Compost tea is the perfect way to boost your plants growth and obtain higher yields – NATURALLY. Better yet, you can make it for free using your own compost!  We keep our garden productive year after year by following a simple and organic three prong approach.  We use compost (composting 101) and cover crops (planting cover crops) for building great soil structure and vitality – AND  we boost plants during the growing season with a simple homemade natural liquid fertilizer on our plants called compost tea.

All you need to make your own compost tea is a couple of shove fulls of compost, A 5 gallon bucket and water
All you need to make your own compost tea is a couple of shove fulls of compost, A 5 gallon bucket and water

Compost tea or “black liquid gold” is the all organic “miracle-growing” solution to fertilizing the garden – minus the chemicals and high salt content that commercial fertilizers add to your soil. It works its magic in two ways – feeding your plants through the roots (soil zones around plants) and the leaves (foliar zones). Unlike synthetic fertilizers, it won’t build up chemicals and salt levels that can slowly destroy your soil structure.  Instead, adding nutrients that build it!

If you follow along with our blog, you know how important compost is in building healthy soil. We add large amounts of compost to all of our planting beds each year, as well as a good shovel full in every single planting hole.  Well, that compost, made from our decomposed vegetable scraps, chicken manure, grass clippings, coffee grounds, and more – is teeming with all-natural, plant-boosting nutrients.  By converting those nutrients into a liquid form – we can utilize those nutrients as an organic fertilizer to naturally boost plants growth through the growing season.

How we use it:

Compost tea works through absorption via the leaves and soil
Compost tea works through absorption via the leaves and soil

Compost Tea can be applied about every two weeks to your garden plants once plants and transplants have become established. By established, we simply mean that they have been in the ground 7 to 10 days and are over the initial shock of transplant.

We apply ours with a watering can or a simple garden sprayer – soaking the area around the root base and the leaves of each plant with the solution.  The minerals and nutrients are then absorbed through the leaves (foliar absorption) as well as through the root zone – doubling the effect.  As with watering, it is best to apply early in the day before the sun is too hot and the tea can burn the leaves of plants.

We repeat the compost tea applications every two weeks until about mid July.  Why stop? Too much of a good thing can also be bad. You want plants to develop strong roots and stems – but too much and the plant will spend all of its energy creating thick foliage and not much fruit.  

Start by filling a clean bucket 1/3 full of compost
Start by filling a clean bucket 1/3 full of compost

We have found that 4 to 6 total applications seem to be the perfect mix for giving plants the boost they need for good higher yields. The best part – its 100% natural, with no fear of having to use any chemicals in your garden.

How we make it:  

There are many ways to make compost tea – but we have found this method to be easy, effective, and most importantly, simple!

BASIC COMPOST TEA RECIPE:

Let the mixture steep for 5 to 7 days, stirring a few times each day.
Let the mixture steep for 5 to 7 days, stirring a few times each day.

You will need a 5 Gallon Bucket, stir stick, water, and a few shovel fulls of finished compost.

Start by filling your bucket about 1/3 full of compost.  Use compost from the bottom of your pile, where organic matter has decayed the most and is teeming with life.

Next – fill the bucket to the within an inch or two of the top with water.  It is best to use well water (we use our rain water) because there will be no chlorine or other chemicals. Chlorine can kill off many of the helpful bacteria and organisms that are alive in compost.  If you only have access to city water, no worries – simply fill the bucket a few days in advance and let sit outside.  The sun and air will work its magic and within a few days, almost all of the chlorine will be gone.

Strain and you are ready to use!
Strain and you are ready to use!

Stir the compost good with a stick or the end of your garden shovel.  Over the course of the next 5 to 7 days, stir the bucket a few times each day.  This aeration of the water and the stirring of the compost helps to release more nutrients into the water, much like dunking a tea bag releases more tea into your drink.

At the end of 5 to 7 days, simply strain the mixture through a piece of burlap, mesh screen or a strainer, and you are left with the magical liquid gold fertilizer called compost tea!

Store in an air tight container to keep the “liquid gold” at it’s best nutrient levels.

Bonus Info:

You can get a little more fancy in your compost tea making if you desire.  It has been shown that adding a simple aquarium pump to the bucket and letting it run to percolate the mixture will increase the potency of the finished mixture, and can be completed in as little as 2 days.  Others also add molasses or sugar to the mixture to increase the absorption of the water and organisms.

Although not appetizing to drink -compost tea is great for your plants!
Although not appetizing to drink -compost tea is great for your plants!

However, for us, the simple bucket and stirring method has certainly worked wonders for our garden.  Besides, the extra few days we let ours steep in the water is worth not having to go through the trouble of setting up a pump, wires, etc. For us, keeping it simple is the key!

So how about trying your own liquid gold this year and get those plants growing big and strong!

Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary

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51 thoughts on “Compost Tea – How To Make And Use The Ultimate Organic Fertilizer

  • May 18, 2016 at 2:01 pm
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    Do you dilute the concentrated tea with water when applying to plants? If so, what is the ratio?

    Reply
  • May 18, 2016 at 11:48 am
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    I love using compost tea. I use the aquarium bubbler method. I have always thought you would not want to seal it in an airtight container, as this would cut off the oxygen to all the microorganisms in the tea. When I take it off aeration, I make sure to use it all in the next 8 hours to get the biggest population of aerobic microorganisms onto my plants.

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  • November 18, 2015 at 9:35 pm
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    I have been researching this subject quite heavy, and I believe it may be a misconseption that most people believe compost tea is fertilizer. Well, it is, but it isn’t. If one researches what’s called the “soil food web”, which is just a fancy name for all the benificial microbes living in our soil, and the plants growing in it, and all of their benificial relationships, you’ll find that all soils have plenty of every nutrient needed for proper plant growth, but what soils do not always have is benificial microbes (i.e. fungi, bacteria, protazoa, etc, etc). These microbes feed on all this organic matter, and make the nutrients in a soil into a “plant avalable” form, but they need what all plants secrete from their roots to perform this job (plants secrete these “root juices” for the microbes as they need mircrobes to make them nutrients). It’s simply, the plants feeds the microbes, and the microbes feed the plant. Nature has it all worked out.
    So, what compost tea does more than anything, is to recharge a soil with all these benificial fungi and bacteria. With those added to a soil, and plants growing in this soil, the soil biololy then builds. It takes plants, and all the benificial mircrobes together within the soil to perform this soil building cycle. Keep in mind however, all inorganic fertilizers and chemicals kill many of the needed microbes. Also, in the “off season” for a garden, you’ll need to plant a cover crop to keep this cycle going strong and healthy.
    That’s my take on it. And just incase I got some of this wrong, or worded it wrong, just research the “soil food web” and learn as much as you can about it. It’s interesting stuff.
    Happy gardening everyone.

    Reply
  • July 8, 2015 at 11:57 pm
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    I found this recipe had a bad aftertaste. After drinking 5 gallons I felt a little dizzy and could no longer see the color blue. When I came to the following evening, I discovered that I had misread the article entirely.

    Color me embarrassed!

    But seriously, what would happen if you added spent coffee grounds to this mix? Too much nitrogen? Or an amazing improvement?

    Reply
  • June 26, 2015 at 4:48 pm
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    I was wondering if you can use old tea steeped water directly, or you need to go through the whole composting process. Thanks for you help.

    Reply
  • June 15, 2015 at 10:53 am
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    I’ve used most of my compost already this year between creating new Lasagna Beds in the garden and at planting. To make my tea I line my bucket with a 5 gal paint strainer ( a big nylon net-very cheap) add a bit of compost and then weeds that I have pulled. A bit of molasses to help break down the weeds… comfrey leaves if I have them and sometimes fish emulsion …compost for the same amount of time as you do ..stinks to high heaven but works great.

    Reply
  • May 8, 2015 at 12:40 pm
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    I make a water butt full of compost tea by stuffing a net sack with nettles and comfrey harvested from the garden and leaving it to soak in the filled up water butt for about ten days. The contents of the sack can then be composted. It smells a bit like cow pats whilst brewing, but makes a great liquid feed diluted one part tea to two of water. I use it for my containers, hanging baskets and vegetables, in fact everywhere in the garden and greenhouse with great results and minimal labour.

    Reply
  • April 15, 2015 at 7:48 pm
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    My brother forwarded this to me. This is great can’t wait for more

    Reply
  • August 13, 2014 at 8:23 pm
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    If you use a rotational composter, compost tea makes itself. The Envirocycle Composter has a collection unit below which catches all the rich composted water. It is very dark and concentrated and I dilute it. No straining. No SWEAT!

    Reply
  • July 12, 2014 at 8:34 am
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    I have a rain barrel that I have to to mosquito dunks in…is that OK to use for the tea?

    Reply
  • April 29, 2014 at 9:02 pm
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    I’m not sure why the tea needs to be strained. If it’s OK to put compost around plants, isn’t it OK to put very wet compost which has been leached of a lot of nutrients around plants, especially considering that the leached nutrients will be added back via the tea application?

    Reply
    • April 30, 2014 at 6:46 am
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      We strain it so we can use it in our sprayer to apply that way – and then we just put back the ingredients to the compost pile – but you could do it without straining.

      Reply
  • April 29, 2014 at 8:13 am
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    Hey, I’m just curious…Can you use this Organic Compost Tea in a Hydroponic System?

    HJ365

    Reply
  • April 2, 2014 at 7:40 pm
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    DO you use the tea full strength? or do you dilute it?

    Reply
  • January 22, 2014 at 11:49 pm
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    Can you explain why straining is necessary? If it’s OK to use compost on your plants, and it’s OK to use compost tea, why not use both, as in unfiltered compost tea, at the same time?

    Reply
  • January 22, 2014 at 1:21 pm
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    I wanna do this with my rabbit manure, Would it be the same process maybe?

    Reply
  • June 18, 2013 at 9:40 am
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    We live in western Colorado and it’s a no-no to have ANY kind of standing water due to West Nile from mosquitoes. Do you think the mixture as it sits will attract or discourage mosquitoes from laying eggs on top? Thank you for your wealth of knowledge. Our soil is Bentonite so this will still work or will it change the chemical content of our soil towards killing plants?

    Reply
    • June 26, 2013 at 11:18 am
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      I’m sure you could cover it and it would still work. Maybe stir it more often.

      Reply
  • June 6, 2013 at 2:48 pm
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    I keep it simple in my smallish home garden and use Annie Haven’s compost tea bags from her ranch in Socal….love them and ‘the gardening world’ including myself swears by the results! just google authentic haven branch manure tea…way easier and very economical for us cheapos who don’t have space for large compost piles and want a truly organic product…

    Reply
  • June 6, 2013 at 8:53 am
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    I call mine mixed poo soup. I have a 200 lt plastic barrel. Put in nice dried rabbit poo, liquid from the worm farm and if I have any Dynamic Lifter throw that in too. Stir with a long stick and let sit for a few days. Smells really bad but the plants and grass love it. Actually put it out one weekend when the neighbour was being very loud and I knew there was storm coming. They quickly went indoors.

    Reply
  • May 3, 2013 at 4:23 pm
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    I was wondering if you can use this on your annual and perennial flowers in the summer time and if you can how do you do this. I would really like to know the directions for this. Thank you.

    Reply
  • April 27, 2013 at 11:40 pm
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    Our one supermarket sells Lobster Compost….could that be used and would it be any better than the compost from our own bin ?

    Reply
    • April 28, 2013 at 11:56 am
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      It would be good and could be used – without knowing how they make it – I would have hard time telling you if it is any better than traditional compost. I can tell you that a lot of people have had success in composting fish, etc and they are full of nutrients.

      Reply
  • April 27, 2013 at 1:06 pm
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    What about the left over compost? Can it be used over again or added back to the compost pile?

    Reply
    • April 28, 2013 at 11:01 am
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      Just add it back to your pile. If you’ve use it for tea, you have used a lot of the nutrients, but it’s still “good”. Or you can the left overs as a side dressing for your other plants. I use mine on my houseplants to give them a little “boost”.

      Reply
  • April 23, 2013 at 8:31 am
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    Great articles. I use clean old knee highs, once the tea is steeped, just pull and return the leavings to the main compost bin. Since I’ll never see 25 again, and the bend doesn’t work quite as well as it use too, gotta learn to work smarter. LOL

    Reply
  • April 13, 2013 at 10:45 am
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    Good article! I am new to making compost tea, and am glad to see that you make yours without the pump and the molasses, and it works out just fine. I do use those two things, so I’m hoping mine is nice and nutritious too. I actually prefer the idea of just making the tea without electricity–that’s better than using the grid, IMO. Do you think I could add molasses and other things to it if I didn’t use the pump?

    I’d like to invite you to share this post and up to two others at Farm Girl Blog Fest #28, which is live right now. You would be a great addition to the wonderful posts that are shared!

    Farm Girl Friday Blog Fest #28

    Hope to see you there!
    ~Kristi@Let This Mind Be in You

    Reply
    • April 15, 2013 at 10:17 am
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      Kristi – You could still use them, just stir a little more often to keep it working through. I am like you, I like the idea of not burning up electricity! πŸ™‚

      Jim

      Reply
  • April 8, 2013 at 8:53 am
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    This is what we do, also. This yeat I’m going to using it on my pecan trees to see if it makes a difference. Last year quite a few of our pecans didn’t fully develop. Now, I just have to figure out how to spray a couple of 30′ trees.

    Reply
    • April 27, 2013 at 1:32 pm
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      Thanks so much for mentioning trees! I have a small orchard that is rotting away because we don’t want to spray it. I’m going to try this this year and see what happens!

      Reply
      • April 28, 2013 at 11:07 am
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        You don’t mention what type of trees you have, however, it is possible to maintain a small orchard (and I know of a few big ones) organically. I found using light weight horticultural oil on the trunks in the early spring, eliminates a lot of problem pests. Just paint it on with an old paint brush. Here in VA, borers are a real problem and the oil has pretty much taken care of that issue.

        Reply
    • April 28, 2013 at 11:04 am
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      You don’t have to spray the trees, just add the compost or the tea around the base of the trees and go out to the edge of the drip line. My pecans love it, as do my black walnuts and pears. And it’s easy.

      Reply
  • April 3, 2013 at 9:59 pm
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    Thanks much for this. I’ve done the gig with the aquarium pump and had moderate success, but the spot where I am most able to do it is not really where I want a big bucket bubbling away. I think too the stir method might draw a few less nightime visitors. A raccoon dragged away my bag of compost last year.

    Reply
  • April 3, 2013 at 1:40 pm
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    This is great! Thank you! I need something to give the plants a boost right now. I’ll have to give this a try.

    Reply
  • April 2, 2013 at 12:25 pm
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    What is the ratio of mixtue between the compost tea and water before applying to the plant?

    Reply
    • April 3, 2013 at 9:17 am
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      Once it is strained from the bucket, we use the entire contents at full strength. You can water that down by half for use on seedlings.

      Reply
  • April 2, 2013 at 9:34 am
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    Nice share, my mother alway composted for as long as I can remember, and I am 71. I have shared the compost tea for years, the best and so easy. So enjoy your site

    Reply
    • April 3, 2013 at 9:18 am
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      Thank you so much Barbara! And yes, the compost tea is such a great way to grow organically.

      Reply
  • April 2, 2013 at 9:24 am
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    Hi, Thanks for this. One thing about the aerator pump, I heard that if not done 100 percent correctly it can actually turn into a poisonous mixture which if put on food crops can be deadly. The bucket stir method is much safer!

    Reply
    • April 3, 2013 at 9:19 am
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      I had never heard of that, but even more glad we don’t use one now! πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
      • June 8, 2014 at 11:51 am
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        The LACK of oxygen would cause anaerobic (stinky) bacteria growth in your compost tea. I can’t imagine how using an aerator pump to help oxygenate the compost tea would cause it to become deadly.

        Think in natural occurring terms; a stagnant pond would become a stinking toxic algea infested body (or container) of water devoid of life, whereas, a running stream is richly oxygenated and supports the entire food chain of evolution!

        Reply
  • April 2, 2013 at 8:27 am
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    Great and easy-to-follow recipe! Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge!

    Reply
      • April 23, 2013 at 8:40 pm
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        As we don’t yet have a compost pile, can this be made with purchased compost? What should I look for in the compost I buy?

        Reply
        • April 24, 2013 at 1:10 pm
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          It can be used to make the tea – you just don’t always know what was used or how full of nutrients it will be. A better option for those looking to make their own without their own compost – is to make it with worm castings that you can purchase. You can soak the water in a cup or two of the castings and make a great fertilizing tea.

          Reply

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