Brewing Compost Tea on the Cheap

November 1st, 2007

Compost Tea Brewing System“Wow, a picture of a bucket in a garage, nice blog you run Chris.”

In all seriousness, this is my compost tea brewing system. It isn’t pretty, but it only cost me about $15, $5 if you discount things I already had.

Compost tea is a great product. What it is is compost seeped in water and oxygenated. Two things happen, the nutrients are extracted and the microbes multiply. Compost Tea can then be used as a fertilizer, soil conditioner, foliar feeder, and disease or pest repellent.

You pour it directly on plant leaves to feed them, this works the same way as Miracle Grow, the plants will absorb the fertilizer through the leaves quickly and so respond quickly.

Also, the microbes within the tea are good microbes, by placing them on the leaves you leave less space for bad microbes, resulting is better disease protection. I’ve heard that it is especially useful against powdery mildew.

If you pour it on soil the nutrients will still work, just slower through the plant’s roots, and the microbes will help condition the soil. Remember healthy soil is living soil and if your soil is dead from too much synthetic fertilizer, chemical spills, salt, or whatever, getting the beneficial microbes reestablished will help any plants planted in the area.

You cannot burn plants with compost tea, so don’t worry about applying it too thickly or too often. Twice a year is alright, but a couple times a month if you have the energy would be great.

So, how do you make compost tea? Well, you can buy really expensive brewing machines that produce large amounts of compost tea. You can also buy little 1 time use tea bags to soak in water. But there is a cheaper way.

Get 1 5 gallon bucket, you probably already own one, just make sure it wasn’t used to store any chemicals. Get 1 aquarium pump, you also may already have 1 of these, if not, any store that sells fish will have one. Get some aquarium pump tubing, and a air stone diffuser (thing that makes bubbles at the end of the tube). Then get compost from your bin, tumbler, or pile.

Put the compost in the bucket (or, for easier cleanup, put the compost in some old nylons, tie off the end, and then put it in the bucket), fill the bucket with water, put the stone (attached to the air hose) into the bucket. Let it run for 24 hours, in the sun if you can, or in your garage. You have compost tea. Strain it with an old strainer, toss the solids in the garden, and use a watering can to feed the plants.

This same concept can be used on a larger scale with a rain barrel and larger scale pumps such as those for ponds or larger aquariums.

You can also use something like a paint filtering bag, nylons, or other such things to put the compost in so you do not have to strain it afterwards.

I’m brewing some tonight for a fall feeding, I’ll focus mostly on my roses and a few plants that are less than healthy. Then some spots in my lawn that I think might be having some fungal problems.

Now there are products out there, additives and activators and things to add into the compost tea. I don’t buy them as a concept. The point with using compost tea is to use something natural that you can make yourself, even if the additives you buy are all natural, they’re still manufactured, shipped all over the country, packaged, etc. You might as well buy Miracle Grow if you’re going to buy all that stuff. Keep the compost tea simple: Compost, water, oxygen.

Two tips: 1, if you have city water put the air hose in the bucket for around 10 minutes before adding compost to try to get rid of some of the chlorine. 2, if you compost tea smells bad, it is bad, start fresh and try again.

21 Responses to “Brewing Compost Tea on the Cheap”

  1. Wicked Gardener  Says:

    This is the third time in about 24 hours that I’ve seen something on the benefits of compost tea. Sometimes the universe knocks over the head with things, huh?

    One question – How often do you tend to apply it?

  2. LoveAppleFarm  Says:

    I think this is a fantastic idea. The addition of the air pump is just what is needed to get those microbes multiplying. I’ve read a lot about how truly beneficial such an elixir is to plant health and vigor.

  3. Dave  Says:

    This is a great idea! Much better than fertilizers I imagine, and cheaper too.

  4. Lewis Gardens  Says:

    I prepared a large batch of compost tea a few years back, and boy did it work great. I poured it around my Maple tree saplings and they seemed to spring to life. The next season I was able to notice tremendous growth on the little guys. I have wanted to prepare more ‘tea’ but have not yet gotten around to doing so.

  5. Shady Gardener  Says:

    This is a great post. And a simple procedure. May I link this post to my blog?

  6. Matt  Says:

    I love the air pump idea. Compost loves oxygen and so does compost tea!

  7. alan/  Says:

    I’ve found compost tea to perform wonders, and it even works great with orchids! Since it doesn’t burn, I can apply it as often as I want, but I usually try to use it once a month.

  8. zollie  Says:

    I have aged cow manure I have stored it in big bucket with water to help it break down. My question .If I strain it clean enough to use in my back pack sprayer will it loose it good effect on my flowers and vegs. z

  9. Administrator  Says:

    No zollie.

    Organic matter needs oxygen to break things down, water deprives it of oxygen. So you’re just allowing bacteria and bad things to multiple by soaking the uncomposted cow manure in the bucket.

    You need to first compost the manure (dry-ish, try a compost tumbler), then when it is composted, soak it in the oxygenated water as I described above.

    If it smells bad, it isn’t good to use on your plants. You want to use clean smelling, if brown and bubbly, compost tea.

  10. mike  Says:

    I love your idea. I think thats the next project.

  11. Kristal L. Rosebrook  Says:

    I agree with loveapplefarm, “I think this is a fantastic idea. The addition of the air pump is just what is needed to get those microbes multiplying. I’ve read a lot about how truly beneficial such an elixir is to plant health and vigor.”

    Kristal Rosebrook

  12. Ford Chambliss  Says:

    Regarding “Then get compost from your bin, tumbler, or pile.” Until I get my compost pile going, is there a store bought alternative.

    And in a 5 gallon bucket, how much compost do you put into the bucket.

  13. Terri  Says:

    Thanks for your insights Chris. I’ll definitely think about adding an aerating system to my abundant supply of compost tea.

    You did say that you can not burn plants with the tea but I have found it is important to make sure you dilute the mixture well before applying and not to go too crazy with the number of applications as this can unbalance the soil nutrients and organisms.

  14. Caprice  Says:

    I too would like to know if using a store bought compost will work, and what brand to buy, or qualities to look for.

  15. josh  Says:

    can u ever use to much compost tea i use it like twice a week and my garden is awsome best its ever been in the five years i want to go to once a day. i will get some pics i live in northern michigan and i estimate some of my lettuce heads at twenty plus pounds i just dont want to kill them

  16. Debbie Savaiano  Says:

    Are there other names for Compost Tea? Need to know for a neighbor’s homework assignment. Thanks!!!

  17. Stu Winternheimer  Says:

    Most of the comments above are about applying compost tea on plants and in the garden, but I’m sure this is a great strategy for root growth in lawns too, correct? Also, how much compost/5 gallon bucket is needed? I don’t have time to make compost but will bagged compost from a lawn and garden store work? Thanks!

  18. Administrator  Says:

    Yes, you can use it for lawns.

    I’d use a maybe a pint per 5 gallon bucket, but it doesn’t have to be precise, err on the side of too much.

    And yes, bagged compost works fine.

  19. Jeff  Says:

    I agree with your comment about not buying manufactured products, but you need to add a sugar to feed the microbes to properly brew compost tea. After the brewing is complete, add a tablespoon of molasses to 5 gallons of tea.

  20. cosio  Says:

    I have a 33 gallon trash can on two cinder blocks. I installed a $3 spigot, I threw in a half a dozen coconuts on the bottom for air space I then fill half way with my composted grass turned soil then I trow in my daily compost material from our kitchen. along with many banana peels and old tomato’s from my garden. No pumps no added anything. Just let it sit a few days between water fillings. I get 20 gallons of 4000 ppm tea every week. My plants and veggies are giant and green and bug free. Actually every plant I have is just amazing all because of my tea. No air pumps, no added anything. Just my compost . I fill with water, use the whole patch 24 hours later, then I let the compost in the trash can sit for 4 days. then I refill and use it all 24 hours later.

  21. Administrator  Says:

    That is a really great idea Cosio. I might have to steal that. If you could position it near a downspout you could also get free water from rain runoff, using it like a rainbarrel.

    How is the smell though I wonder? And has the spigot gotten clogged yet/ever?

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