If I had to pick one thing that was essential for a good garden, aside from the soil, it would be compost tea. Compost tea is a liquid fertilizer, mild insect repellent, and a mild fungicide. The ease of application and production makes this potion hard to beat.
Everyone should have a compost pile going somewhere on their property. Even if it is just a pile back in the corner that you add to when the leaves fall, you bag the lawn clippings, or you have veggie scraps from the kitchen. If you would like more information on composting, see the gardening category at the side. Down at the bottom of this pile will be finished or almost finished compost. To make the compost tea, you simply take some of this finished compost and soak it in water. Then you pour off the water in a container, discard the old compost into the garden and you have compost tea. That is the basic process and it is that simple.
To be more specific, I use a 55 gallon drum, these can be found at feed stores, on craigslist or from folks selling them on the side of the road. In the bottom of the drum I dump about 3 inches of almost finished compost. Almost finished means that there is still larger pieces of leaves and hay, but a lot of brown crumbly stuff also. Then the drum is filled with water and the lid is put on. Once this sits for two weeks, the tea is done. This is the basic recipe for compost tea and it will work great.
To enhance the power of the tea, there are a few simple additions I like to put in the drum when I fill it with water. First, I add a bag of Epsom Salts. The salt adds trace minerals that are essential for good plant health and blooms. Next, is a can of beer. The beer feeds the microorganisms that are doing the work of breaking down the compost and making the nutrients usable for plants. The more microbs, the more work gets done, the more beneficial to plants the tea will be. Molasses is also good for feeding the microbs. There are many other things that can be added, such as alfalfa meal, fish meal, bone meal and those are all good, but not essential. Basically, there is no wrong way to make the tea, so tinker around with it and find what works well for you and your plants. If you google compost tea, you can find some really complicated recipes and “rules” that must be followed, however, I have been using the above recipe for several years with great results. Complicated is not necessarily better.
Once the tea is made it can be applied in several different ways. You can simply dip it out of the drum with a bucket and pour it on or use a watering can. My favorite way is to strain the tea through a screen- an actual window screen works fine- and put it in a pump sprayer. Eight ounces of tea will dilute into 1 gallon of water. Please remember to dilute the tea, concentrated tea right out of the drum can burn new growth and seedlings. The 1 gallon sprayer I use is just right for the job. It is not too heavy to carry and it holds enough to do my flower beds and nursery stock for one week. The fine mist that lands on the leaves is excellent for the plants.
As you can see, one batch of tea in a drum will last the average gardener all growing season. All that the tea costs you is what it cost to fill the drum with water. Compare the cost of the tea with a liquid fertilizer you would buy at a garden store and you will see that the effort to make your own really pays off.