Q: What is compost tea? Does it have any real benefits? – M.C., Albuquerque
A: I hadn’t thought about compost tea in ages until your question came to me.
One of my reference books, “The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control,” suggests that you can make your own compost tea and apply it to plants as a fungicide.
The recipe calls for a five-gallon bucket, one gallon of well-aged, manure-based compost, and water. Pour the compost into the bucket and fill it with water. It’s recommended that the bucket sit for a couple of days and that it be placed in a fairly warm spot. Do give the bucket contents a good stir during the days it’s sitting. Essentially, you’re brewing a pot of compost tea.
You want to find a compost pile that has herbivore manure added to it to help give off enough heat to encourage the composting of the added plant life in the pile. If you aim to purchase a bag of compost, read the ingredients to be sure it contains some manure. As long as the manure is aged, you can create your own concoction. One-quarter aged manure to three-quarters finely milled compost should give you a good compost tea if you don’t have access to a well-prepared compost pile.
The tea has brewed and now it needs to be strained. Pour the tea through cheesecloth or a multi-layered mat of burlap, perhaps an old pillow case, into another bucket. You want it as clean as possible, especially if you’re going to run it through a spray bottle or watering can that has small holes on the pour end.
Once you’ve strained your tea, sprinkle the leftover compost in the garden and spread it around. It’s still useful. This tea is a safe way to treat maladies like botrytis blight and powdery mildew. The microorganisms now suspended in the “tea” attack or out-compete the problem fungi, essentially not allowing them to grow or at least keeping their desire to grow inhibited.
Never spray your plants while they are in direct sunlight. Best to always spray in the evening after the sun is down. I’d be hesitant to spray if it’s hot. I’ve learned that you can do, and might need to do, successive sprayings of the compost tea every three to four days if you have a powdery mildew or botrytis problem to gain control. Feeding your plants through the leaves is an added bonus.
Q: I have three pots of pansies and two of violas that I planted in late November and now they look peaked. I must admit I forgot to water once, but they did revive. Any suggestions on how I can get them to continue growing cheerfully? I just love their smiling faces during this cold time of year. – O.G., Belen
A: You started them off with good draining soil, watered on schedule, (except for the oops), and I assume they are receiving adequate sunlight and you offered a beginning fertilization containing more phosphorus in it to help with root development.
I’m going to suggest a fertilization for the pots again, but this time use one that has a high nitrogen ratio in it. Remember, I’ve always said that pansies and violas are peculiar. They are one of the very few flowering plants that prefer a fertilization of nitrogen in their diet. I think they use the heat producing nitrogen as a sort of antifreeze within their systems.
You have several ways to offer this fertilization. If you feed a lawn with a granular fertilizer and it does not contain any weed killer, give the pots a liberal sprinkle of the food and water it in.
Or you can find water soluble fertilizers, again with a higher nitrogen content, that you can dilute and pour directly on the plants and liberally on the soil to give the plants a boost. Once the chill comes off in the morning, fertilize your pots of these treasures and I’ll bet they’ll perk back up for you soon.
Happy Diggin’ In!
Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to firstname.lastname@example.org.