Gardening has become a big part of my life in the past few years and I learn so much every season through every part of the process. I once heard a master gardener share that in order to have a thriving garden, you need to “cultivate deep soil fertility.” That resonated and stuck with me. Now as I tend to all of the maintenance from planting the seeds to harvesting the crops, I consider what I can be offering the earth to cultivate that fertility and keep the plants at their peak health and vitality. One such offering that is becoming a regular part of the routine is feeding with compost tea.
Organic compost tea is a power packed liquid fertilizer that’s alive with microorganisms which suppress disease in plants. There are different techniques and many recipes for making your own home brew. My first experiments with compost tea were soaking a few handfuls of material from my compost pile in a bucket of water and letting it steep for a couple of days, then straining it and adding it to my little container garden. It was hard to say what effect the concoction had on my plants, though it felt good to be giving them the extra care.
Now I live in a place with much more to tend – a large veggie garden, flower gardens, greenhouse, a small fruit orchard, and lots of potted plants. With the bigger job to tend to, a more efficient method of brewing is needed. Instead of a bucket, I use a 55 gallon barrel and an electric aerator to make a large batch of tea. I put several cups of worm castings and manure (typically chicken) in a mesh bag that hangs from the lid inside the barrel and add about 50 gallons of water, 4 cups of fish emulsion and a sprinkle of powdered kelp. The aerator connects to the outside top of the lid and pushes air through a tube that extends inside the length of the barrel, bubbling the solution and speeding up production of beneficial bacteria and fungi. The whole thing bubbles and brews for about 24 hours in a shady spot.
Then comes the best part…feeding the plants! The amount I give to each plant depends on how strong I’ve made the brew, the age and size of the plant and whether it’s in a container or in the ground. For the most part, I use my intuition in deciding which plants need the boost and how much they need. When spring comes around, everything is fed to get things activated after the slumber of winter. All the plants get a good root drench and all the trees get foliar fed. Beyond that, I feed every 2-4 weeks depending on my schedule and my memory. I count on the plants to cue me to some degree. The potted plants and trees have the most consistent needs as they are limited in what their roots can access. Any time I make tea, these are the first to receive. I also like to feed any plants in a fruiting stage or any plants that appear stressed and seem like they could use some support. With anything I’m feeding such a potent mixture to, I am sure to first check that the soil is moist before feeding and am careful not to give too much and potentially injure the plant.
Over the years I’ve learned other well-known gardening practices to grow stronger plants such as crop rotation, companion planting and amending the soil between crop plantings, all of which I use. But there’s something about brewing up a homemade meal for the garden that feels special–like feeding a little magic to the earth and the plants. Compost tea is my current favorite way to cultivate deep fertility in my garden. What’s yours?
Author: Ember of Laughing Heart
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