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How to Make Compost Tea with Julia Watkins

This is an excerpt from the book Gardening for Everyone by Julia Watkins

Plants need nutrients to grow. If your garden beds are filled with rich soil, they may contain enough nutrients to keep plants healthy and happy for the entire growing season. But if your plants’ growth starts to slow or their foliage changes in color, there’s a good chance they need feeding. For an organic fertilizer, compost or compost tea are excellent choices.

Compost tea is a natural liquid fertilizer, made by soaking finished compost in water. The brewing process stimulates microbial growth and creates a nutrient-rich tea that can be used to feed plants. You can purchase compost tea at garden centers or online, or you can make it yourself using compost from your backyard. Compost tea is relatively easy, cheap, and fun to make, and it’s a great activity to do with kids.

There are several ways to make compost tea. This method uses molasses and an air pump to feed the beneficial microbes in compost. If the thought of making something with an air pump sounds daunting, rest assured that all you need is an aquarium bubbler - nothing high tech or fancy! Aside from that, the supplies are simple: Just grab a bucket, some unchlorinated water, a handful of compost, a stocking, and some molasses. If your tap water is chlorinated, you will need to fill a bucket and leave it out for at least 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate. Otherwise, you can use water from a rain barrel or well. Chlorine will kill the beneficial microbes, so this step is essential!

Materials for Compost Tea

  • soap

  • 4 cups compost

  • 5-gallon bucket

  • nylon stocking

  • aquarium pump

  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses

  • about 5 gallons unchlorinated water


Use soap and water to clean and disinfect the bucket and aquarium pump. Fill the bucket with unchlorinated water. Place the aquarium pump at the bottom of the bucket and turn it on. Stuff the compost inside the nylon stocking, tie the stocking closed, and suspend it in the bucket. Add the molasses to the bucket of water and allow the mixture to bubble for 24 hours. When the tea is ready, remove the stocking and transfer the liquid to a watering can. Use the finished compost tea to water the soil at the base of your plants.

Gardening for Everyone

Want to learn more? Check out Julia's new book, Gardening for Everyone


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