I have been asked by several gardeners to respond to the use of compost tea.
I have spent nearly 40 years researching composting and the use of compost for growing plants. As a result of many successes, I cannot over-emphasize the benefits of using compost in gardening.
Compost can do more toward improving the growth of plants than any fertilizer on the market. It makes physical improvements to the soil while improving its nutritional value.
Prior to retiring from the University of Maryland, I had begun investigating compost tea as a source of water-soluble nutrients. My grandfather fertilized his tomatoes and cabbage plants with tea made from cow manure. He would place several shovels full of cow manure in an old washtub, fill the tub with water and stir. He would then give each plant a pint of that brew weekly.
In the mid 1980s, I assisted monks from a monastery in South Carolina in developing tea bags for making compost tea using composted manure from laying hens. It is a mail order operation shipping the compost tea bags all over the country. They originally produced two sizes of tea bags, one for making five gallons of compost tea and another for making 55 gallons. They developed a good market for the tea bags for making five gallons using three pounds of compost, but they never developed a market for their 33-pound bag.
In a recent visit to a garden center, I noticed compost tea being sold in gallon plastic jugs. Recognizing the source, I asked the producer how they made their compost tea. They placed a burlap bag full of compost in 100 gallons of water and allowed it to soak for 24 hours while pumping air through the solution before filling the jugs.
From the limited research that I have reviewed, compost must be aerated at all times in order to keep the micro-organisms alive and active, which is impossible to accomplish in a sealed jug.
I prefer mixing compost with the soil and drinking a cup of Red Rose tea while watching my plants grow.
Looking to Lure Butterflys
Q: My wife and I enjoy your Bay Weekly column and also visiting you at the Deale Farmers Market. We are already thinking about our spring / summer garden, and one thing that I have been kicking around is the idea of growing things like butterfly bush, echinacea and other plants that could attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Besides being attractive and fun to watch, do these flying friends go after bad bugs in the garden?
On a side note, we enclosed our three long raised boxes and covered them with mesh and plastic. Amazingly, we still have spinach, turnips, romaine, arugula and a few other delectables growing. I suspect we may expand our winter garden next year.
–Ken Free, Shady Oaks
A: You might want to include bee balm and red salvia to your list of plants. Unfortunately, butterflies and hummingbirds are not insect eaters. If you want to attract insect-eating birds, put up some bluebird nesting boxes. The Lothian Ruritan Club will be selling them at its annual spaghetti dinner and bake sale on March 5. Come and join us. I cook up four different sauces, and we have a great salad bar. Look for our notice in the Bay Weekly’s 8 Days a Week.