Fertilizer in the Wild
Next time you’re under a tree whose dead leaves haven’t been raked away, brush the leaves away and scratch in the dirt. You’ll notice about a centimeter-thick layer of compost. Underneath that the dirt is hard and probably too hard to scratch with your finger. That’s an easy way to identify where the compost ends and the dirt begins.
Mimicking nature in the garden
I have a goal to move towards a more sustainable, permaculture-oriented style of agriculture. This involves using cover crops to add habitat for beneficial insects and to take up space that would otherwise be taken by invasive weeds. Cutting cover crops and laying them in place also adds mulch to the earth which is then broken down slowly and made available to your plants in a year or so. Adding dead organic matter to the surface rather than fertilizing deep in the soil is exactly how Mother Nature does it.
We also apply finished compost to the surface (rather than only mulching) to build nutrients in the soil, but watering or spraying with compost tea is an even faster way to get nutrients to your plants. It’s also a way to inoculate your soil with the good microbes that live in the compost.
How to make compost tea
You can buy a fancy compost tea brewer; you can make one with an aquarium pump; or you can do it with a bucket and a stick. Here are instructions for the hillbilly method:
1. Gather your materials
Finished compost (it’s important you use the best compost you can so that it’s full of good microbes).
Fabric for straining paint
Stick for stirring
2. Fill the bucket about a fifth with compost and add water. Leave room at the top so it doesn’t spill when you stir.
3. Stir often! Keep the bucket in a place you’ll walk by often to encourage you to stir it more often. We want to encourage the aerobic microbes to live, which means they need oxygen.
4. After 24 hours your tea is ready to use. Strain it and dilute it 10 to 1.
You’ll want to apply it to your plants right away! Water at the roots while the soil is wet. Alternatively, spray it onto the leaves, getting under the leaves as well. Plants absorb a lot of nutrients through the leaves so this a great way to give them a quick feed.
Take it Up a notch
You can also buy an aquarium pump and allow your tea to be continuously aerated for 24 hours. Aerating the tea by stirring or using a pump is important because it kills the anaerobic bacteria which are what cause those nasty e. coli breakouts you’ve heard about it organic spinach and other produce.
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