Fertilizers are used by organic gardeners if there is a nutrient deficiency. The difference lies in the types of fertilizers used. Organic fertilizers such as bat guano, blood meal, bone meal, fish emulsion, cottonseed meal, greensand, rock phosphate and soybean meal are organic, naturally occurring fertilizers.
Compost or “black gold” as many gardeners refer to it is probably the most economical and easiest fertilizer to use. Once you have finished compost it can be added directly to the garden, in the planting hole or as a mulch around the base of the plants.
Compost Tea is a nutritionally rich, well-balanced, organic supplement made by steeping aged compost in water. It can be used as a root and or foliar feed. It has been reported to repel and control certain insect pests and limit their damage when used on a regular basis, and to encourage the growth of beneficial soil bacteria which results in healthier, more stress-tolerant plants.
There are several different recipes for compost and other teas depending on what you are trying to accomplish. A web search will bring up lots of variations for specific problems. You can add all kinds of supplements like fish emulsion or powdered seaweed to make it into a balanced organic fertilizer.
Using well made high quality compost you can brew up a mild batch in as little as an hour or let it brew for a week or more for a super concentrate. A good median is to let the tea brew for 24-48 hours. When it begins to smell “yeasty” you can stop and apply it to your plants. The tea can be used as is as a root drench or strain it out thru a fine mesh, dilute with dechloronated water and use it as a foliar spray. Because compost tea is delivered to plants as a solution, it is available to plant roots for uptake and use immediately. Dry fertilizers must mix with soil water to begin work. Compost tea is fast acting. Spray compost tea directly on plant leaves and stems and the beneficial microorganisms will feed on fungi already on plant leaves–fungi that cause powdery mildew, downy mildew or botrytis, and the like–or pounce on fungi spores that land on plants. (Use compost tea as a foliar spray from early spring to midsummer–allowing 4 weeks of no spray before eating fruiting crops. Don’t use compost tea as a foliar spray on leafy crops.)
Here are a couple of compost tea recipes:
Recipe 1: Use a Tea Bag:
Put two shovelfuls of compost into a burlap or coarsely woven sack, laundry bag, old pillow case, or old pair of pantyhose, tie the top shut, and place the bag in the bottom of a bucket, trash can, or barrel. (About 1 part compost to 5 parts water.) Let it “brew” for seven to ten days. Dilute the resulting “tea” with water until it is light brown or the color of weak tea and use.
Recipe 2: No Bag, No Work:
Fill a large barrel or garbage can about one-eighth full of aged compost, then fill the barrel with water. Let the mix sit a week to ten days or so stirring occasionally. Place a portion of the mix in a watering can diluting with clear water until the tea is light brown and use.
Recipe 3: Bucket in a Barrel:
Take an old plastic or tin household bucket and punch several holes in it. Fill the bucket with aged compost and hang it with an S-hook in a larger barrel filled with water and let the mix brew a week or two. (Again about 1 part compost to 5 parts water.) Draw from the larger barrel as needed diluting to the color of weak tea and use.
Recipe 4: Foliar Spray:
Brew your compost tea as described above. Pour the solution through a cheesecloth strainer into a hand or pump sprayer, dilute to the color of weak tea, and spray on the foliage of crops. Compost tea will act as a fungicide: beneficial microorganisms in compost tea feed on harmful fungi responsible for many foliar diseases such as powdery mildew and downy mildew.)
As you draw down the water in your larger container, simply add more. You can continue to use the “tea bag” or aged compost until the solution you are brewing is nearly clear. Mix the used compost back into your compost pile or spread it lightly across an unused planted bed. Then you are ready to start your next brew.
One note: when you are brewing compost tea, put a cover over the brew. This will keep harmful bacteria from dropping into the brew.