Benefits of Compost Tea for Vegetative Stage

Okay, folks, it’s time to talk tea.

Compost tea, that is. Blending and brewing your own compost tea is a cost-effective way to add beneficial microorganisms to your soil, and, if you’re a freak like me, it’s also pretty fun! All the supplies you need for this process can be found at your local grow store (*cough* The Good Earth Organics Supply *cough cough*), unless you prefer to use a pair of pantyhose to strain your tea instead of a teabag. Might I suggest a pair of L’eggs, available at your local department store. Good stretch, stands up to multiple washes, available in a variety of colors, and very comfortable (so I’ve been told).

There are two types of compost tea: bacterially dominant and fungally dominant. Bacterially dominant compost teas are primarily used as soil treatments. The bacteria first help break down nutrients such as insoluble nitrogen and phosphorus. Larger microorganisms, such as nematodes, then prey on the bacteria, releasing the accumulated nutrients into the soil for easy uptake by your plants. Progressively larger organisms are also drawn into the root zone by the nutrients and small prey, resulting in well-aerated roots with lots of organic matter. Fungally dominant compost teas can be used as soil treatments, but they are also effective as foliar sprays. Their fungal colonies can outcompete root-zone fungal blights and common fungal problems like powdery mildew and botrytis (bud rot).

Typically speaking, you should apply compost tea at least twice during your growing season, but up to twice a week. It’s best to begin tea applications as soon as your plants are in the ground. The size of your tea-brewing station depends on the number and size of the plants you will be feeding. You can use compost tea in place of a standard hydration schedule; that being the case, for young, established plants, you’ll need as many gallons of tea mix per plant as you would water with on a normal day. I use a 55-gallon plastic drum as my container and run an EcoAir 3 air pump and three air stones for 24 hours in my setup, and it works very well for me. Once you have your hardware in place, you will need a tea recipe. I like to combine my nutrient feed and compost tea into one brew, so my recipe looks like this for vegetative season:

  • 2 pints compost (greenwaste for bacterially dominant, brown wood waste for fungally dominant)
  • 2 pints worm castings
  • 1 pint alfalfa meal
  • 1 pint insect frass
  • 1/4 cup of molasses
  • 1/8 teaspoon of either Bio-Ag Tm-7 or Ful-Humix (depending on whether I need the micronutrient package or not)
  • 1/8 teaspoon of yucca extract per gallon of mix

This recipe works for me in my soil, which I maintain carefully without synthetics or tilling. Your soil might not be like mine, so I suggest that you adjust your tea recipe ratios/ingredients and ask other folks what kinds of recipes they use, how often they apply, etc. With enough experimenting, you’ll find a recipe that works well for you in your soil.

While you can make a tea by simply steeping the contents of your teabag in water for a while, you really should be making aerated activated compost tea, or AACT for short. Aerating the tea with the aforementioned air pump and air stones oxygenates the tea, making the environment hostile to anaerobic bacteria, such as E. Coli. This step is especially important if you are applying the tea to anything that might be eaten by humans or domesticated animals.

Make sure you are brewing your tea at a pH of 6.5-8 for a bacterially dominant brew or a pH of 4-5 for fungally dominant. This is largely achieved by using the appropriate compost product (greenwaste or brown wood waste). Just before you apply your brew to your plants, adjust its pH to bring it to a plant-ideal level of 5.8-6.2: liquid fish or a pH down product can bring it down; micronized lime or a pH up product can bring it up.

When made right and applied judiciously, compost teas are a fundamental building block for plant and root zone health, and they can help mitigate the cost of fertilization. Hopefully you found this article useful, and I urge you to contact us through our website or to give us a call if you have questions or need help with your garden.

Written by Blern (John Turner)