One of the amazing and useful things I learned in my Permaculture Design Course was how to brew microbes in a bucket. Yes, I know, most women like champagne and jewelry. I like compost and worms. Whatever. Microbes are the microscopic creatures that make dirt into soil. By brewing a microbial tea you can so supersaturate the water with microbes that giving your plants just a small drink of it will greatly improve their health. That is because microbes eat plant litter and other decaying things and make available (and by ‘make available’ I mean ‘poop out’.) (Sorry.) more of the nutrients such as minerals that can be locked in the soil. Adding microbes to poor soil is a good thing.
To make a microbial brew, you put good compost in a mesh bag such as a paint strainer or layers of cheesecloth. Obtaining compost from various sources gives you a good mix of microbes because not all the same microbes live in all soils. Suspend this bag in a five-gallon bucket of water, add a little organic molasses for the microbes to eat (like sugar to yeast), and if you want other soil additives such as rock sulphate, blood or bone meal, etc. I used water from my fish tank. Then you oxygenate the water with a fish tank aerator. After thirteen hours the microbes will have reproduced to a maximum capacity and the brewing is finished. You should use the brew within a few hours.
So, I did this a couple of times last Fall. Meanwhile, Jacob, who still maintains the Aquascape projects and volunteers some time here, managed to have donated to me a 700-gallon tank. It had been used for organic fertilizer.
Jacob brought it over in his pick-up, and with the building of an impromptu scaffold he, my daughter and I (but mostly him) rolled it into place by my garage without damaging the propane tank or each other. Then he re-routed a rain gutter from my paltry 50-gallon rain barrel into the 700-gallon tank.
The tank filled after a few rains, and I used most of the water recently between rains. Then the last two rains filled it to the top. Jacob, who is into aquatic microbes with which to balance natural ponds, microbes being referred to as ‘cooties’, suggested turning the entire tank into a cootie-brewing container. That way I’d not just be watering the plants, I’d be giving them a microbial smoothie. A cootie cocktail.
Always up for doing the improbable, I filled a paint strainer with some fine samples of soil from several long-established areas of my yard, and suspended it inside the tank. In went an entire bottle of molasses, which is a drop in the bucket, so to speak. Then in went my little fish tank aerator, quivering in fear at the impossible task of aerating 700-gallons of water. I took a water sample and then plugged the thing in. That was a few days ago. I have no idea how well the microbes are brewing, since the aerator is barely stirring the water. The water has turned brownish, which I take to be a good sign. The warmer temperature is perfect for the little guys; springtime for microbes. I think I may have a microscope left over from my older brothers – circa 1950-something – in the garage somewhere, with which I can compare water samples to see if anything is happening. I figure, even if it isn’t, there is no harm done, and even if some microbes have flourished the water has improved.
There are many quips I can make about this whole project. For instance, here are several million pets I don’t have to take to the vets. Or, I really love to cook, and since I enjoy making soup this project is a natural. However I just think the whole idea of making 700 gallons of microbial tea is so funny that no matter how the project ends up, I think the laugh is worth it. If I can’t do something bizarre, it isn’t worth doing!
Microbes are amazing, aren’t they?
And so are tadpoles, which are thriving not unlike microbes, but in my pond. (A belated happy April Fools.)