photo credit: Mike the Gardener
|Compost is the best thing you can do for your soil and when your soil is in tip top shape, your home vegetable garden will yield plenty of tasty fruits, vegetables and herbs. It goes without saying that your soil is the foundation of your home vegetable garden. If you have poor soil, you won’t grow much, if anything. However, if your soil is rich in nutrients, has the right pH, is loose and friable, the sky's the limit.
The best way to make sure your soil is always in tip top shape is to add plenty of well broken down compost to it before your season begins and again after you remove your vegetable plants. If you want to do a quick check to see if you have good soil, take your shovel and dig out a twelve inch square about four inches deep in your garden and count the worms. If worms are in abundance that means you have lots of good fungi and bacteria. If your worms are lacking, your soil needs nutrients.
If that quick test seems a bit too simple for you and not enough scientific data, you can always buy a home soil test kit or send a soil sample off to your local co-op extension, and they can mail you the results. Worms are a pretty good indicator though.
But what do you do while your home vegetable garden is growing? You can add more compost around the base of your plants which can help, but if you are looking for a more direct solution with plenty of benefits, compost tea is the way to go.
Healthy plants have a far better chance of fighting off diseases and resisting pests than vegetable plants that are not. Compost tea helps keep your plants healthy throughout the season to do just that.
Remember the quick test above to check if your soil was healthy? Lack of worms means your soil is depleted in the fungi and bacteria they need. Many experts agree that compost tea will add these back into your soil very quickly.
So what is compost tea and how do you make it? Compost tea is nothing more than taking broken down compost, steeping it in water (similar to what you do to make a cup of tea) for a few days. When complete, you have an elixir that contains loads of microbials that will help your soil and your plants.
Let’s go through making it, step by step. In my photos I am using composted horse manure, however compost straight from your compost pile works also.
|TOOLS YOU NEED|
Here is what you will need to make compost tea:
The first step you need to do is fill your small burlap sack with compost, leaving some headspace at the top of the sack so you can use your string to tie the burlap sack tight. You can also simply add your compost to the bucket. That makes it a bit more messy to pour later on.
In my photo, the composted manure is already tied tight in a permeable sack. You need something like a burlap sack to allow the water to pass through and mix with your compost, but not allow the compost itself to escape. A burlap sack works great, as does cheesecloth.
Now that your sack is filled with compost, go ahead and place it in your 5 gallon bucket, as shown in the photo. Make sure it is tied tightly. As noted before, compost in your water is not a bad thing, it just makes it a bit messier to pour when you are ready to use.
Add water to your 5 gallon bucket that contains the burlap sack of compost. I like to leave three inches of headspace in the bucket. I found that filling the bucket to the top with water is meaningless as I end up spilling some anyway.
Once you have your bucket filled with water, you will want to cover it with something that allows air in and out, but prevents mosquitoes from getting in there and using your compost tea bucket as a hatching ground for their youth.
This is where the window screen comes into play. I have a small piece lying around that I use for this purpose. I picked it up years ago from a friend who was rescreening some of his windows. If you do not have access to get a piece for free, screen is available at any home center or hardware store for a few bucks.
Place the screen over your bucket so that there is about 3 inches of overhang all the way around. Then, secure the screen to the top of the bucket with a bungee cord that is long enough to make a tight fit, but not too long where the screen can come off.
|That’s it! You have now begun the process of making your own compost tea. All you need to do is let this sit outside for 1 to 3 days and when you come back to it, you will have created an elixir that when used in your garden will help increase your plants’ health.
Using the compost tea is easy. First remove the burlap sack of compost from the bucket. Second place the screen back on the bucket. This helps filter out chunks of compost that may have escaped the sack. Third, pour your compost tea into a watering can or a garden sprayer. Finally, go use it on your plants and have the healthiest home vegetable garden ever!
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