Since the dawn of time, farmers and gardeners have used this rich “decanted brew” as a liquid fertilizer, or "organic tea." It’s just called “tea” because of its typical dark color and the fact that we brew it into existence. Don’t drink it. It won’t do you any good, and it tastes terrible. Please don’t ask me how I know.
Many garden enthusiasts have at least heard of the wonders of compost tea. It is easy to find many recipes online as well as thousands of tips and tricks. If you search Amazon or eBay for compost tea, you will certainly find many contraptions and devices to help you brew a batch. There is a ton of buzz online about compost tea and for good reason—the benefits of compost tea are numerous. Compost teas work quickly and efficiently. Usually applied as a foliar spray, they are sprayed directly onto plant leaves during critical times, such as heat stress or root damage to quickly help with the healing process and strengthen your plants from the top down.
Benefits of Compost Tea
- Improves plant growth by protecting plant surfaces through competitive exclusion
- Improves plant growth by improving nutrient retention in the soil
- Improves plant nutrition by increasing nutrient availability in the root system
- Reduces the negative impacts of chemical-based pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers on beneficial microorganisms in the ecosystem
- Improves the uptake of nutrients through foliar uptake
- Improves soil structure
Challenges of Compost Tea
- The nutrient content of each type of compost tea will be different.
- The microbe content of each type of tea will be different.
- It is a messy, time-consuming and often odorous undertaking.
- Compost Tea can be dangerous.
Compost tea is great; however, if you want to make your own, so many things can go wrong. Compost teas are made by extracting beneficial nutrients and microbes from organic materials by soaking them in water. But unlike the tea you drink, it isn’t only what's in the bag that matters. The method of brewing is just as important, including brew time, temperature, and many other variables. These can radically affect the benefits, quality, and reliability of organic tea. Getting it wrong can make your tea toxic.
You may go through all the trouble to make a home-brewed compost tea, but if some sneaky bacteria, virus or mold gets into the process, then your tea will have it as well. The reality is that along with the ‘good’ microbes, you might also be growing ’harmful’ ones. You could be growing bacteria that will make you or your plants sick. These possible contaminants will not only be of no benefit to your plants but can kill them!
Think about what you are doing when you make your compost tea. You are creating an incubator for microbes. You are providing the moisture, the food, and the right oxygen levels to grow bacteria. But which microbes are you growing? You have no way of knowing. The process for making compost tea is not selective—you grow whatever is in the pot. Aerated compost tea can contain Salmonella and E. coli, both of which can prove to be deadly to humans.
Still think you want to make your own? Here is more information to help you decide. A quality home brewed compost tea would theoretically begin with a quality compost. But in actuality, this is where the challenge begins. Composts are highly variable in composition. They start with water, carbon, and nitrogen supplied by decaying organic material which is a source of other macro and micro-nutrients, such as amino acids, sugars, etc. The content of these ingredients can vary widely. For example, the quality of animal manure alone varies tremendously according to:
- the species and age of the animal it comes from
- how well decayed or how old it is (C / N ratio)
- the diet of the animal
Plant materials vary primarily due to:
- the kind and age of the plant
- the nutrients (fertilizers) taken up by the plant
- the presence of symbiotic nitrogen-fixing microbes
- the presence of volatile oils, auxiliary substances, and other plant exudates
You can see why the results of these variations can be quite substantial on producing quality compost tea.
Even under ideal conditions, the chemical and biological properties of compost will vary according to how long it decays. Younger compost is closer to the original raw materials than well-aged compost. As compost ages, it converts sugars and carbohydrates, which many disease organisms prefer as food, into starches that beneficial microbes prefer.
The level of decomposition of the source material used in a compost tea will affect the length of time it needs to brew. Theoretically the longer the tea “brews," the better it will be, except that within a few days (unless carefully aerated) the mixture will go anaerobic, meaning there is little if any oxygen within it. Microbes in the slurry pull all the oxygen out of the water. This oxygen deprivation turns over the production of the tea to oxygen avoiding (anaerobic) bacteria, which produce an inferior tea with fewer available nutrients and organic acids that are harmful to plant growth.
So here are the real dangers that can happen to your home brewed compost tea. Harmful bacteria, viruses, and molds can potentially populate your compost tea, not only a threat to your plants, but also your pets and family.
The easy way to get the full benefits of a compost tea without the fuss and risk is to buy a reputable commercial product like Southland Organic’s Ultimate Tea. Ultimate Tea is a highly concentrated liquid that provides amazing results when applied to plants. Ultimate Compost Tea is the combination of Activated Carbon + Organic Acids + Beneficial Biology. High in Cypress lignin, vegetative and marine carbon, Ultimate Tea brings a plethora of benefits to the table far outstripping what is made in any home brew tea.
So how can companies like Southland Organics produce a compost tea? How does it have a shelf life? How can it be bottled? We will answer those questions next. Please stay tuned!