Compost Tea Recipes

Discover the nuances of compost teas, what your garden needs and how to make it.
Composting Vegetable Scraps

Composting Vegetable Scraps

A recycling caddy holds vegetable scraps that can be added to the compost bin.

As is true of compost, not all compost teas are equal. Teas may vary by bacteria and fungi populations and by nutrient content. Some of this is controlled earlier during the composting process, before brewing compost tea. For instance, to make compost tea with high nitrogen content, you should use finished compost that was created with special attention to nitrogen.

While nutrients are important to plant health, so are the microorganisms that inhabit compost. Although all plants need beneficial bacteria and fungi, some plants prefer different proportions. For instance, long-lived trees, shrubs and perennial plants prefer compost tea recipes that are rich in fungi, while annual plants such as flowers, vegetables and turf grass prefer more bacteria than fungi. 

The good news is that the microbe content is easy to control or manipulate during the brewing process. Below, find an outline of techniques to create your own fungal, bacterial and balanced compost teas.

Finished compost is at the heart of every compost tea recipe. Completely finished compost has an earthy, sweet smell, and usually contains both fungi and bacteria. Although worm castings are safe for compost tea brewing, composts that contain animal manure may harbor e-coli bacteria. The tea-making process should kill e-coli, but it’s better to be safe and avoid composts with manure than to take the risk. 

Oxygen-loving (aerobic) bacteria will thrive in a compost tea brewer if provided the correct environment. Water should be dechlorinated or the bacteria won’t survive. Oxygen needs to be injected with an air pump to keep beneficial bacteria alive and growing. A small amount of sweet, sugary food, like non-sulfured molasses, maple syrup, cane syrup or even fruit juice, helps bolster bacteria populations. Although all compost contains some amount of bacteria, vermicompost is especially rich in these microbes because bacteria live in worms’ digestive systems.

Fungi, on the other hand, have a tough time competing with bacteria during brewing. In their book Teaming with Microbes, Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis give some tips to bolster your fungal populations. About one week before brewing, mix your finished compost with a fungi food source like oats (oatmeal, powdered baby oatmeal or oat bran), powdered malt or soybean meal. Add 3-4 tablespoons of fungus food for every cup of compost. 

Fungi need moisture to grow. After adding the food source, check to make sure the mixture is damp but not drenched. If you need to add a little moisture, remember to use dechlorinated water. Store the mixture in a dark, warm area – about 80 degrees Fahrenheit would be best, although room temperature should be sufficient. At the end of the week the mixture should be full of fine, silver strands of fungal hyphae.

During brewing, it helps if fungi have some added surface area to grow on. Add some bulky ingredients, such as fruit pulp, rock dust, kelp or fish hydrolysate (basically, ground-up fish), to harbor fungi. Fruit pulp is easily on hand for any juicing fans, and kelp can be bought from many garden centers. 

Easy Composting 03:58

How to build a compost bin and make your own compost and compost tea.
Keep Reading

Next Up

How to Compost and the Different Types of Compost Bins

Learn about the different types of compost bins and what household items can be composted.

Easier Gardening for Seniors

Learn about the benefits of raised beds and vertical gardening, the proper way to kneel and to bend, and how to position your hand when pruning to avoid wrist stress.

How to Determine Your Gardening Zone

The newly revised USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help pinpoint your gardening zone to within a half-mile of your home.

To-Do List for Fall Gardening

October and November are good months to do some gardening and landscaping. Here are just a few things a gardener could -- or should -- be doing.

Fall Gardening, Planting and Lawn Care Tips

The gardening season isn't over when the weather gets cooler.

20 Outdoor and Gardening Products You Need This Spring

Get outside and decorate, grow, camp or maintain your yard with one of these cool products.

Plastic Tumbler Compost Bins

Consider these important factors if you're planning on making a tumbling compost barrel.

How to Build a Wood Compost Bin

Before you build a compost bin, check out these tips and tricks for getting it set up and started.

The Different Types of Compost Bins

If you choose the right design for your experience level and budget, making a homemade compost bin will be easy.

Get Social With Us

We love to DIY. You love to DIY. Let's get together.

Consult Our A-Z Guide

Everything You Need to Know

Browse a full list of topics found on the site, from accessories to mudrooms to wreaths.  

How-To Advice and Videos

Get video instructions about kitchens, bathrooms, remodeling, flooring, painting and more.

Watch DIY Downloads Now

Watch DIY Network LIVE

Don't miss your favorite shows in real time online.