check out our blog articles!

NEW UPDATED SCHEDULE:

The BuildASoil Methods DIY vs. Premium Products

Soil Recipe: (Purchase From Us, Purchase the DIY kit from us, or completely make it yourself)

Build A Soil From Scratch with 3 Proven Recipes

How to prepare your soil for planting:

Ideally we want to get our soil out of the bag and into the grow containers and in the actual grow space we are using. If you are going to use some soil for cloning or seedlings you can do the same thing in very small containers however most growers just use soil without the cover crop and top dressings until transplanted into their final homes. It’s up to you!

  1. Pour soil into Geo Pot. (15 Gallons Per Plant Minimum)
  2. Water slowly to evenly saturate. (We use the Chapin 1949 Sprayer) Use 10% by volume water or 1 gallon for every 10 gallons of soil used. Tip: Use Aloe and Yucca to help hydrate the Hydrophobic Peatmoss.
  3. Sow Cover Crop at a rate of 1 tablespoon per sq. ft. of your soil container. Basically just sprinkle it everywhere evenly.
  4. Then sprinkle ¼ cup of craft blend per plant around the base. (Or Any well rounded organic amendments)
  5. Follow this with 1/8 cup per plant gro-kashi or home made Bokashi.
  6. Cover all of this with about ½” of our BuildAFlower Topdress or your own Vermicompost.
  7. Add 100-500 Red Wigglers per cubic foot of soil used as budget will allow.
  8. Last cover with 1-3” thick layer of barley straw or any of your preferred mulch. Careful to leave it fluffy enough or thin enough for the cover crop to sprout through. Although the cover is pretty good at it so don’t worry about it too much.
  9. Gently mist or water in so as to bring this whole top dressing all together and to moisten the straw.

Now that you have prepared your soil you are ready to follow our proven and simple schedule. Here are the options you have!

Instructions for using the BuildASoil Schedule:

Option 1: Purchase our BuildASoil Bundle and follow along our basic grow system.

This is the preferred method for easily duplicatable results that support great companies

Option 2: If you have more time then follow our program with 100% DIY inputs and save $$$

This is the preferred method if you are someone who really likes to make everything from scratch. You can do this 100% or pick and choose from it.

Option 3: If you hate systems and just want a loose guideline to follow then you can cover your bases with larger soil containers and something close to this schedule.

14 Day Watering Schedule:

NOTICE: Switch from Aloe to Coconut when going into flower. Use this cycle from 1-14 and then repeat until harvest.

Day 1 Aloe Water

Day 2 No watering

Day 3 Malted Barley Top Dress and/or Compost Tea Recipe

Day 4 No watering

Day 5 Plain water

Day 6 No watering

Day 7 Kelp/Alfalfa Tea or Sprouted Seed Tea

Day 8 No Watering

Day 9 Plain Water

Day 10 No Watering

Day 11 Aloe Water

Day 12 No Watering

Day 13 Compost Tea or Sprouted Seed Tea

Day 14 No Watering

SIMPLIFIED BUILDASOIL COMPLETE SCHEDULE

How to Make Compost Tea for Cannabis Plants

Share Print Compost is filled with beneficial microorganisms and nutrients, and you can take composting one step further by steeping it in aerated water. This process, called “compost tea,” extracts the microorganisms and soluble nutrients into a water “tea” solution. The goal of compost tea is to introduce nutrients, fungal colonies, and beneficial bacteria to either the soil or the foliage of your cannabis plant to aid its growth and protect it from harmful disease.

Using compost tea for cannabis hasn’t been adopted by growers until relatively recently, but it’s a great way to help grow organic cannabis at home. Organic compost tea benefits the cannabis plant by protecting it against various harmful elements and providing rich nutritional elements.

Compost tea should never be a 100% replacement for all soil additives, and there are still nutrients you should use for growing cannabis. But, when used as a soil drench, it can still be a great complement for other nutrients. And if you use compost tea as a foliar spray, it can provide some of its abundant micronutrients to cannabis via absorption through the leaves’ stomata.

What Are the Benefits of Compost Tea?

The goal of brewing compost tea is to introduce microorganisms to promote bigger, stronger, and more resilient plants. Spraying your cannabis plants with compost tea can place beneficial bacteria on the plants that are thought to crowd out bad bacteria and help strengthen the plant’s abilities to suppress diseases. When applied to soil, you’re adding to the soil food web by introducing a healthy population of microorganisms that are aerobic in nature. These organisms hold nutrients, aerate the soil, aide water retention, increase nutrient absorption in the plant, help grow healthy roots, and help prevent diseases.

However, the benefits of compost tea are debated in the agricultural world. Many gardeners report quality results from using compost tea, while others derive no benefits greater than you would see from applying compost. The uncertainty lies in whether or not growing and developing populations of microorganisms in the tea actually benefits the plants and can prevent disease.

Personally, I’ve used compost tea regularly in gardens as I fully support the practice and believe in the benefits. Cannabis is developing into an industry where the use of pesticides is strongly regulated. Accordingly, it’s crucial to take preventative steps to stop diseases before they occur, and compost tea might be your solution. The cannabis community is filled with conscious individuals who are connected to what they grow. This connection has always left me wanting to improve upon the natural ecosystem that we benefit from and explore ways to do so organically and sustainably.

Compost Tea Key Ingredients: Your Recipe for Healthy Cannabis Plants

In order for your organic compost tea to fully benefit your cannabis plant, you need to ensure you use the correct recipe and make it properly. A healthy compost tea pulls the soluble nutrients and microorganisms from compost; this includes bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes. Nematodes do not have a life cycle that is rapid enough to increase their population in the time it takes to brew a tea. However, bacteria, fungi, and protozoa can all increase their populations with the right foods and conditions.

Below are five key compost tea ingredients recommended by the Beneficial Living Center located in Arcata, California, to create a successful tea that will work best for your cannabis.

1. Compost

Compost is the base for the tea, and a healthy compost should have large populations of microorganisms and nutrients. Sourcing your compost locally will help ensure the organisms in the compost are used to the local pathogens. Compost that contains developed mycelium (fungal colonies) populations will help aid the development of fungal growth in the tea.

2. Worm Castings

Worm castings are the byproduct expelled after a worm digests organic material. Castings provide a high density of nutrients in a broken-down, refined form that is readily available for the plant to consume. Worm castings also introduce microorganisms.

3. Fish Hydrolysate

Fish hydrolysate is produced by breaking down fish and crustaceans to create a nitrogen-dense product. Crustacean exoskeletons also have chitin, which works as an immune booster for plants. Fish hydrolysate also helps feed and increase the fungi populations.

4. Kelp

Kelp serves as a source of food for fungi that grow while the tea is brewing. It’s also thought to provide a surface for fungal colonies to attach to and develop.

5. Molasses

Molasses serves as a source of food for bacteria that grow while the tea is brewing.

How to Make Compost Tea in 5 Steps

Making your own compost tea at home is easy. Follow these five key steps and you’ll soon be feeding your cannabis plants a nutrient-rich mix that will keep them healthy and happy.

1. Build Your Compost Tea Brewer

Before you build your compost tea brewer, you need to consider the size of your cannabis garden. Most home gardens use a 5-gallon bucket. On the outside of the bucket, you’ll need to have an air pump connected to an aerator device at the bottom. The aerator and air pump will oxygenate the water so the microorganisms can breathe. You’ll also need a 400-micron mesh bag in which you can place the ingredients for the tea. While you can buy pre-built tea brewers, you can also easily make your own for a very affordable price.

2. Build Your Schedule

Tea brewing takes time, so it’s important to figure out when you want to apply the tea. Most teas generally take 24-36 hours to brew. You don’t want to let your tea brew for too long because the microorganism populations will develop to a point where they won’t have enough oxygen or space to live and will begin to die, which can damage your tea.

That being said, only start a tea when you know you’ll have time to apply it within 36 hours of brewing it. If you’re going to use it as a foliar spray, you want to time it so you can apply the compost tea in the evening or morning when the temperature is low and the sunlight is not direct. This period is also when the stomata (nutrient receptors on your plant’s foliage) are open to receive the nutrients.

3. Fill Your Compost Tea Bag

When creating your first batch of tea, keep the solution simple. If your water is coming from city lines, allow it to sit and breathe so the chlorine can to break down. Beneficial Living Center tea recipes are a good place to find tea formulas. Once your tea is brewing, keep it out of direct sunlight and make sure the air pump is running and oxygen is being pushed through the water.

4. Finalize Your Compost Tea

There are multiple products that can be added in the middle of your brewing process, towards the end, or right before application. Food for bacteria and fungi can be added halfway through your brewing process to increase the growth of microorganisms. Furthermore, products like SeaGreen and Actinovate can be added before the tea is applied in your garden for additional benefits.

5. Applying Compost Tea on Cannabis

The tea can be applied to the roots or as a foliar spray on the leaves of the cannabis plant. You can dilute your tea with water at a ratio anywhere between 1:20 when applying it to the roots. A basic tea can’t harm or burn your plants, so you may apply a potent dose freely. As a foliar spray, compost tea is generally only diluted with water to 1:2.

Don’t use drip lines to apply the compost tea because the tea will cause the drip line to clog over time. It’s important to either gravity feed the tea or use a diaphragm pump (as opposed to a centrifugal pump) to avoid chopping up and disrupting the active microorganisms when you water.

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Trevor Hennings

Trevor is a freelance writer and photographer. He has spent years in California working in the cannabis industry.

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Professor Rot says:
One of the recent raves in gardening is the use of Liquid Gold — a mild organic liquid fertilizer made right at home.

Compost tea is a great way to love your plants naturally.

Compost Tea is a Liquid Gold fertilizer for flowers, vegetables and houseplants. Compost Tea, in fact, is all the rave for gardeners who repeatedly attest to higher quality vegetables, flowers, and foliage. Very simply, it is a liquid, nutritionally rich, well-balanced, organic supplement made by steeping aged compost in water. But its value is amazing, for it acts as a very mild, organic liquid fertilizer when added at any time of the year.

What is so wonderful about Compost Tea is that it can be made right at home from your own fresh, well-finished compost. The only requirement is that the compost you use is well broken-down into minute particles. This usually means that the organic materials have decomposed over a period of time so that their appearance is very dark with the texture of course crumbly cornmeal. Oh, and the fragrance is like that of rich soil in a forest.

Don’t have such compost yet? Well, dig deep down inside your bin, near the bottom. This is where organic material will be most decomposed and fresh. All you need is a good shovelful for a 5-gallon bucket of Compost Tea.

This page gives you some tips and instructions for “brewing” your Liquid Gold.

COMPOST TEA MAKES YOU GREEN ALL OVER!

Leachate is actually a by-product of composting and worm composting. It is a liquid that forms in the bottom of most bins, most likely unseen by you (unless collected from a worm bin), but well-known by all the microbes and critters, including worms, who live at the bottom of your pile and in the soil. This stuff is like a fantastic smoothie or a good cup of espresso to them!

A fairly new phenomenon to gardening is the deliberate creation of Liquid Gold: Compost Tea. Researchers have determined exacting and scientific ways to brew it. The result has been the creation and promotion of Compost Tea brewing equipment, available at fine garden centers or on the internet. Some garden centers, in fact, have begun “brewing” the tea in large batches so that customers can draw-off what they need by the gallon.

The homeowner is not obligated to use exacting methods to get some very fine tea. On this website we offer a very simple, practical, and fast way to make up a batch. All you need is a couple of buckets, a shovelful of fresh finished compost, water and a straining cloth such as cheesecloth or burlap.

6 Good Reasons to Use Compost Tea

  1. Increases plant growth
    It is chock full of nutrients and minerals that give greener leaves, bigger and brighter blooms, and increased size and yield of vegetables.
  2. Provides nutrients to plants and soil
    The fast-acting nutrients are quickly absorbed by plants through their leaves or the soil. When used as a foliar spray plant surfaces are occupied by beneficial microbes, leaving no room for pathogens to infect the plant. The plant will suffer little or no blight, mold, fungus or wilt.
  3. Provides beneficial organisms
    The live microbes enhance the soil and the immune system of plants. Growth of beneficial soil bacteria results in healthier, more stress-tolerant plants. The tea’s chelated micronutrients are easy for plants to absorb.
  4. Helps to suppress diseases
    A healthy balance is created between soil and plant, increasing the ability to ward off pests, diseases, fungus and the like. Its microbial functions include: competes with disease causing microbes; degrades toxic pesticides and other chemicals; produces plant growth hormones; mineralizes a plant’s available nutrients; fixes nitrogen in the plant for optimal use.
  5. Replaces toxic garden chemicals
    Perhaps the greatest benefit is that compost tea rids your garden of poisons that harm insects, wildlife, plants, soil and humans. It replaces chemical-based fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides. And, it will never burn a plant’s leaves or roots. Finally, you save money.
  6. Makes you a “Green Planetary Citizen”
    Compost tea is just another way to feel good about respecting the earth in your own yard and garden. It allows you to be less a consumer of harmful products and more a resourceful gardener.

6 EASY STEPS TO MAKE HOMEMADE COMPOST TEA

Step 1
Fill a bucket 1/3 full of quality finished compost

Step 2
Add water to the top of the bucket (unclorinated is best, or good well water).

Step 3
Let the mixture steep for 3-4 days.

Stir it now and then.

Step 4
Strain the mixture through cheesecloth or other porous fabric (burlap, old shirt) into another bucket. Add the remaining solids to your garden or compost bin.

Step 5
Dilute the remaining liquid with water so it’s the color of weak tea (use a 10:1 ratio of water to tea).

Step 6
Use tea immediately for optimal absorption into the soil around plants.

For Potted Plants

For young delicate or potted plants dilute the tea.

Around Root Systems

For hardy shrubs, trees, or established plants in the vegetable garden, simply pour the tea from the bucket around the root system at the base of the plant.

As a Foliar Spray

You can also use it as a foliar spray on plants. Add 1/8 tsp vegetable oil or mild dish-washing liquid per gallon to help it adhere to leaves.

TEA MAKING TIPS

The following factors will determine the quality of the finished tea:

  1. Use well-aged, finished compost
    Unfinished compost may contain harmful pathogens and compost that is too old may be nutritionally deficient. COMPOST TEA and MANURE TEA ARE NOT THE SAME THING! Manure teas may be made in the same way but are not generally recommended as foliar sprays and are not as nutritionally well-balanced.)
  2. Using well-made, high quality compost you can brew up a mild batch in as little as an hour or let it brew for a week or more for a super concentrate.
    A good median is to let the tea brew for 24-48 hours. When it begins to smell “yeasty” you can stop and apply it to your plants.
  3. Recent research indicates that using some kind of aeration and adding a sugar source (unsulphered molasses works well) results in an excellent product that extracts the maximum number of beneficial organisms. This aeration is crucial to the formation of benefical bacteria and the required fermentation process. For the simple bucket-brewing approach, simply stir the tea a few times during those hours or days it is brewing.
  4. You can add all kinds of supplements like fish emulsion or powdered seaweed
    This turns the tea into a balanced organic fertilizer.

HOW TO USE COMPOST TEA

  • AS A ROOT DRENCH
    Can be used unfiltered by applying directly to the soil area around a plant. The tea will seep down into the root system. Root feeding is not affected by rainy weather.
  • AS A FOLIAR SPRAY
    Strain tea thru a fine mesh cloth (cheesecloth, burlap, even an old shirt). Then dilute it with dechloronated water, if possible, or good quality well water. Use a ratio of 10 parts water to 1 part tea. The color should be that like weak tea. Add 1/8 tsp vegetable oil or mild dish-washing liquid per gallon to help it adhere to leaves.
    Method of application and weather – A pump sprayer or misting bottle works better than hose-end sprayers for large areas or for foliar feeding as they don’t plug up as easily. The beneficial miroorganisms are somewhat fragile so it is important to note you should avoid very high presure sprayers for appliction. Re-application after rain is necessary and one should avoid applying to the leaves during the heat of the day.


Compost tea and seedlings. Image credit: sleepynecko, used under Creative Commons license.

When I posted a video on how to make compost extractions, and later on how to make compost tea it awakened my interest in this lesser-known subset of composting and organic gardening. I already knew that worm compost suppresses plant diseases, but could it be that making these magical potions from plain-old compost could enhance biological activity across your whole garden? It turns out there is an awful lot out there on the internet about compost tea—how to make it, what to make it with, how to use it, and whether it is any good at all. I thought I’d offer a primer on some of the better materials I came across. What Is Compost Tea?
The wikipedia entry on composting has a short but sweet overview of what compost tea is. Simply put, it’s a liquid fertilizer and disease suppressor that is made by soaking small amounts of biologically-active compost in water, often with other ingredients such as kelp or molasses to feed the microorganisms, and then aerated over a period of one to two days. The “tea” is then sprayed using a typical hand-held sprayer either directly onto plants, the soil, or it is applied as a soil-drench (root dip) for seedlings.

A Simple DIY Compost Tea Recipe
Elaine Ingham over at FineGardening.com has an easy-to-follow recipe for brewing compost tea. Using no more equipment than a bucket, some tubing, an aquarium pump and bubblers, and a strainer, she explains how soaking and bubbling a mix of compost, molasses and water over a 3-day period produces a biologically rich feed that spreads the benefits of a small amount of compost over your whole garden.

Compost Tea Alternative Ingredients
Meanwhile this video from Howard Garrett, aka the Dirt Doctor, also gives a simple walk-through of how to make compost tea, and explains how adding different ingredients can help skew the biological activity. For example, says Garrett, adding molasses boosts bacteria—something that benefits grasses in particular. Meanwhile protein feeds like fish oil or liquid seaweed boost fungal activity, which is of more benefit to larger shrubs and trees.

Ready-to-Use Compost Tea Extractors
For those folks, like me, who aren’t inclined toward MacGyver-like experimentation, it’s worth noting that there are plenty of commercially-made compost tea making kits out there. Growing Solutions’ compost tea making kits range from home- to farm-scale applications and boast something they refer to as “Fine bubble Diffusion Technology”, as well as a proprietary compost tea catalyst. Meanwhile the makers of Keep It Simple compost tea brewers claim they have “the only lab tested, 12-hour brewing system in the world”.
Image credit: Growing Solutions

Whether or not the claims being made by individual manufacturers amount to much is hard to say. But to an uneducated outsider, all of these kits seem to offer pretty much the same thing—a bucket, a pump, some form of aeration, and a system for extracting the fluid. That’s not to say they aren’t worth the investment—many of us would much rather buy a kit direct from someone who knows how to assemble it, than spend time rigging up our own version. But be wary of hyperbole and patented technologies. This isn’t rocket science.

Commercially-Available Compost Teas
A quick search of the internet will reveal plenty of vendors selling compost teas for use in your home garden. Some, like Eco-Cycle from Boulder Colorado offer biologically active compost tea made from worm castings, and then sold fresh to consumers who are encouraged to use it the same day they buy it. Others are selling compost tea online, although it would be interesting to know how “bioactive” this stuff is once it’s been sitting on a warehouse shelf for a few weeks.

How to Use Compost Tea
As for how to use compost tea, it’s really not that complicated. As the Howard Garrett video above shows, it can be sprayed directly onto foliage, or soaked into the soil. It is also commonly used as a lawn spray, and is said to be highly beneficial for creating healthy turf. Eco-Cycle’s product description includes a useful breakdown of how to use compost tea for different applications—including recommended frequency and whether or not to dilute the product.

Does Compost Tea Really Work?
Having known gardeners rave about the effects of compost tea, and being a firm believer that diverse, active, live soils are central to healthy plants, I admit that I am enamored by the idea of compost tea right now. After all, if compost is like probiotics for the soil, then compost tea should act like a super-food smoothie, right? But it is worth noting that not everybody is convinced. Lee Reich, writing over at FineGardening.com (yeah, the same people who offered that great how-to on making compost tea) warns that the jury is still out on compost tea. From suppressing diseases when used as a foliar spray, to improving biological activity in the soil, Reich claims that evidence of benefits is so far largely anecdotal.

Similarly, Linda Chalker-Scott, an extension horticulturalist and associate professor at Washington State University, has undertaken an extensive review of the scientific literature on compost tea—and turned up very little that proves the benefits of aerated compost teas. (Interestingly, non-aerated teas seemed to fair a little better.)

Whatever the truth about the science, there are plenty of people out there making and using compost tea. I would love to hear about readers’ own experiences, tips, recipes, experiments or concerns. I know there are plenty of fellow compost geeks out there, so please feel free to share what you know.

More on Composting, Soil Life and Organic Gardening
How to Brew Compost Tea (Videos)
Compost is Like Yogurt for the Soil – Probiotics in the Garden
How Worm Compost Suppresses Plant Disease
Composting as Animal Husbandry
40 Tons of Life in One Acre of Soil (Video)

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