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A Cup of Tea for Your Garden: How & Why to Make Compost Tea

Compost tea is an easy, organic way to enhance your soil. It is rich in nutrients and microorganisms vital for plant and soil health. Compost tea is made by soaking composted materials in water, and then using the water in your garden.

There are a few different methods of making compost tea. Each one needs a relatively small amount of organic matter, and only takes a few days, or less, of brewing. Many gardeners find the benefits for their gardens are worth the little extra effort of brewing compost tea.

Benefits of Compost Tea

1. Provides a wide range of nutrients.

Compost tea contains all the water-soluble nutrients from your compost. This means that the richer your compost is, the more nutritious your tea will be.

The nutrients will naturally be more diluted than in straight compost, so there is no danger of harming your plants by over-fertilizing. You can give your plants compost tea regularly for gentle, ongoing nutrition support.

2. Boosts soil microorganisms.

Beneficial fungi, bacteria, nematodes and protozoa all naturally live in a healthy compost pile. Many of these microorganisms will multiply in a compost tea.

Microorganisms are what keep soils, and what grows in them, alive. A small particle of soil can contain thousands of different species of microbes. They break down organic matter, recycle nutrients, maintain soil structure, promote plant growth and control pests.

When you apply the high numbers of microbes typically found in compost tea, it will help the local plants and ecosystem literally from the ground up.

3. Suppresses diseases

Theres increasing evidence that plant diseases can be suppressed by treating plants with compost teas. Teas brewed from all different methods appear to have benefits.

This is most likely due to the enhanced microbial populations. They support plant health, and stronger plants are less disease-prone. Also, the beneficial microorganisms can out-compete and inhibit the harmful species both above and below ground.

What to Put in Your Compost Tea

The most important ingredient is, of course, high-quality compost. Compost made from diverse, healthy organic matter will give you the best compost tea. Well-aged compost is also preferable because the older it is, the more microorganisms it will have. It should have been decomposing for at least a few months.

The particles in your compost should be small and well broken down. This will make the nutrients and microorganisms more easily available to be released into the water.

If you have a worm box, worm castings also make excellent compost tea.

Its best to use well water or rain water if possible. If youre using tap water that contains chlorine, let it sit overnight for the chlorine to dissipate.

Manure isnt ideal for tea because its not as nutritionally well-balanced as a good compost. Research manure tea brewing before attempting it to make sure you dont spread possible manure-borne diseases.

Also, be cautious about adding extra ingredients to your compost tea. Plain compost naturally goes through a period of high temperatures as it decomposes. This will usually kill most pathogens.

But, some compost tea brewers recommend adding ingredients to increase the bacteria diversity in the tea. This is more common in aerated teas, which may add molasses, kelp, humic acid, fish hydrolase or other products.

These additives have not been heat-treated like compost and are shown to potentially increase dangerous bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella in compost teas. If youre using additives in your teas, avoid applying them to food crops.

Brewing Methods

One of the most important factors for a healthy compost tea is air. The beneficial microbes need oxygen in the water to reproduce. If you allow a tea to become stagnant, it promotes anaerobic, potentially harmful microbes to take hold.

You can maintain oxygen in your tea by either hand-stirring or installing an electric bubbler. Both methods are described below.

1. Anaerobic

This is the easiest method. You simply need to put some compost in a bucket, add water and let it steep for up to three weeks. Stirring it a couple times a day will help keep it oxygenated.

Any size of bucket or container will work, depending on how much compost tea you need. A good ratio is around one part compost to 3-10 parts water. If you make a more concentrated batch, you can dilute it more as you apply it.

Leaving your tea to steep longer will give the beneficial microorganisms more time to multiply. But dont leave your tea for much longer than three weeks, because it can start to stagnate and kill the beneficial microbes.

CaliKim has a great video that goes over the basics of anaerobic brewing.

2. Aerobic

Anaerobic teas have been brewed for centuries, but aerobic teas are a modern invention. They involve inserting an aeration device into your brewing compost tea, such as an aquarium pump. This will provide much more oxygen than simply stirring an anaerobic tea.

Instead of mixing compost directly into the water, it is suspended in a porous bag. This makes it easier to run a bubbler through the water. The nutrients and microbes will slowly leach out of the compost and into the water. It is only brewed for up to 24 hours.

A ratio of one part compost to 10-50 parts water is recommended, which is less than an anaerobic tea. This means the nutrients will be more dilute as there is less organic matter in the solution.

Its said this increased oxygen will produce more and better microbe populations. Currently, there is limited research to prove whether or not this is true. In fact, anaerobic compost teas are shown to have somewhat better disease controlling effects.

The only way to find out for sure is by experimenting with it in your own yard. If youd like to make your own aerated compost, Fine Gardening has an excellent description of how to set up a home bubbler system.

Many pre-made systems are available commercially if you dont want to make your own. Ask your local garden center if they can recommend one, or find one online.

You can also buy fresh compost tea at many garden centers. These are a good option if you dont have the time or interest in brewing your own.

Pre-packaged compost teas are available as well, although their quality is questionable. Alive and active microorganisms are a vital part of compost tea. These would be difficult to package for any length of time.

Using Your Compost Tea

Compost tea can be applied to any plants, either in the ground or in containers. Use it freely on your vegetables, flowering plants, trees, shrubs or lawn.

Most compost tea wont need dilution, unless you only have a small amount and want to make it go farther.

You can use compost tea as a drench by simply watering your plants with it.

Compost tea can also be applied as a foliar spray. Strain your tea through cheese cloth or a fine sieve first to remove any particles that could clog your sprayer. Adding a couple drops of mild dishwashing liquid will help the tea adhere to leaves better.

Foliar feeding with compost tea is shown to boost a plants immediate uptake of nutrients. Although, it doesnt appear to have any benefit on long-term soil fertility.

Make sure you use your tea as soon as its finished brewing to prevent any pathogen growth. If your compost tea smells bad, this likely means it hasnt gotten enough oxygen. Pour any rancid tea into an unused area of your compost and start a new batch of fresh tea.

Related
Which Type of Mulch is Best for Your Garden?
25+ Beneficial Plants That Ward Off Pests and Protect Your Garden
9 Beneficial Bugs and Insects to Welcome in the Garden

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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A Cup of Tea for Your Garden: How & Why to Make Compost Tea

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The Dakota Access fight is moving to Louisiana.

On the first day of the state’s legislative session, nine Republican lawmakers filed legislation that would bar utilities from using electricity produced by large-scale renewable energy projects.

The bill, whose sponsors are primarily from the state’s top coal-producing counties, would require utilities to use only approved energy sources like coal, natural gas, nuclear power, hydroelectric, and oil. While individual homeowners and small businesses could still use rooftop solar or backyard wind, utilities would face steep fines if they served up clean energy.

Wyoming is the nation’s largest producer of coal, and gets nearly 90 percent of its electricity from coal, but it also has huge, largely untapped wind potential. Currently, one of the nation’s largest wind farms is under construction there, but most of the energy will be sold outside Wyoming. Under this bill, such out-of-state sales could continue, yet the measure would nonetheless have a dampening effect on the state’s nascent renewable energy industry.

Experts are skeptical that the bill will pass, even in dark-red Wyoming, InsideClimate News reports.

One of the sponsors, Rep. Scott Clem, is a flat-out climate change denier whose website showcases a video arguing that burning fossil fuels has improved the environment.

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The Dakota Access fight is moving to Louisiana.

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Pig Farms Can Control When You Get the Flu

Mother Jones

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For a fascinating new study, Duke researchers looked at flu patterns over four years across North Carolina, a state with high concentrations of intensive hog farming in some regions, and very little on others. The idea was to determine whether living near large-scale hog farms affects the way communities experience flu—a key question, because many flu strains mutate quickly and jump easily between people and hogs. The answer, in short, is yes.

To understand the findings, it’s important to note that each flu season brings different dominant strains that infect people. Some years, pig-adapted strains proliferate among people; other years, strains that aren’t adapted to those farm beasts do. Pig-adapted flu strains became more common after 2009, when H1N1 emerged and caused a global pandemic. It has been circulating ever since, and in some flu seasons (like 2015-’16) it is the predominant strain affecting people.

Over the study period, two of the flu seasons were dominated by pig strains—and in both, the flu season peaked earlier in hog-intensive counties, measured by the number of reported cases among people. In the other two non-pig flu years, flu seasons across North Carolina’s counties showed no such pattern.

Infectious-diseases writer Maryn McKenna has an excellent explainer on FERN’s Ag Insider:

What likely happened, they the authors say, is that the virus circulating in those flu seasons was carried onto farms by workers and spread to the pigs — and as it passed from pig to pig, the virus had a chance to reproduce in a manner that would not have happened in the absence of CAFOs. That much larger amount of virus spread back out into surrounding community, spiking the number of flu cases earlier in the flu season.

The upshot, the researchers say, is that vaccine strategies should expand. Currently, public health authorities target kids, elderly people, and people with compromised immune systems for flu-shot campaigns. People who work on and live near hog farms should also be encouraged to achieve “universal influenza vaccination,” they say.

Fair enough. But it also seems worth asking whether it’s a smart idea to concentrate hog farming so tightly. Every year, North Carolina’s confinement facilities churning out 10 million pigs—14.5 percent of total US production—the vast majority of which is crammed into a few eastern counties. These hyper-concentration of hogs creates what the authors call a “crucible for human influenza epidemics.”

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Pig Farms Can Control When You Get the Flu

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Exxon is looking for ways to slash carbon emissions

Exxon is looking for ways to slash carbon emissions

By on Aug 19, 2016Share

A new breakthrough in climate-change-fighting technology may come from, of all places … Exxon?

It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Exxon and other fossil fuel companies are under pressure from lawmakers and stakeholders to publicly own up to its role in causing climate change.

Instead of, say, diversifying its portfolio in renewables, the oil giant is looking for an alternate way to decrease their footprint — one that will let them keep burning fossil fuels.

Reuters reports that scientists from ExxonMobil and the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a method to reduce carbon emissions from chemicals manufacturing. Currently, this is done using heat, but using a new method of reverse osmosis at room temperature theoretically would reduce the industry’s annual carbon dioxide emissions by up to 45 million tons if the technology were widely adopted, according to the company.

Now, if only they’d use all that brain power to create a time machine, go back to 50 years, and warn us about climate change when their own scientists first warned executives about it.

Election Guide ★ 2016Making America Green AgainOur experts weigh in on the real issues at stake in this electionGet Grist in your inbox

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Exxon is looking for ways to slash carbon emissions

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There’s a new toxin in your water to worry about, America

This Mess Again

There’s a new toxin in your water to worry about, America

By on Aug 11, 2016Share

To add to the “what might kill me in my home today?” files: According to a new report from Harvard researchers, 33 states have high levels of industrial pollutants polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl (PFASs) in their municipal water supplies.

There are loads of chemicals in our water, but PFASs are pretty rough. They’ve been linked with cancer, hormone disruption, high cholesterol, and obesity. High levels of the toxins were found in the water supplies of at least 6 million people, according to study author Xindi Hu, but because the government doesn’t keep data on PFASs in drinking water for a third of the country, exposure is likely far more widespread.

How did so many PFASs get in the water supply? Well, they can be found in literally thousands of wildly varied products — from pizza boxes to camping gear. They’re the Max Martin of product manufacturing.

“Virtually all Americans are exposed to these compounds,” Hu told the Washington Post. “They never break down. Once they are released into the environment, they are there.”

Currently, PFASs aren’t regulated at all. But in May, EPA issued health advisories for polyfluoroalkyl substances, and asked utilities to follow stricter standards. But as Hu notes, we’re definitely stuck with them for now.

Election Guide ★ 2016Making America Green AgainOur experts weigh in on the real issues at stake in this electionGet Grist in your inbox

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There’s a new toxin in your water to worry about, America

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