Food as Fertilizer

There are all kinds of foods and cooking by-products that can be used as natural fertilizers. Even just cooking water is nutrient rich and can be used as the liquid element for your compost tea.

Egg shells are great for adding calcium to your soil. The next time you peel potatoes or any other vegetable, set the peels aside for your compost tea. Tea leaves and coffee grounds are also great for compost, depending on what kind of Ph your plants need. 

If you are lucky enough to have a compost heap with a bunch of worms or other beings (pigs) to help process all of that, then that’s ideal.

compost tea made from plant-based food scraps to nourish your plants

Compost on a Smaller Scale?

But, what are you supposed to do if you are like me, you live in an apartment or other small space and you don’t have ready access to a compost heap? Or what if you don’t want to spend money on chemical fertilizers? What if you just want to be more earth-friendly and use what you have? What if you prefer to do things on a smaller scale? Is there a kind of natural fertilizer that you can make and take advantage of?

The answer to all of those questions: compost tea.

No Amount of Scrubbing…

I’m always a little scared, when I go to empty my compost pail into the green bin (it’s included with our trash service), because that s#!* smells nasty! And having to get in there and scrub the grossness off of the bottom is probably my least favorite chore. Also, the smell of rotting refuge never seems to really come out. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the bottom of my compost bin is always going to smell nasty, no matter how much I scrub it or use vinegar to disinfect it.

Pleasantly Surprised

That being said, I did not have high hopes for a jar of food scraps and water sitting on my counter, just waiting for bacteria to properly activate it, so it could feed my plants. But, in the name of experimentation and having healthier plants, I decided to give it a go.

Honestly, my compost tea smelled kind of like ginger booch after a couple days. I wasn’t brave enough to try a sip, but it sure seemed to make my amaryllis’ happy!

Amaryllis Blooms Again?

My amaryllis gave a magnificent show, just before Christmas, with four glorious blooms that were almost as large as my head (read my blog post about it). Then it wilted and molted and I thought it was done for. At that point, I would normally have taken the bulb out of the pot, let it dry for a few days, and then tuck it in the gardening area of my storage closet. But, then something made me wonder if it was really just a once-a-year thing?

I discovered that amaryllis’ can be grown year-round, but they require regular fertilizing. I had to be super frugal, so that’s when I started researching DIY natural fertilizers. The before pic is from 9 days ago and the after pic is from today. Before the compost tea, it was sort of struggling. Afterwards, it grew about a foot and a half. That’s pretty impressive! As for whether it will bloom, again, that still remains to be seen. I’m crossing my fingers that I can get a lovely showing in time for my birthday in mid-February, though. 

Disclaimer

I am by no means an expert at gardening. However, I’ve come across some pretty nifty tips, in my attempts to educate myself and take better care of my plants. If anything, please use this post as a starting point to do your own research and try your own experiments. Please use your best judgement and proceed at your own risk. 

R.I.P. Beloved Geranium 

This geranium, in its full glory, graced my balcony with its lush, fuschia leaves. Unfortunately, it got damaged in a frost, last October. All of its leaves and flowers wilted and I pulled them off, with the hopes that paring it down (most of my experience is with roses) would help to concentrate its energy, so it could thrive again.

After a few months of sitting in a safe, sunny spot, though, it still just looked dehydrated and shriveled up and I could not detect any sign of life. Unfortunately, the compost tea didn’t seem to do anything for it.

It was probably too far gone…a shell of its former self. No amount of nutrients, water, love, and care seemed able to bring it back to life. So, I decided to let that go and start fresh, with new geranium seeds. Also, I understand, now, that it probably needed a more alkaline fertilizer, so I will make sure to use banana peels for my geraniums, moving forward.

Natural Fertilizer vs. Synthetic

When we use chemical fertilizers, we run the risk of burning our plants, destroying their microbiome, and even killing them.

Unlike chemical fertilizers, food-based natural fertilizers are meant to affect the soil organisms, so that they break down the nutrients, rather than directly affecting the roots. That process can take longer, so don’t expect overnight results, necessarily.

The good news is that compost tea is easy to make, most likely free, (hopefully) effective, it’s suitable for small spaces (as long as you can find a good spot, where it will be relatively undisturbed), plus it will support the health & longevity of your plant. 

Some Things to Keep in Mind

The N-P-K Ratio

What do the three numbers mean, in terms of fertilizer? They refer to the ratio of nitrogren (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K). Every plant requires a different ratio, so you’ll have to do some research for each of your plants. One thing to note is that too much of any of these can burn, damage, or kill your plant. So you don’t want to overdo it.

Plant vs. Animal

It’s fine to put chicken bones, eggshells & tuna juice in your compost bin, because all of that gets processed in a big heap, outside of your home.

However, I would advise against using animal products directly on your plants, indoors. I would opt for plant scraps, instead…unless you enjoy swarms of flies and the stench of ammonia. Gak!! Don’t ask me how I know this, LOL.

Ph Balance

You’ll need to know whether your plant(s) require more acidifying or more alkalizing fertilizer…or somewhere in-between. Roses do well with acidic things like coffee grounds & tea leaves, for example, because they thrive in an acidic environment. Aloe vera and geraniums need a more alkaline environment, so try brewing banana peels to support them.

How to Make Compost Tea

1. Mason Jar

I used a mason jar and that’s what I recommend. You’ll want to make sure that you leave the top unscrewed, because a) the bacteria need oxygen to do their thing and b) you do not want to risk an explosion of glass and compost tea, all over your kitchen. Unless you do, but that’s on you, LOL.

2. Food Scraps

There are a number of food (and kitchen) items to consider, when making your compost tea. Here are some common ones:

acidic: coffee grounds, potato peels, green tea, molasses, epsom salts, cooking water, citrus rind, vinegar.

alkaline: banana peel, broccoli stalks, greens, wood ash, used match sticks, and baking soda.

 

I had leftover ginger and elderberries, so I tossed those in there. I also used potato peels, part of a corn tortilla, rooibos tea leaves, and a little bit of lemon peel.

Remember what I said about animal vs. plant fertilizers? To avoid excessive grossness in your kitchen and in your plants, use plant-based food scraps only. Also, keep the acid vs. alkaline thing in mind. Again, you might need to do a bit of research on what food products are best for your particular plants. I recommend checking out the article that I got started with. It’s written by a horticulture expert and it has lots of handy information, well beyond what I covered, here. 

3. Liquid

When you have some food scraps and or cooking water, you’re ready to get started!

Make sure that any liquid you use is filtered and chlorine-free. This is important, because the whole point of making compost tea is to grow beneficial organisms, which break down the nutrients in the food scraps and support your plants’ soil.

Put the food scraps into the mason jar and cover them in liquid. When you add more food scraps, add more liquid. Obviously, don’t fill it so much that it’s going to overflow. I didn’t even have a ton of scraps in mine, but I feel like I got a pretty rich compost tea, anyway. So, you don’t necessarily have to go overboard. It’s probably best to allow some room for everything to ferment.

4. Temperature

My understanding is that compost tea is best made in a temperate environment. Not too hot and not too cold. Somewhere in the 70’s ought to do it. If you brew it in your kitchen, chances are that that’s a nice warm environment (even in the winter), especially if you use the stove or oven. That’s where I made mine, in the middle of a particularly frigid January, if it helps. I picked a spot where it would be relatively undisturbed, back against a wall that doesn’t see a whole lot of action and next to the refrigerator which generates a fair amount of heat. My kitchen is really small, so that spot was also not too far from the stove and oven.

5. Time

I let my compost tea sit for about four days, before I used it on my plants. Anywhere from 3-5 days is generally recommended. It had started bubbling, well before that point, so I knew there were live bacteria and/or fungus in there. It had also started smelling slightly vinegary, which I took as a good sign.

 

watering plants with compost tea

Watering Plants with Compost Tea

When the tea is done brewing, strain it and mix it into a 1:4 part solution with dechlorinated water. Then use the solution to water your plants.

From what I gather, it’s best to use it once every two to four weeks, during your plants’ growing seasons.

Also, make sure to sanitize all your compost tea equipment, when you’re done using it.

I did not dilute my compost tea, but as you can see from the picture (above), I also didn’t overload my jar with food scraps. So, I figure that it was already kind of diluted. My amaryllis was very very happy with it. So, I will probably do the exact same thing, again, in a week or so. You’ll have to play around and see what works best for you, though.

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I would love to hear from you. Would you consider making compost tea? Did you like this post and find it to be helpful? Do you have questions that weren’t answered, here? Feel free to leave a comment, below. 

Love and Blessings!

Claire Amber, Fired Up Diva

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