When folks think of compost tea and how it’s applied, they normally think of a conventional sprayer applying tea to roots or foliage.
While this is normally true, compost tea can be used – and applied – in unconventional ways.
This article will describe 12 alternate uses and application methods for compost tea, whether used for mosquito and fly control, to fight algae, to replace water in hydroponics, or to replace water in conventional irrigation systems.
#1: Compost Activator
A compost pile with “failure to launch” in terms of rising temperatures can get a boost from an application of compost tea.
Sometimes a compost pile won’t down well. Or maybe you want to simply speed up the rate of decomposition.
If so, you can apply compost tea at any time during the composting process.
It will add even more bacteria and fungi that will work to break down organic matter more rapidly.
Finished compost that appears to be more of a mulch than a compost can be sprayed with compost tea to encourage breakdown and add the biology that your plants desire.
#2: As a Biochar-ger!
Biochar is an up and coming soil amendment that has gained in prominence over the past decade.
It is a form of black carbon produced from carbon-containing material, like wood, plant residue, manure, and other agricultural waste.
Biochar is a product of pyrolysis, oxygen-starved combustion where biomass is super-heated to temperatures ranging from 660-1300 degrees Fahrenheit.
The remaining carbon-rich structure is full of pores which serve as homes to massive populations of soil microbes.
Raw biochar, however, act like a sponge for nearby nutrients and microbes, actually creating a negative effect on plant yield.
But biochar can be activated with healthy microorganisms through the application of compost tea.
Soak biochar in a vat full of compost tea or simply spray biochar with compost tea to inoculate the biochar with beneficial biology.
Learn More About Biochar
Read the Urban Worm Guide to Biochar
A comprehensive introduction to this fascinating soil amendment!
#3: Water Replacement for Drip Tape
Market farmers often use drip tape as a means to irrigate crops. Compost tea can be run through drip tape to fertilize plants and add beneficial biology.
Minimize foods for microbes – or use none at all – when planning to apply with drip tape.
Pro Tip! Foods used for compost tea, especially fish products, tend to be sticky and can form biofilm on the insides of drip tape. Be sure to flush plain irrigation water through the drip tape following any liquid compost amendments.
Water cleans the insides of the drip tape and also helps the biology to subsist in the soil.
#4: Water Replacement for Water Wheel Transplanters
Water wheel transplanters are used on small-to-medium scale farms to hasten the planting of produce plugs or starts. They consist of a water tank, or tanks, mounted on a unit pulled by a tractor. The tanks sit up high with trays for seedlings below them, and usually two people sitting in low positions at the rear, inserting seedlings into holes made by a water wheel.
The water wheel slowly irrigates the soil as it makes shallow holes for seedlings to be planted.
Compost tea or extract can be diluted and used in place of water in the tank. This supplies adequate water for the seedlings, as well as providing beneficial biology which will give the soon-to-be plants a boost.
#5: Using Tea with Existing Non-Irrigation Farm Equipment
Farmers can adapt most any piece of equipment to employ compost tea. I have seen keyline plows hooked up with lines to apply compost tea as deep as 14 inches into the soil. The deep plowing along with the addition of microbes helps break up hard pans that are lower in the soil profile.
Keyline plows are used to make deep, lateral trenches on contour with the lay of the land. This allows more rainfall to be captured and held in the soil, preventing soil-eroding runoff during heavy rains.
When it comes focusing on life in the soil, plowing or tilling are taboo as they disturb soil biology, especially fungal hyphae. When establishing a farm, there can be some advantages to performing an initial plowing.
Astronomical fertilizer prices in 2022 led one conventional farmer to turn a disc seeder into a subsoil compost extract applicator by adding tanks and irrigation lines. Conventional spray equipment can easily be converted to apply compost tea.
It’s usually a matter of switching out pumps, taking out inline filters, and using larger nozzle sizes.
Green Pro Solutions works with farmers to provide assistance and supplies for modifying conventional spray equipment.
#6: Replacing Nutrients in Hydroponics
The hydroponics industry relies heavily on chemical inputs to provide fertility to plants.
But if we focus on biology rather than chemistry in a hydroponic system, we can use soil microorganisms to make nutrients, micronutrients, and minerals available to plants.
Max Meyers from Nor Cal Aquaponics helped me set up side-by-side “teaponics” and aquaponics systems for demonstration and testing purposes at Rodale Institute in 2012.
Both systems used Floating Raft Technology and each contained about 250 gallons. To supply fertility, the aquaponics system housed four goldfish while the “teaponics” system used only compost extract.
Once a week, we produced five gallons of compost extract and introduced it into the 250-gallon system.
As you can observe in the photos, the basil and Chinese cabbage in both systems grew well and produced vast root systems.
While the teaponics system needed small adjustments to the amount or frequency of additional compost extract, it proved that microbes from compost provides plants with the nutrition needed to grow and fully develop.
In just a couple of months we grew quality basil and Chinese cabbage using only compost extract and water.
#7: Algae On Ponds
Ponds can benefit from compost tea too.
Adding five gallons of compost tea to a small, quarter-acre pond a few weeks in a row during the spring can keep algae under control for the rest of the year.
Microorganisms found in compost tea help to keep the pond biology in check. They also break down organic matter (think leaves and such) which has fallen into the pond and would otherwise provide food for algae.
In 2011, Oley Valley Organics in Pennsylvania worked with Dr. Elaine Ingham on multiple occasions while she was the chief research scientist at Rodale Institute, a 333 acre organic research farm and a pioneer in the organic movement.
Dr. Ingham noticed algal growth on the pond during one of her visits in the summertime and made the suggestion of using compost tea yearly to combat the algal growth.
Oley Valley Organics has been using compost tea for over a decade now to keep algae under control in their pond. In return, they have a healthy fish, frog, and water fowl population throughout the seasons.
#8: Mosquito Control
Mosquitos lay eggs in ponds, standing water, and damp soils. Adding compost tea to any of these water-logged locations can help to control the mosquito population.
Bacteria and other microbes will attack the eggs and larval stages of mosquitos.
Reducing reproduction keeps future populations lower and gardening more enjoyable.
#9: Keep Flowers Fresh
You know those little nutrient packets that are provided when you purchase cut flowers? They are meant to keep flower bouquets looking lively for longer.
Why not replace those small packets or vials of synthetic foods with the tiniest bit of vermicompost?
Mix in a little water to make a miniature compost extract, add to your vase of flowers, and violà. All of that microscopic life will keep your flowers alive and looking fresh naturally.
#10: Sprouts and Microgreens
Pack a punch and get more from your greens by making your sprouts or microgreens more nutrient dense.
While soaking seeds for sprouts or microgreens in water, add a pinch of vermicompost. The addition will supply microorganisms and growth hormones which helps seeds to sprout faster, adds vigor, and increases nutrient uptake.
It doesn’t take much either.
Two to three tablespoons of vermicompost will be enough for a gallon of water.
#11: Control Flies On Cattle Herds
Flies can cause stress, low performance, and infections in cattle. Compost extract has shown to be effective in keeping fly populations under control in cattle herds. In order for this to work, cattle are driven under some type of drip or spray system once a day where compost extract is applied to the bovine’s entire length from above. Picture the end of a marathon where runners go under an overhead structure.
A North Carolina cattle ranch has successfully put this method to use on their cattle for over five years. Just like with mosquitos, the microbes in compost extract work to keep fly larvae in check thereby reducing their numbers. Farmers and ranchers will be happy with the money they save while cows are happy living with less pest pressure.
Happy cows make happy meals.
#12: Remediation of Toxic Soils
In the early 2000’s, Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle hired Earthfort to mitigate toxic manure in their Komodo dragon exhibit.
Dung from the Komodo dragons was creating high levels of E. Coli and Salmonella in their environment. In fact, the zoo began removing sand and soil due to the toxicity. After only one application of compost tea by Earthfort, the amounts of E. Coli and Salmonella in the soil shrank to insignificant levels. Through the use of composts, compost teas, and Earthfort products the zoo has been able to maintain healthy sands and soils in the exhibit from that point on.
How a Zoo Neutralized E. Coli with Compost Tea
Check out this article on how the Woodland Park Zoo near Seattle rehabbed an E. Coli-stricken exhibit with compost tea!
Whether you are battling toxic Komodo dragon poo or simply wanting to keep a fresh-picked flower bouquet alive, compost tea has got you covered.
It’s easy to make, easy on the wallet, and easy to apply. On top of all that it’s THE most environmentally friendly fertilizer you can use for your garden or farm. Compost tea uses life to grow life!
What’s not to like?
This article was co-written by the Urban Worm Soil Biologist Troy Hinke, a Soil Food Web trained expert in soil microbes. Check out his What’s Brewing Podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
If you want to know if your soil is appropriate for your crop, or if you need help our help with anything else, engage our services today!