You can buy a complete outfit for brewing compost tea like E.J. Hook's. But commercial setups are much bigger than backyard gardeners need. So why not rig your own "teapot" for much less?
Start with good garden compost, a five-gallon bucket of water, and a small mesh or burlap bag. Half a gallon of compost, held loosely in the cloth bag, is about right for a five-gallon batch of tea. Add an aerator (a large aquarium air pump-$27 at Seattle pet stores-will work). This is important, because non-aerated compost tea becomes anaerobic, also known as a stinking mess, and can damage your plants. You'll then need to add a few ounces of nutrient to feed the billion tiny organisms you're about to produce. Plain, unsulphured molasses will work, but the commercial, pre-mixed SoilSoup ($25 a gallon at www.SoilSoup.com) seems to inspire more of the beneficial organisms to multiply like crazy, and that's what you're after. And a gallon goes a long way.
(A tip from E.J.: chlorine is almost always in tap water-get rid of it before you start mixing. Either bubble air into the water for an hour, or let the water sit in a bucket overnight before you begin brewing.)
Start the bubbler. Soak a half-gallon of compost in the bag in the five gallons of water. Add the nutrient. Stir it now and then. Bubble air into it for 36 hours, and bingo! it's ready. Spray it on your plants as soon as you can, because the wonder-working organisms begin to decline within a few hours.
Roses Without Chemicals?
Compost tea is great for preventing black spot and mildew on roses, but they haven't found a way to use it at the huge Woodland Park Rose Garden—at 2.5 acres with 5,000 individual rose plants. Instead, they apply a baking soda compound and commercial fungicide.
"If we can ever figure a way to make it cost-effective we'll use it," Landscape Supervisor E.J. Hook explains. "As it is, with the mixing, brewing and spraying of huge batches, we wouldn't have time for all the other things we have to do."
"And this particular garden has to look super, all the time. It's an All-America test garden, one of only two dozen in the country. We have to keep it as near perfect as we can."
Here's where you have an advantage over the zoo's landscapers—even if you don't have an elephant. "At home, with a reasonable-sized rose garden, compost tea's the thing. Start putting it on early in the season and keep it up every two weeks," E.J. advises. "Mildewand black spot won't even be able to find a place to get started."
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