A cup of compost tea on a wooden table with autumn leaves

Compost is perfect for home gardens and small-scale market gardens, but what if you need to improve the soil over dozens of hectares of acres? Whether your specialty is annuals or fruit and nut trees, compost tea provides a cost-effective way to add soluble nutrients to your soil and foliage and build a healthier soil-based ecosystem. Read on to learn about making compost tea and using this resource to enhance your crops.

The Compost Tea Advantage

We love compost. In fact, compost is one of the most powerful ways to reverse climate change and regenerate degraded soils! However, when you’re talking about extensive areas of land, compost tea offers many of the benefits of compost with a smaller investment and a lot less work. 

When you apply compost tea to your soil, you’re actually adding a fully-formed ecosystem to populate your soil with beneficial bacteria. It’s a bit like taking a probiotic to repopulate and rebalance your gut, except that this probiotic is designed to repopulate your soil. Just like a healthy soil ecosystem, compost tea contains the “life-containing” substance of compost:

  • Bacteria
  • Fungi
  • Protozoa
  • Nematodes

Once applied, you still need to feed the soil and keep it moist to allow the microbes in the tea to reproduce.

How to Make Compost Tea

Making compost tea is — in many ways — easier and quicker than making compost. However, you will need some fresh compost or worm castings to get the process started. To brew compost tea at home or on-site, you’ll need the following materials:

  • A 5-gallon bucket of water
  • 4 cups of fresh compost or worm castings
  • An old stocking
  • An air pump (such as an aquarium pump) capable of raising dissolved oxygen levels to 5.5-8ppm
  • Simple sugars, such as unsulfured molasses, maple syrup, cane sugar, or fruit juice

Steps for Making Compost Tea

  1. Fill the 5-gallon bucket with water and allow it to sit — uncovered — for 24 hours to allow any chlorine to evaporate. Alternatively, use filtered irrigation water.
  2. Scoop 4 cups of fresh compost or worm castings into the stocking and suspend the stocking into the water.
  3. Aerate the water continuously using the air pump.
  4. Add 2 tablespoons of simple sugars.
  5. Leave to brew for 1-2 days.
  6. Smell the brew. It should smell sweet.
  7. Use the compost tea immediately to drench the soil or strain and spray onto the foliage of fruit trees.

After emptying the bucket, it’s important to clean the bucket and aeration system thoroughly using hot water and elbow grease to prevent any residue from contaminating your next brew of compost tea.

How Often Should Compost Tea Be Applied?

Heads of lettuce growing in a market garden

To get the best return-on-investment (ROI) from compost tea, Permaculturalists recommend making it fresh and adding it to your irrigation water at a 1:10 ratio to help a new crop get started. You can also strain the tea and spray it on the foliage of your fruit trees to add more nutrients before fruiting gets started.

As you gain more experience, you can also play around with the ingredients in your tea to adapt the soil-life to the crops that you grow. For example, bacteria-rich tea is perfect for annuals like lettuce and peppers, whereas fungus-rich tea is better for fruit trees. However, the safest route for a new compost tea brewer is to make a balanced mix of both and add fungus-promoting ingredients to your orchards in the form of leaf litter and pre-mulched wood.

Join the Fruit Growers Supply Family

Founded in 1907, Fruit Growers Supply Company is dedicated to helping California’s growers maximize their crops and transport their produce safely to market. Through industry tips, solar irrigation systems, customized corrugated packaging, and food-grade citrus wax, we’re helping growers boost their yields and adapt to the environmental challenges that we face.

If you’re interested in making compost tea or adapting your operations to incorporate more sustainable practices, give us a call on 866-477-7414 or visit one of our full-service stores in Orange Cove, Woodlake, Riverside, Porterville, or Santa Paula. Our knowledgeable staff are more than happy to share their experience and help you design the systems you need. Join the Fruit Growers Supply Co. family and boost your growing enterprise today!

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