Make Compost Tea With Less Mess

Try this DIY method if you, like me, would like to make organic fertilizer on a small scale without the stink. Since suggesting that thrifty small-space gardeners hang on to empty detergent containers for just this purpose, I have tested the idea with good results: rich tea, smell-free, on the balcony, happy family — and even happier vegetables.

You’ll need:

  • a detergent container with a pour spout,
  • an old pair of pantyhose or some other semi-porous sack,
  • a good handful of compost (such as worm castings),
  • water,

…and gloves. First, don those gloves and shut yourself in the bathroom, utility room, or wherever you have access to a tap and permission to make a foul mess for a brief period. Shovel that handful of compost into the foot of the pantyhose and tie it off. Squeeze the whole shebang into the container’s (non-spout) opening.  Keep a hold of the pantyhose — you’ll want to tie them onto the container’s handle so you can more easily refill and reuse this contraption as you wish. Finally, fill the container with water, cap it off, and set it outdoors (or out of the way) to brew. Shake it/kick it every couple days, and within a week or two, you’ll have a dark, nutritious concoction for your plants. Pour some from the spout and water it down until it doesn’t smell (that’s my rule of thumb) to ensure that it doesn’t burn your plants.

Easy as that, and better for everybody. Dull as it might sound, a fair percentage of condo container gardening goes into keeping the mess to a minimum; in my case, this means maintaining some amount of order and cleanliness so that my toddler doesn’t get into something particularly nasty and so that none of us feel crowded in close quarters. This was daunting at first, but now it’s become routine — and, besides, we’re all about progress, not perfection!

4 Responses to “Make Compost Tea With Less Mess”

  1. Seasonal Wisdom

    Good post on important topic. You almost make an unpleasant task seem pleasant… :) Will have to give it a try…

  2. Compost Junkie

    Wonderful post.

    I have a couple questions…

    Judging by the odor, the brew you are making is an anaerobic one, am I correct? If so, have you tried brewing it, then opening the lid to allow oxygen in for a few days prior to applying it to your plants? I’ll have to give this a go and see if there are more benefits with one method over the other. Are you concerned about the breeding of pathogens in the anaerobic brew?

    Also, do you recommend adding any additional food ingredients to the container prior to sealing it? For instance, have you tried adding a little molasses or liquid kelp to help boost the activity within the container?

    Looking forward to your replies.

  3. Kate

    My, what good questions, compostjunkie!

    The brew I originally wrote about was made from worm castings alone (that was my M.O. last year), so I didn’t even give a thought to soil-borne disease agents. This year what I have most readily available is a big comfrey plant, so I’m currently brewing a batch with fresh-picked leaves to use, ultimately, on container tomatoes and such once they begin to flower/set fruit. Although it might reek in the making stages, I’m not very concerned about spreading disease or other nasties, since the leaves were healthy, from a plant that leads a relatively undisturbed life near a rural meadow (pastoral scenery means it must be wholesome, right?!), and weren’t in direct contact with the soil.

    In general I would say: use organic compost that has been produced by high temperatures that kill plant disease agents, or, if you’re into experimenting like me, parts of plants without any visible problems. The end result, when generously diluted, will be less likely to contain any undesirable gunk. Diluting will also lower or completely eradicate the stink factor.

    Perhaps I’m less squeamish than most, but I generally think if it smells a little gnarly, it’ll make good dirt. After all, my plants seem to think fish emulsion is the food of the gods. Pee-YEW.

  4. Irene @ SmilingGardener

    Nice blog! Compost tea is one of the most important things gardeners need to know when it comes to organic gardening. A lot of people hate compost tea but I am sure that after they read your blog, they would surely think otherwise.

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