Actively aerated compost tea is a beneficial, and easy to make tea for your plants. In fact, we believe that this basic and simple compost tea recipe it is the most beneficial plant tea you can add to any organic gardener’s toolkit!
What is Actively Aerated Compost Tea, aka A.A.C.T.?
Compost tea is made with worm castings (and/or high-quality compost), an air pump to provide an oxygen rich environment for the aerobic microbes to thrive in, and lastly a food source to support the living microbes as populations rapidly increase.
This is not a nutrient tea, although the tea will contain some water-soluble nutrients from the worm castings (and/or compost). The only goal here is to simply extract living microorganisms from the worm castings (and/or compost); put them in the perfect environment to multiply, and then be watered into the soil or sprayed onto the foliage of your plants. With this compost tea we are simply harnessing the power of nature, supercharging it, and then adding it to our gardens for the benefits.
Benefits of compost tea:
When applied to the soil it increases the nutrient cycling in the soil resulting in healthier plants. The microbes will be digesting the Soil Charge Pack ingredients faster giving your plants that nice boost of health and energy. The soil microbes will increase the soil structure, the soil water holding abilities, and break down the Soil Charge Pack ingredients in the soil. In turn providing nutrients and minerals as the plants request them at any moment in the plant’s life, through a natural and organic process that has been in place long before us. This is how plants have grown naturally from the beginning of time – in living soil full of fungi, bacteria, Nematodes, Arthropods and worms communicating with plant roots. Spraying compost tea onto plant leaves will place beneficial bacteria and fungi physically on the plant that will crowd out bad microorganisms and help strengthen the plant’s abilities to suppress fungal diseases like white powdery mildew.
A well-made compost tea will have much higher levels of microbes than in the original compost alone, so a small amount of compost can go a long way when made into tea. This is great for large gardens where is gets very expensive and labor intensive to add physical compost to the entire garden. This tea recipe can’t harm or burn your plants, so you may apply freely without it hurting your plants.
Healthy plants equal healthy harvests!
Let’s gather the supplies!
Worm Castings and/or High-Quality Compost – When making your tea this will be the most important part. If the worm castings or compost you use are low quality then your tea will be as well. We recommend getting your worm castings from a local organic gardening center, or even look around on Craigslist for local people that make vermi-compost (worm compost). If you can’t find anything locally then you can order online from a variety of sources. Our favorite compost to use; not only for teas, but also when first making our base soil is vermi-compost directly from our own worm bin. It’s going to be pretty hard to beat the microbiology levels of homemade vermi-compost that hasn’t been shipped around the country. If you have never had a worm farm it is very easy, doesn’t smell when kept indoors, gives you a place to compost kitchen scraps, and saves you a ton of money by making your own vermi-compost!
*Pro Tip - Use Soil Charge Packs as a complete and balanced diet to feed worm bins.
Brewing Container - There are many options out there for the gardener, from expensive high-end kit brewers all the way down to a simple homemade 5-gallon bucket brewer. Making your own brewer is quite easy and what we recommend for most people just getting into making compost teas. Then you can decide later if you need to buy a professional kit or not. To start all you will need is a Food grade 5-gallon bucket or whatever size best fits your needs. Food grade buckets can be found everywhere, try stopping by your local ice cream shop or bakery to see if they have any they would like to discard for free. Or just order one online.
Food Source – A food source is added to support the rapidly expanding microbe populations. The best food source for this is Organic Unsulfured Black Strap Molasses.
Air Pump/Air Tubing/Air Stone – For the 5-gallon bucket tea brewer you will want to look for an air pump with an output of around 700gph, we like the Eco Air 1 Commercial Air Pump. Also be sure to get some rubber tubing that fits the air pump that you get. When it comes to air stones, we don’t use them and instead use small weights to hold down the tubing to the bottom of the bucket. If you would like to use air stones then get as many as you need depending on how many outputs your air pump has. These air stones are quite cheap to replace thankfully, as they will get very gunked up. They can be cleaned by running them in H2O2 after use if you choose to clean them instead of replace them each time. When making any kind of tea be sure to keep the Air Pump unit physically above the water level, in case power is lost to avoid water going backwards into the pump.
Now you have the supplies, so let’s brew some tea!
Step 1) Attach the air tubing to the air stones/or weights and then the other end to the air pump. Place the air stones at the bottom of the 5-gallon bucket. Pour around 4-gallons of clean de-chlorinated/chloramine free water into the 5-gallon bucket.
Step 2) Plug in the air pump and add your microbe food source; 1-2tsp (5-10ml) of Organic Unsulfured Black Strap Molasses per gallon of water.
Step 3) Add around a ¼ Cup of Earth Worm Castings, Vermi-Compost, or high-quality compost per gallon of water. You can mix and match worm castings and compost as you like for more diversity. Add the worm castings or compost directly into the water, or if you are going to use the compost tea in a sprayer place the compost material into a 400micron sized compost tea bag to avoid clogging your sprayer.
Step 4) Let this mixture bubble for 24-36 hours out of direct light. Always try to brew your teas in an environment of 60-80f. When it gets too cold microbial activity will slow down or go dormant, when it gets to hot microbes will literally be cooked or go dormant.
How to apply your finished tea
After 24-36 hours the finished tea should smell sweet and earthy. Tip - If it smells sour or bad then it didn’t get enough aeration or you brewed the tea for too long – don’t use it on your plants, instead add it to your compost pile. Apply your finished compost tea directly to your soil, or strain it with a 400micron sized compost tea bag to foliar spray onto the leaves and the top soil surface. Only spray in low light conditions. That would be dawn or dusk outdoors or during the night cycle indoors. Indoors gardeners can use a green led headlamp and not affect the plants dark cycles. Never adjust the pH of the tea. This tea will stay good up to 24hrs, after that the microbes will die off rapidly so extra tea can’t be stored. Only make what you can use right away.
That’s it! Apply every 3-4 weeks to ensure good life in your living soil.
Bloom Compost Tea
When your plants hit the flowering phase you can make a compost tea that is geared towards that phase of growth by making a fungal dominate tea. Most compost teas are bacteria-dominant. However, during the flowering and fruiting phase, fungus is a tremendous benefit to your plants. Fungus plays a special role during flowering to deliver things such as phosphorous to the plant roots. Fungus also takes longer to grow than bacteria. In the population race, bacteria always outgrow fungi by a large margin, so making this bloom compost tea is a great way to give the fungi a head start.
To make the Bloom Compost Tea is simple. 3-4 days prior to making a compost tea simply take your compost or worm castings and apply a thin layer of regular oats over the top surface. Place this into a warm and dark area and keep it moist for 3-4 days. Keep the environment in the 65°f - 80°f range. Placing a heating pad below the container is great for some conditions. After 3-4 days you will visibly see white fungi strands growing on the compost and oats, this is what you are after. Use this fungi dominant compost instead or regular compost in step 3 of the normal tea recipe listed above.
Note - This fungal dominated bloom compost tea is great, but normal compost can be used during the bloom phase just fine as well.
Why do we need microorganisms in our soil?
When growing plants in living soil, such as the premium living soil you create by following the Soil Charge Pack instructions; the plant roots will communicate with the soil microbes to get anything it needs at any moment in time. Instead of being force feed synthetic nutrients and bottled fertilizers whatever we think is best for the plant at that moment in time - skipping the entire natural microbial process that has been in place for thousands and thousands of years before us. This natural nutrient cycling process happens because plants will secrete many different kinds of sugars called exudates out from the roots to attract different kinds of microorganisms depending on what nutrient or mineral it needs in that exact moment in life. For example, if a plant needs some nitrogen, it will send out sugars from the roots to attract bacterial with high levels of nitrogen. If the plant needs some more phosphorus, it will attract bacterial with high levels of that nutrient. This attracts other microorganisms up in the food chain continuing a process we all know as the circle of life. This process creates and provides the plant with anything it needs at any time, we just add water and let them do what they know how to do best. No more force-feeding bottled products for veg and other bottles for flower. Forget the charts, forget about flushing out synthetics near harvest, forget about pH, toss the ppm pens, simply let the power of nature make the decisions.