Compost Tea: How it Works

This is an exciting few months here at We’re exploring the efficacy and practice of using compost tea. If you’re just joining us now, this is the second article in a series of four. Check out our first article here, which answers the question, “What exactly is compost tea anyway?” (Hint: it’s essentially a brew of beneficial microbes and nutrients.)

Today’s article answers another question: how in the world does compost tea work?

Returning readers will remember that we’re joined in our celebration of compost tea by Jerry Erickson whose expertise and years of experience provide much of the content of these articles. Erickson, who graciously agreed to be interviewed several times by our own writers and experts, has used compost tea in a variety of lawn care and agricultural settings—including using it to save a tomato crop from being ruined due to late blight.

But how exactly does water mixed with the stuff in my compost pile do any good at all? The key is that liquid compost (and traditional composting along with it) focuses on creating healthy soil. Chemicalized lawn care practices focus on creating bigger and more full plants—thus, the chemicals used focus mostly on the individual plant. But at, we know that healthy soil is perhaps the most important factor in growing healthy plants.

Good soil is functionally its own ecosystem—it’s a complex web of life that includes fungi, bacteria, nutrients, and so much more. Compost tea contributes to this ecosystem by transferring beneficial bacteria and other microbes from your compost pile to your soil. It encourages the growth of organisms that support a healthy soil web.

And a healthy soil web is incredibly important. Soil is where your plants get much of what they need to survive—calcium for stem and plant growth, nitrogen for color, chlorophyll for structure, etc. Chemicalized lawn care practices only treat the plant, and often negatively impact the soil. But by contributing to the soil web, compost tea helps to sustain a healthy ecosystem for your plants to live in.

But beyond just adding good things to the soil, compost tea also helps your plants utilize nutrients that are already in the soil. We’ll discuss this concept further in the next article, but the key concept here is that biologically active soil—like soil that’s been treated with compost tea—helps plants to get what they need from that healthy soil web. Nutrients and minerals (like carbon, phosphate, etc.) can be present in the ground without being seen or used by your plant life. Compost tea helps that communication to occur.

Compost tea also helps your plants to fight infection. By spraying your aerated compost tea directly onto the plant’s surface, you ensure that the beneficial biology of your tea occupies the surface area of the plant, rather than harmful bacteria or fungi. Simple sugars help to hold this beneficial biology in place at potential infection sites.

Most people use compost tea as an organic fertilizer and pesticide, reducing their dependency on harmful chemicals. This in itself will make your lawn and garden healthier and more sustainable. Chemicalized lawn care products are bad for your lawn, bad for your soil, bad for your community, and bad for your wallet. Organic lawn care, which includes regular use of traditional composting and compost tea, does good for your lawn, your soil, and your wallet without the risk of poisoning your family or contaminating your local water supply.

Join us next week as we explore what makes compost tea so effective. Jerry Erickson will provide us with a peek into the microbial life of your soil!

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