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When I first married my wife, I was very disappointed by her great love for tea. And we’re even not talking about Green Tea or oolong. We’re not even talking about compost tea yet. We’re talking about herbal teas. Weedy-plant-water meant for humans. It didn’t sit well with me.
If I drank something, I wanted it to either taste great or be ultra-caffeinated. Herbal tea was neither of those things. It wasn’t until I matured a little bit that I realized how many useful things my body can get from tea. There are teas that will lower blood pressure, increase energy, stimulate your bowels, and so much more!
Herbal teas are one of the healthiest drinks for humans. It’s like drinking water with a nice little addition of flavor and health benefits. That’s exactly what compost tea is for plants: nutritional tea with added probiotics.
The preferred method of most gardeners seems to be making an aerated compost tea by using an air pump. However, since I’m about as cheap as possible, I decided to go the much cheaper (free) route and brew some anaerobic compost tea.
The Pro/Cons of Anaerobic Compost Tea
The main advantage of compost tea is the massive amount of microbes that you are able to add to the soil when you use it to water plants. Common sense tells us that the more microbes we can get (and the better than strain), the better the tea will be.
In this area, aerobic compost tea knocks the socks off of anaerobic tea. Aerating your compost tea gives beneficial microbes all the air they need to reproduce like crazy. Without adequate oxygen, your tea will go anaerobic. The microbes produced will be less beneficial and have more in common with fermentation bacteria (like those found in bokashi composting) than traditional composting microbes.
An additional advantage of vigorous aeration is that the churning of the water will literally knock the microbes off/out of the compost, into the water. As long as an adequate temperature is maintained (mildly warm), your tea will be chock full of the right little guys.
While you’ll find tons of people on the net who are willing to vilify anaerobic tea, the truth is that there is a minimal number of scientific studies that have been published on either aerobic or anaerobic tea. In most cases, the results are dictated more by what the compost medium was than by how it was brewed.
For example, brewing compost tea from items such as bark or spent mushrooms seems to be the most beneficial. For a more thorough (although dated) review of the subject, check out this paper.
The summation of the research seems to be along the lines of, “Compost tea has some mild benefits. Properly aerated compost tea is slightly more beneficial than the anaerobic variety.”
How to Make Anaerobic Compost Tea: 6 Steps
I hesitate to call this an anaerobic compost tea recipe, but I guess that’s what it is. Luckily, compost tea is about the simplest thing you can make. If you have been successful at creating compost, you’ll have no problem here.
Step 1. Fill a container with warm water
Don’t get too hung up on temperature. I typically use a 5-gallon bucket (or several if I want to make a large batch). I typically don’t use something larger than a 5-gallon bucket for two reasons: compost tea is heavy and big containers are obnoxious to move, and it’s better to use up your tea quickly to avoid it turning really nasty.
One thing to be aware of is that you need to be using dechlorinated water for maximum effect. If you collect rainwater or have a well, this will be a non-issue for you. Otherwise, you’ll need to remove chlorination to encourage maximal microbial growth.
Step 2. Mix in an easily-microbe-accessible food source
This is as easy as mixing in a simple carbohydrate such as sugar or molasses. I typically add a couple of tablespoons to my bucket and mix it thoroughly.
Step 3. Add compost to a porous container
You’ll want something that water can flow in and out of. Common items you can use include things like a burlap sack, a pillowcase, or pantyhose. I typically use a burlap sack as it is durable and reusable indefinitely (as long as you rinse it out/dry it out). It doesn’t really matter if your item is very porous and some of the compost gets into your tea.
Step 4. Let your bucket sit for 24-48 hours
Anaerobic compost teas don’t smell great, so don’t be put off by the unique poopy-vomit smell (unless it gets really bad). The water will darken as time goes on, but longer isn’t always better. Within the first day or two, your tea will get as saturated as it is going to get. If you let it go too long, your microbes will run out of food and it will start to rot.
Step 5. Remove your sack of compost from the water
If you want to wring it out, wear rubber gloves. Your compost tea is now done and you can apply it directly to plant foliage (some people use a sprayer, but this is more common with aerobic teas) or to the ground. To get the maximum advantage for my soil I make sure all the microbes and nutrients go straight into the ground.
Step 6. Add your finished compost tea to non-food plants
I prefer to add anaerobic compost tea to plants that I won’t be eating. I add a small amount to shrubs, potted plants, etc.
At the end of the day, you better have some tea brewing! I can’t say that I have developed another green thumb or anything, but since I employed compost teas my garden plants seem more robust and healthy.
Be sure not to rely on compost tea exclusively, but use it as part of a whole soil/improvement plan for your garden. So get composting, get tilling, get brewing, and maximize your garden’s potential!
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