elderly women drinking tea
PHOTOGRAPH BY TIM MACPHERSON/GETTY

What Is Compost Tea?

And what's the best way to make it and put it on plants?

ROL Staff June 9, 2015

Compost tea is an effective, low-strength, natural fertilizer for seedlings and garden plants. It can suppress fungal plant diseases. The tea-brewing process extracts (and in some cases grows and multiplies) nutrients and beneficial bacteria and fungi and suspends them in water in a form that makes them quickly available to plants. Making compost tea doesn't require special equipment. Just follow these easy instructions:

1. Place compost and water (10 pounds mature compost for each 10 gallons of water) in a 40-gallon barrel. Protect the barrel from cold and heat.

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2. Stir with a stick daily for a minimum of 5 days.

3. Strain the liquid from the compost using a cheesecloth or burlap. There should be no bubbling or off odors. Use it immediately, without further dilution.

When you brew compost tea, be sure to use mature, sweet, earthy-smelling compost. If your compost smells unpleasant, it could be anaerobic, and few beneficial microbes survive in this environment. One way to achieve tea-worthy compost is to sustain pile temperatures between 135 and 155 degrees for a week or more by turning the pile often. A well-built pile that has composted for at least a year will also produce tea-ready compost even if it did not heat up to the ideal temperature range.

RELATED: Fast Cooking Compost Pile

Keep in mind that E. coli can be present in the raw ingredients of a compost pile. Minimize the risk by maintaining a hot compost pile or allowing it to fully mature. And most importantly: Don't apply compost tea to any vegetable within three weeks of harvest.