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Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Stretching Your Compost
So, after Tuesdays trip down the consciousness rabbit hole, I thought something uplifting and instructional would balance this weeks posts out. Also, I am still working on editing the first video post and tour of the farm.
Once you begin to dial in your garden space, you start to see how valuable compost really is to the soil. Compost goes fast, and more often then not you will use it up faster than the worms and bacteria can make it for you. Animal manure adds significantly to a compost pile...chickens, goats and other livestock can be viewed as biological composting machines but even with their help, gardeners often run out of compost and have to out-source for more. One way that I've learned to stretch compost is through brewing compost tea. With just a couple cups of finished compost, you can make enough tea to cover a significant garden area. The plants visibly perk up after receiving the nutrient rich tea, they grow larger and become more resistant to pests.
Alot of people hear 'compost tea' and they assume that it takes alot of work or that it is a delicate process. I assure you that is not the case, however if you want to get technical you can. Many commercial entities will try to sell their specially brewed compost tea...you'll see them carefully aerating it, adding things like molasses and sea kelp, testing it to make sure there is good microbe growth ect. In the end it is really up to you how scientific you want to get.
In the days of our forefathers they did it like this: Put finished compost in a bucket of water (about two cups per five gallon bucket), stir it and let it sit over night. The next morning pour it on your plants! This simple process is all I've committed to so far, and it is called steeped compost tea. The science behind compost tea is pretty simple to understand: it's all about microbes.
In any good compost pile your getting all kinds of microbes and bacteria. They help convert and deliver the nutrients to your plant roots. When you turn your compost pile you are adding oxygen which helps these microbes grow and reproduce. This is the same principle in making compost tea, aerating the tea adds oxygen and promotes microbe growth. When you stir a batch of compost tea you are also adding oxygen so aerating it with an air pump isn't totally necessary. The molasses is feeding the microbes with sugar and occasionally I like to add a handful of white or brown sugar to my tea. You'll smell the yeasty reaction the next day after it sits and the sugars are converted. This too isn't necessary for getting a benefit from compost tea. You do want to make sure that your water is chlorine free, so if you are using city water I would suggest distilling it overnight before steeping.
All other fancy additives are simply nutrients going into your soil/tea so if you've got em, go wild. If not, settle for some straight steeped tea. The benefits of compost tea are: You get to stretch your compost over a larger area, delivering the nutrients and microbes in a more diluted yet directed way to the plants.
If you water the leaves of your plants with the tea, they can actually absorb nutrients through the foliage. Also, the tea wards off pests and gives the leaves a waxy protective layer. Careful not to brew it too strong because occasionally it can burn the leaves, or just hose them off after a good tea soaking.
Here is a video on making compost tea. She is using a commercial kit and an aerator; remember you don't need those things to accomplish good tea.