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About compost tea

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By Lee Einer

Hang out in organic gardening circles or read the publications and you will soon hear the high praises of compost tea. In its simplest form, compost tea is simply water in which a scoop of mature compost has been added and allowed to set. I have often wondered what the great benefit of this is — after all, the nutrients in the tea are just the nutrients in the compost, dissolved to facilitate rapid uptake by plants.

It turns out though, that the real deal is something more robust, with a different purpose. Properly brewed compost tea is a microbial innoculant.

The bacteria and fungi found in compost, it turns out, are also vital to soil health. You can use compost tea to infect your soil with beneficial microbes in the following manner:

Dump a shovelful of compost in a five-gallon bucket, and fill it to near the top with water. Add a scant quarter cup of molasses, and two tablespoons of fish emulsion, kelp emulsion, or even fish scraps.

Then get a cheap aquarium pump, run the hose from the pump to the bottom of the bucket, and plug it in. The constant bubbling is to raise the oxygen level of the compost tea and encourage the growth of anaerobic bacteria. The molasses and fish emulsion are provide food for the bacteria and fungi.

In three days, the bacteria and fungi in your compost tea will have undergone a population explosion. Time to spray or  pour it on your soil. As the critters in the compost tea get established in your soil, they will do the same thing that they do in compost - break down organic material into nutrients which plants can assimilate.

Don’t try to store your compost tea — remember, its a living beastie, and it needs food and air. Once it’s brewed, get it on to your soil where it can do its thing.

Another trick for innoculating your soil is to take a cup or two of cooked rice and put it in a tupperware container. Put the lid on, but don’t snap it all the way around. You want air to get in, just no critters.

Take your container of rice and put it in a healthy outdoor area, forested if you are working on an orchard or similar, meadow if you are cultivating annual crops. Hide it under leaves or some such and let it be for a week.

When you return to get your rice, it should be looking pretty funky, with multicolored patches indicative of fungal and bacterial growth.

At this point you can mix the rice with ten times the volume of water and spray it on your land. Alternatively, if you will be needing more you can mix the rice with several times the volume of cooked rice and let it sit until the furry-funky stuff has spread throughout, mix with water and spray.

This will infect your soil with the beneficial fungi and bacteria native to your area. 

Lee Einer is the features editor at the Las Vegas Optic. He may be reached at 425-6796 or features@lasvegasoptic.com.