|It's not coffee -- it's tea. Well-brewed compost tea is rich in microorganisms that are highly beneficial to your plants' growth and health. |
Start with good compost, give it some water, some aeration, and some time, and you'll have a multipurpose elixir for your garden. Gardeners all know compost is terrific stuff. But there's something even better than plain old compost, and that's compost tea. As the name implies, compost tea is made by steeping compost in water. It's used as either a foliar spray or a soil drench, depending on where your plant has problems.
Why go to the extra trouble of brewing, straining, and spraying a tea rather than just working compost into the soil? There are several reasons. First, compost tea makes the benefits of compost go farther. What's more, when sprayed on the leaves, compost tea helps suppress foliar diseases, increases the amount of nutrients available to the plant, and speeds the breakdown of toxins. Using compost tea has even been shown to increase the nutritional quality and improve the flavor of vegetables. If you've been applying compost to your soil only in the traditional way, you're missing out on a whole host of benefits.
The Science Behind Compost Tea
The soil is full of microorganisms that aid plant growth and plant health--bacteria and fungi, which are decomposers, and protozoa and beneficial nematodes, which are predators. But there are bad guys, too--disease-causing bacteria and fungi, protozoa, and root-feeding nematodes. Our goal as gardeners is to enhance the beneficial microorganisms in this soil foodweb, because they help our plants.
The bad bacterial decomposers and the plant-toxic products they make are enhanced by anaerobic, or reduced-oxygen, conditions. By making sure the tea and the compost itself are well oxygenated and highly aerobic, you eliminate 75 percent of the potential plant-disease-causing bacteria and plant-toxic products. To take care of the other 25 percent of potential diseases and pests, you want to get good guys into the soil and on at least 60 to 70 percent of your plants' leaves. Good bacteria work against the detrimental ones in four ways: They consume the bad guys, they may produce antibiotics that inhibit them, they compete for nutrients, and they compete for space.
Plants themselves don't use all of the energy they make through photosynthesis. For example, 60 percent of a vegetable plant's energy goes to its root system, and half of that energy is exuded into the soil. Of those exudates, 90 percent are sugars; the rest are carbohydrates and proteins. When you think about these ingredients as food, they're the makings for cake. This is high-energy stuff. Why is nearly one-third of a vegetable plant's output going into the soil as energy-rich food? To feed the good bacteria and fungi.
When we human beings kill off bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, and other organisms, whether by polluting the air or by spraying pesticides or even by using chemical fertilizers, we're reducing the population of critters that plants feed. That's why one of the simplest and best things you can do for your garden is to spray your plants with compost tea, to bring back organisms killed by chemicals.
Special thanks to Soil Foodweb (www.soilfoodweb.com) for their contributions to this section of our web site.
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