The Magic of Compost Tea
By Larraine Roulston
Last year, due to the pandemic, vegetable seeds, plant starters and gardening supplies were sold out. If you began composting last autumn in order to add nutrients to your home garden, your composter was probably full by the end of March. Come spring, the compost pile begins to heat up. Slivers of ice help break up the organics which allow the whole cycle to speed up again. This results in a dramatic decrease in volume and enables you to continue to include food scraps and dry leaves until the following fall. By using two composters, one can fill with organics while the other slowly decomposes until it’s ready to use.
If you composted the previous year, you could utilize your mature heap to make compost tea. Compost will spread even further if you create a liquid that is loaded with soluble nutrients packed into living bacteria. This valuable tea is a combination of nutrients and oxygen-loving fungi, bacteria and other microbes that are found in finished compost. In order to separate these organisms from the compost, place a shovel full of dark rich, mature compost into a cloth bag and suspend it in a barrel of water. As brewing takes time, steep the liquid for two days. Stir it frequently or give it a blast from a hose to aerate. As compost tea can be very rich, dampen the area where you wish to use it and dilute the tea if the colour is darker than amber.
As Mindy Jaffe, Hawaii’s Resource Recovery Specialist, states, “The real credit, however, belongs to the microscopic bacteria and microbes. We can’t see the heat-loving bacteria that make our compost pile heat up, but we certainly can feel that they are there, hard at work! Tea is loaded with soluble nutrients packed into living bacteria. When compost tea enters a plant’s roots, or is absorbed by a leaf’s surface, the bacteria arrive, live, reproduce and die, releasing the nutrients to provide a plant that flourishes.” Jaffe further explains that the plant actually tells the population of microbes exactly what it wants chemically through its exudate – a secretion similar to sweat – so there is communication between the plant and the bacterial population. These two very different living things establish a relationship which is the mystery and magic of compost tea. The results we see are robust, healthy plants and grass.
Compost tea can also be brewed on a larger scale to spray on parks and sports fields. When kelp, molasses and oatmeal are included, they feed the microbes so they reproduce. Sadly, most golf course superintendents rely on pesticides. These are substances meant to control pests and weeds. When pesticides are sprayed, only a few molecules are absorbed, the rest wash away and pollute the soil and water. The ending ‘cide’ on words indicates something that kills.
Instead, compost tea helps plants thrive when bacteria and other microorganisms feed on the root’s exudate. In exchange, the plants receive nutrients that won’t wash away. A beautiful relationship between living things.
Larraine writes children’s books that highlight the joy of composting and pollinating with the adventures of Pee Wee at Castle Compost. With illustrations, songs and poems, the stories unearth the miracles of nature’s cycle of life. Fun & factual for all ages. To order, visit www.castlecompost.com
TIP: Compost will go even further if you create a compost tea that is loaded with soluble nutrients packed into living bacteria. Place a shovel full of mature compost into a cloth bag and suspend it in a barrel of water and steep for 2 days. Stir frequently to provide air bubbles. Dampen the area where you wish to use it and dilute the tea if the colour is darker than amber.
~ Larraine writes children’s books that highlight the joy of composting and pollinating with the adventures of Pee Wee at Castle Compost. With illustrations, songs, and poems, the stories unearth the miracles of nature’s cycle of life. Fun and factual for all ages. To order, postage free visit: www.castlecompost.com