The Cranky Gardener

The Cranky Gardener by Karin Bylander Woltjer Hello, fellow gardeners. For those of you who complained about the cool summer days in June, I say to you, "Bah and humbug." This is my kind of weather and I also believe that perennials like roses and iris love it, too. My apologies to you, South Dakota farmers, who want 90 degrees+ F.

Since I had started composing this piece a couple of weeks ago, we are into the July doldrums with hot, muggy summer weather. Are you happy?

During this last Fourth of July weekend amid guests and fireworks, I concocted a delicious brew, and it was the life of the party (garden party, that is). No, it was not a caramel latte or home-brewed beer. In fact, it was not fit for human consumption because it was compost tea.

Gadget-minded, I purchased a 6.5 gallon and aerobically-brewed compost tea system which included the brewer, pail, worm compost and nutrient solution consisting of good stuff like kelp, bat guano, and molasses. According to directions it brews for 24 to 48 hours and is ready according to the manual when you "notice an earthy aroma (or absence of molasses smell) and there will be a ring of 'bio-slime' around the edge of the bucket and on the sides of the compost sock" (Soilsoup manual).

I started this process during the last weekend in June, set up the system in the garage to control the mess and plugged in the bio-brewer. The garage hummed all weekend. On Sunday evening, the tea was ready, but I was not.

I added another couple of tablespoons of the solution to the brewer, and the garage kept on humming. Another 24 hours passed, the tea was ready, but, again, I was not. In fact. I was not ready until my July 4 guests left on July 5 so I repeated this process of adding a couple of tablespoons of the solution many times to provide food for the billions of microbes in the blender.

At last, I was ready. I disassembled the system, considered this dark brown solution and forged ahead. Instead of diluting the mixture with water, I filtered the tea into a watering can with cheesecloth. I applied the mixture directly to Stella D'oro lilies, tiger lilies, hosta and Joe Pye weed. I threw the leftover worm castings onto the base of a clump of autumn clematis and watered.

Saving a watering can of the tea, I drove five miles carefully to Dalesburg Lutheran Church. As part of the church's North Landscaping Committee, I had adopted a couple of pitiful-looking potentilla shrubs and decided that compost tea is a ticket to health for those shrubs. I sprinkled tea on the leaves. After church service the following Sunday, I saw that the shrubs looked fuller and had new growth. Success!

Certainly, you do not need a mechanical brewer for compost tea. It is as easy to do as shoveling one shovel's worth of compost or manure into a bucket of water and letting the potion steep until the liquid is tea-colored.

For those of you who need a more exact recipe, use 1 part compost to 5 parts water and allow it to steep for three to five days. Strain the liquid through cheese cloth, apply liberally to your plants and soil, and dump the leftover compost in your garden.

Since I am squeamish about using chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, I try to do "natural" when possible. Organic compost tea is full of microbes and re-establishes life when applied to the soil. Some organic farmers view compost tea not only as a fertilizer but also as a disease suppressant. Try it, and you will like it. Bon appetit!

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