Whoever thought up the 'pioneer and author' title it's much appreciated. I have been enjoying your scavenger hunts in occasional moments and am wondering if Gir bot is on holiday or is confused with my title, because I've done the 'pioneer' hunt and nothing else has sparked up for a while.
We found combining 'The Work that Reconnects' (Joanna Macy) exercises with story telling a great resource on some of our permaculture courses. We took the particpants for a walk up a local mountain, framing the exercise with the idea we are all on the journey together and that 'something bigger is pushing us all up the hill'.
Hi Jasmine, don't know if you've come across the work of 'Carlos Castenada' but your comments above made me think of him because they look to be going in a shamanistic direction.
Hi Mathew, hope you have an interesting week with the Permies. I might like to get my hands on a copy, I think storytelling can be a useful skill to cultivate. Only recently I was looking for information on this and what I found was lacking; it is very under reported. I noticed there were some options below available for me to allocate forums so I added it to 'living art' and 'permaculture voices' thought that was reasonable, what do you think ? Good luck with your promotion.
Apologies for my delay in response I am only just catching up with backlog of questions I received last week and one or two needed some extra time for me to give my best answer.
I like to concentrate on living things in the compost also, although my primary motive is that I seem to have a hardwired desire to want these small organisms to flourish. I’d like to think they help the plants I am growing too, intuitively I feel it’s the right direction. There are plenty of studies out there which support this view, but my starting point is more intuitive than rational.
10% nitrogen seems like a generous figure to me although it does vary with the plant and it can get washed away very easily unless you work out some kind of slow release. Too much can be bad because it encourages soft growth and it is an easy target for critters. I’m pretty sure you’ll be aware of all this, I’m just making sure for the sake of completeness and context.
When I was looking into the best length of time for brewing AACT tea around 3 days seemed best to me also. My reasoning was that larger and significant organisms need more time to develop their population. Protozoa in particular are factored in improved plant growth, but the mechanisms are unclear. In a recent interview (available in the free download) I conducted with Dr Gavin Lishman (Martin Lishman Ltd) he suggested much shorter times (18 hours) but his proprietary brewers were tweaked towards maximum efficiency and I did observe a lack of protozoa in the industrial product studies I had available, although that was not conclusive.
Eric, do you feel that creating a compost with as many different plant inputs as possible and adding some manure component will give a fairly well balanced compost for tea making?
Regarding your above question I support using varied inputs and varied techniques, combined and/or separate. This could include plant or animal or substances from the less well publicised taxonomies in the tree of life. What you are asking is very broad, do you have a specific example Bryant ?
My one caveat to this is that if something is working well reflect on if you have reached the best point you can get already; rather in the way someone cooks a great meal but misses the sweet spot and just keeps adding stuff until it ends up getting spoiled. I wouldn’t be suggesting just randomly adding things, although it would be interesting. I would suggest finding out about what you are putting in and try and make it complimentary. The most basic example would be making comfrey tea but employing nettles too because they have a high (N) which the comfrey lacks. One study I came across was mixing up amendments of chicken manure tea and a plant based amendment which seemed to accidentally work better.
After reading 100’s of journals and studies 'diversity of products and processes' kept emerging in side notes but were almost never focussed upon. I think it is something in the nature of university studies that it can be channelled narrowly down a certain avenue, it can miss things that fall out of the selective gaze.
Regarding your descriptions of the other techniques you describe I think we have got to the same point by different paths.
Your manure tea sounds like a great compost starter. I am just curious now. Can you define the smell ? Do you leave the top off ? Is it seething with life ? What do you put in your small heaps and what size would ‘small’ be ?
I know the Bokashi method works marvellously as a soil amendment, soil builder and a stimulant to soil life. It is one those things that work so well I’d be inclined not to tinker with it much. One of these days I would like to set up an infra red camera and do some time lapse photography to illustrate the worm action.
I may get back to you on one or two of your points because I invariably find that after I have put some effort into something, like now, really useful points inconveniently come to the surface later on.
PS I don't understand why Natural Farming automagically links to Eric Fisher's book that I haven't bought yet . I don't have that book. I refer to that term as defined in
Regarding book there is a strong element of Natural Farming which I converted from indigenous approaches (IMO-Indigenous Microorganisms Tea) in the Philippines which is very closely related to the approaches in Korea that you mention. I also engaged quite a bit with Masanobu Fukuoka's work regarding no-till and seedballs. I was a bit concerned that the way my 'Compost Teas' book was presented that the readership would just think it was about AACT when in reality, as far as someone can be objective about their own work, it was more holistic looking at a number of different approaches wrapped around good holistic practice with loads of diverse applications. Other approaches included tea for protection and control (had a look at IPM- Integrated Pest Management), traditional approaches (Steeping etc.), IMO as I mentioned and further out on the fringe which included some biodynamics which made the publishers a bit nervous. With this concern in mind I added a few posts emphasising other approaches and I think the clever bots noticed.
Last week I was involved, pretty intensely, with the book promo and I had tinkered around with the boost facilities because I am a geek and I was interested in the nuanced system they have running here. I was only doing boosts for a day or two at a time and I am thinking my hand must have slipped to carry it on a bit longer, so that would explain it. I get the feeling that there are quite a few people in the background here constantly trying out new things and expanding the capabilities of the site. In the context of social media/forums I think it's more interesting to engage with something like that even if it goes wrong occasionally rather than something that is rock solid but a bit bland. Obviously it would not be so good if you were running an exchange.
Thanks for the response Eric,
I am not worried about the worms. I don't think that my fruit trees are susceptible to fish parasites. However, I just meant, do you have any guidelines or caveats about using fresh fish in the compost tea instead of hydrolysate?
It wasn't the trees I was concerned about. Just common sense really don't spray the stuff on the fruit prior to consumption. Best Regards.
Sorry I have been late in replying. Over last week I was inundated with questions and certain questions needed somewhat detailed responses to do them justice.
Just to be clear Lactobacillus sp. is the largest genus in Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) Order which is often used interchangeably by mistake. I'm just talking about Lactobacillus sp. here not the full Order. Lactobacillus is probably the most significant one for our permie needs.
Lactobacillus is great for a soil amendment, great feeding to livestock, great as a manure digester. It is also very good when used in soil remediation.
Fine as a (senesced,fallen) leaf digester if you keep it very moist and covered. Not a lot of use (living leaves) in foliar sprays – LAB is a facultative anaerobe so is not great at competing in very aerobic conditions such as a leaf surface. Not a lot of good against mildew.
To help Lactobacillus cope better in aerobic conditions something like Epsom salts may be useful, because their aero-tolerance is manganese dependant, but it will still be just surviving and not in it's best environment.
Lactobacillus is used in the Bokashi method, which is an excellent soil amendment/soil builder since the worms, and other beneficial soil life, love it.
Not wishing to re-invent the wheel there is a decent account that discusses the nut and bolts of preparation steps already on permies.
I watched the clip you supplied, it a was a nice introduction albeit a touch long winded and repetitive. The comments where switched off which can sometimes give an indication of something being amiss.
I was delighted to find that one Oxford study suggested that Lactobacillus in your gut could mess with your mind to make you more sociable to increase the chances of its transmission.
If you want to research Lactobacillus further I suggest you try : google : Lactobacillus and university, manganese and Lactobacilli, Lactobacilli and agriculture.
Best not to make any elaborate cocktails with this, why fix it if isn't broke. Hope that helps.
…my state in all its wisdom decided that to "protect" us, so it is now illegal to sell or buy fish hydrolysate. The experts had always said it's better than the cooked fish meal for the compost tea. I have been just going to the grocery store, buying a small cheap piece of fish, cutting it up, putting it in the blender and adding it to the tea. The good news is it doesn't smell as bad. Do you see any down sides to this in making an effective tea? I mostly do foliar application but some soil drench as well.
Which fish are you using ? What you mention concerning not cooking the fish I endorse (With one or two caveats below) because it denatures the fish; beneficial organisms tend to prefer the uncooked stuff.
Apologies for my late response, your post got buried in the abundance of questions I enjoyed last week. One or two like yours needed to some extra reflection. In researching my book I was stunned by the blatant stupidity of the regulations and rules that authorities in both the Uk and the USA were wanting to impose. I’m convinced that there is some kind psychological schism that happens to people in institutions, maybe it is just idleness. I don’t understand it but I am incredulous of what it produces. I think in this instance it is part of the obsession in modern society with sanitising and sterilising everything which in many ways flies in the face of the many sophisticated approaches of organic/permaculture growers. (Plagiarising myself) The irony is that studies have shown that people living in overly sterilised environments are often more susceptible to the dangers of certain organisms because their systems are less accustomed to dealing them (pp.119-120).
With this in mind I decided on an international approach and left it to the individual grower what relationship he/she wanted to have with Uncle Sam-Nanny State ; aiming only on crafting amendments that were safe and effective, regardless.
I think at the root of the fish regulation is the concern around the existence in fresh fish of certain worms such as cod worms, seal worms, and tapeworms. Cooking eliminates this concern. HOWEVER freezing also works. So if you are worried about this kind of thing this is also an option.
Because you are doing foliar applications, with safety in mind I would not use any fish that I wouldn’t be happy to use in sushi/sashimi.
Cod worms can be spotted with the naked eye (cod, haddock, pollock, and hake).
Seal Worms can mostly be spotted, with sushi - vinegar fixes it (salmon, mackerel, Pacific rockfish, jacksmelt, some halibut, some flounders, some shad and especially jacksmelt and herring)
Cod and seal worms only cause minor ailments and quickly leave you system. The real baddy is Tapeworm – so stay away from fresh wild trout or largemouth bass.
Now I am going to my own fridge because this talk of fish has been making me hungry, got some nice freshwater Rainbow Trout !
I got a recipe from somewhere on making weed tea. You needed a barrel or bucket of weeds, a measured amount of epsom salts and wood ash, and then fill it with rainwater. Then mix/turn it daily for a few days, dilute 50% and apply.
The missus accidentally used all our wood ash on the garden. Would weed tea made without the ash still work?
Are there any weeds that shouldn't be added? I'm thinking about bracken ferns.
If I use an aquarium bubbler I should be able to avoid turning/mixing the weeds in the barrel, correct?
Magnesium Sulphate (Epsom salts) can be useful especially if you grow chillies/peppers, tomatoes or roses.
I would concur with Bryant regarding manual stirring to help break things down and in terms of additional aeration.
I think your wife did right doing it separately but be careful with that stuff, I would recommend using seaweed (has potassium +traces) rather than wood ash because the Potassium Hydroxide in ash is an aggressive alkali (up to 14 pH).
If you can get a handle on some of the nutrient balances in particular ‘weeds’ you may be pleasantly surprised to find that many of them are dynamic accumulators and quite useful. If you are concerned about spreading weeds don’t harvest them when they are producing their fruits. The longer you leave them to break down in the liquid the less weed seed will be present but studies show that some weed seeds are incredibly recalcitrant and will survive a dunking (is that just an English colloquialism?). If you compost everything in timely fashion you don’t have to worry so much about dodgy stuff in the weeds and the longer you leave it in the water the more the toxins will break down. Bearing this in mind you are probably safer avoiding spraying leaves and veg that you are just about to consume and concentrate on root drenches which gives your solution more of a chance of breaking down further. Some weeds like ones with foxtails can be risky to handle and some of the ferns that Bryant mentions have carcinogenic spores.
Maybe give us a ‘rogues gallery’ list of what weeds you are using so we can check it out.
Hope that helps.
NB. I have just come back to this after a few days and spotted some studies regarding ferns and its not just the spores you have to worry about. In some areas the substances in ferns have been getting into reservoirs and so forth. They are very widespread and all parts of the some species can cause serious health associated issues on ingestion.
The blue flowers on your comfrey indicates that it is the Bocking 4 variety?
Hi Burl, I don't tend to use Bocking 14 because I relish the wild comfrey's vigour and don't mind them spreading out a bit. I also enjoy the hypnotic effect of being surrounded by the buzzing of bees which the free living comfrey facilitates.
I've wondered the same thing. The fast breakdown is one reason I like using comfrey. Read a few minutes ago about using compost tea in seed balls. Going to give it a try, starting with comfrey tea. (why doesn't the permie spell checker recognize comfrey?)
Glad you are having a go with the seeds balls. I haven't done it using comfrey tea only as the moisture for working the balls. Will you tell me how you get on ? I have made seed balls a number of times and it always surprises me how quickly the germination processes kick in. It is good to use a variety of seeds that work well together, trouble it is so interesting that I want to put all the balls in plant pots just to watch the processes unfolding.
**Remember** if you are broadcasting like Masanobu Fukuoka you've got to chuck them before they germinate. I have a little hack for you - cat litter, but it has got to be the right kind.
Welcome to Eric and kudos on choosing an interesting topic. I want to quote Marco Banks:
[I'm curious about your thoughts regarding comfrey tea -- comfrey being the only ingredient. ]
The only compost teas I've made are lazy versions of comfrey tea--just chop it down, put it in a bucket, then pour the water on my plants after a week or so. I sometimes also through in squash leaves that I've picked to eliminate the squash bug eggs on them. I'm never sure (that is I haven't done any rigorous studies on) whether it helps, but my intuition says it's good for brassica crops. I'll look forward to people's comments on comfrey tea specifically and in general.
I have one or two comments and suggestions. Lazy version is fine, better if you stir it more. Self-plagiarising 'it is rich in phosphorus and potassium so it is very good for fruiting plants such as such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers' You can include your squash in this list. '...is also a good source of manganese, calcium, iron and cobalt' (pp.73).
Regarding your brassica's the extra calcium is going to help. Comfrey is not really high in nitrogen, but brassica only need moderate amounts, even so it might be worth looking for further (N) sources to bump it up a bit, like nettles for instance.
Regarding your squash bugs, I haven't applied this with comfrey because if I was going to use something other botanicals draw my attention more in this area. Looking a little further into this, in nature comfrey can really take care of itself. It contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) it wouldn't surprise me if your bugs didn't like it because some organisms are known to sequester (PAs) as part of their defences. Take note (PAs) are 10 times stronger in the roots so for nuking the poor bugs this may be the best part to use.
So, is there any benefit or drawback in using plants (like comfrey) that seem to break down much quicker and turn into a tea quicker, other than the obvious time savings/immediacy?
Good to have you here!
Hi Marco, thanks for your kind words.
Comfrey is the darling of organic growers the world over. It breaks down quicker so it will become anaerobic quicker, but some people are Ok with that. The speed of decomposition is a good feature and it can be used as an extract without water with an easy method. It is all good really but bear in mind it is mildly toxic so you don't want to be consuming any of it directly; don't spray it on your salad leaves just prior to consumption (eg.Symphytum officinale).
There is quite bit of research regarding your first two research requests but regarding ‘nothing but coffee grounds’ generally research has focussed on coffee as an amendment rather than on its own for reasons I describe below. I’ve given some examples of each if you want more copy and paste my search terms into google. Hope that helps.
>>Compost teas just used for watering plants : Example (google search : 'compost teas' and 'on plants' and university)
>>Growing strictly in compost :
They do a lot of that kind of thing when someone has made some compost and they want to test for toxicity : eg, (google search : germination index and compost , or 'planted in compost' and toxicity tests) : Example
>>Growing on Coffee grounds. An analysis of essential and beneficial elements in coffee grounds would give a good indication of what to expect related to growing.
It’s is high in N but low in P and K, which makes me think it is better as an amendment or mixed with something else to balance it. (I always get the feeling that the closer to the patterns and products of nature you can get with your activities the better or you stack up problems for later. There seems to be inherent checks and balances. I did find the story of how hydroponics came about very interesting, which made me reflect on what is the boundary between anthropogenic activities and nature or if there was any boundary at all.) Getting back to matters more central to this post.
Growing on coffee grounds : Overview Example 1 This was up to 30% SFG (Spent Coffee Grounds) and compared composted and uncomposted grounds. ( google search 'coffee grounds' uncomposted journal university )
Example 2 Getting past the effects of chlorogenic acid present in coffee which restricts plant growth.
(google search : 'growing on coffee grounds' and studies and university)
We are always looking for ways to amend our garden soil. Compost tea is probably what we need! Newly tilled garden, virtually no nitrogen. Our property was a cattle lot many many years ago. The garden is respectable this year but we know it can be healthier. Thanks for being here Eric!!
Can I ask what your compaction is like ?
Thanks for you kind words Michele. It's just an idea, it's something I do myself day to day. If you have regular household waste and brown cardboard, an old bin with a lid and the base cut out or rusted out. Stick it near a tree you like and watch the results. This suggestion is ultra low maintenance, you don't have to do anything with it just leave it, if there are worms where you are, they will come, then the transformation is underway.
Hi Eric! I excited about learning more about compost tea for my gardens. I have composted for years... but have not worked on the "tea" aspect. My compost bins are... 1- food scraps and "brown matter" in a stationary compost bin and..2-an open bin with straw and pine shavings, combined with goat "deposits." (This bin is new as are my goats and I am not sure if I can use it for composting.) What do you think?
Sorry I have been late in replying, these permies are a sophisticated lot and ask very searching questions. Regarding your goat(s?) I am a touch envious because I think involving them in such activities is a great idea. Composting their manure would be an emphatic YES. Goat manure is over double the strength in nitrogen of cow manure (22 lbs per ton) so I would suggest that you let it mature before you put it near your food plants or use in tea, but it's a different matter if you are doing soil improvement/remediation. Looks like you've got your composting sussed (do you use that colloquialism in America?) balancing brown and greens etc.
I'm not sure if this is viable within your location but having a connection to the soil and/or involving earthworms greatly improves the quality and safety of the finished product.
Best wishes from the East Riding of Yorkshire. We all drink tea from small cups and live in castles here.
I only have access to vermicompost (it's too hot and too dry here to do ordinary composting). I have been making worm compost teas using molasses originally and now have managed to get humic acid and an organic seaweed solution. Any other suggestions? Did try to get fish hydrolyste but couldn't find it locally. I would particularly like to increase the fungal element. I just make the tea in a 5 litre bucket with a bubbler for 36 hours.
You can go a long way with just vermicompost, it is one of those things that is in the awesome category if you look at some of the stats. With your suggestions you already have many of the bases covered. I would go easy on the molasses because even though it helps generate microbial activity it is not so good for diversity. Really your question is very open ended if you have a look a the wild plants you have to hand and know what proportion of essential/beneficial elements they contain you can tailor preparations. For a balanced prep you need the big 3 (NPK), then plenty of micronutrients and traces. It is best that whatever you put in has already broken down and been properly composted or been decomposed in some other suitable way such as whizzing it up finely and encouraging some worm action. Just curious now what kind of food web you have where you are and how these critters could be encouraged to participate in your project.
For a fungal element you couldadd proprietary fungal spores or find some oyster mushroom spores, but often they need more preparation measures to get things going. You could also try adding some leaf mold to your mix. Alternatively if you want a greater fungal element you could try the IMO (Indigenous Microorganism Tea) method. For a greater fungal presence it could be as simple as extra woodchip to mulches that have not been treated with retardants etc.
Thanks for sharing about this important topic. I'll be curious to know things, if any, that you advise not to put in the compost tea.
It really depends what you are doing with the resultant solution. I would stay away from meat or any plants that have not broken properly if you are making applications around food crops. Stay away from fresh manure (would burn plants+pathogens) in this context. Dairy products need special treatment so avoid them too. I would avoid putting any poisonous plant in directly. Most of these problems get resolved beforehand if you take your time with it and make really good home compost. In you are making compost for compost tea which is a very good way to go, bear in mind all this stuff breaks down overtime, but dodgy stuff needs plenty of earthworm/microbial action and to be left much longer until you cannot make out what it is anymore. Also be careful of dangerous plants such as those with foxtails because handling them can be risky.
I recently attended a compost tea seminar and the session leader said that an aquarium aerator was not strong enough to produce decent compost tea. Is that anyone else's experience?
Hi Michael (W),
I am wondering what kind of criteria your session leader is applying because very effective compost teas can be made without any aeration. I could only guess that he is judging what is decent by % of oxygen, rather than how well it works in the field. I think this would be a great topic for the Cider Press. If he was just thinking in terms of AACT I could understand, but there are other ways of doing it.
I put my serviceberry in the ground with some soil remediation and it still looks very sad.
I am surprised that your serviceberry is struggling, they are pretty tough. You have that radiative cooling thing where you are I think; maybe try and set up a bit of micro-climate, wind shields etc. add some more organic matter because your soil is very sandy and will leach a lot of nutrients. I guess you'll have good chances with the blueberries. Do you have access to manure ?
It just occurs to me that regarding your serviceberry it might be a VAM thing (Vesicular Arbuscular Mycorrhiza). Go and find a healthy and thriving serviceberry a get some soil from nearby the roots (you could take a cutting while you are at it...). You can also get VAM online then the fun part is trying to get it to interact with your serviceberry.
I'm glad you're here to talk about compost tea, one of the most neglected areas of organic gardening. As Thomas Edison sort of said, nobody wants to do it because it comes covered in overalls and it looks like work.
Thanks for the welcome John. It is true what say and it can get messy :)
What cultures do you recommend for controlling mildew?
I am not aware of any cultures in this area. The Neem plant has a good reputation for dealing with this. I do know there are one or two non-organic certified chemicals that are supposed to work (got a feeling I’ll be coming back to this question). I also know that UV light breaks down mildew and cultural methods such as breaking down old leaves can help (I have a digester peparation in book).
There is a biodynamics based preparation if you want to bend your reality – BD 508. I put that one in the appendix because I didn’t want to alienate anyone. Trouble with Steiner is that a lot of his material is just too much, but now and again he touches on something that makes you take a second look. In this instance he is talking about ‘too much Moon energy’ oh but hang I just said UV light can help there is kind of a connection.
How do you identify the microbes you are working with, or do you infer their presence through a chain of consumption from the original food source. Bottom line: How can I be sure I'm para-trooping in allies.
YouTube and microscope. Only around 1% of microorganisms have been identified. Garbage in / garbage out policy. Make sure your compost is properly made and matured. Most aerobic microorganisms are beneficial so that is a good reason for keeping up the oxygen.
How much of the gas infusion recommended for "Boogie Brew" is hot air? - in other words do we really need to invest in electric pumps and huge rain barrels fitted with perforated PVC piping? If so, Is there a natural alternative
You don’t have to take the technical root, it more a cultural thing, just stir it two-three times a day to get the oxygen in, or get a solar pump, or use oxygenated pond weed. It will be more traditional, it won’t smell as sweet but it will work. I’d be less inclined to put it on my salad leaves prior to harvest. The bonus is that a power point is no longer needed. Just thought I'd chuck this in, have you heard about Monkey Shoulder (hint) whisky ?
I want to use a pressure pump to spray fungi / microbe corpses onto foliage. Why should I prefer living cultures?
Could I ask what the PSI is on your pump because over 29 PSI you will probably succeed with just having corpses. I think it is just what effect you want. Your question is valid and the science is not well established in this area. Corpses will still create a flurry of biological activity, it still contains nutrients and the living soil organisms / plants can still use the decomposed remains at some point. Plant roots are known to manipulate microorganisms, switching off secretions of carbon etc to kill them to absorb their nutrients or for subtler reasons (The plant secretes large amounts of nutrients to the soil around in interactions that must be significant to justify such an expense.) When its alive it can be an active agent interacting with your plant in a positive way and personally speaking I feel kind of obliged to encourage the things I have developed towards more life.
I hope you have found my answers useful and you don’t feel the need to apply the thumb screws.
Hi, and welcome, Eric!! Nice to have you on board! I have to admit, I'm not really sure what the advantages are, of compost trees, over just using compost - but, I'm always open to stretching my brain, in awesome new ways!
Hi Carla and thanks for the warm welcome !
I'm glad you like stretching your brain, you are in the right place.
With liquid amendments there is greater penetration and a greater capacity to link with nutrients in the soil. This could be applied to soil improvement, remediation and root drenches. Regarding foliar sprays I think you would agree that this would not be valid for solid composts. In the conventional mainstream the advantages of using liquids have long been applied; these liquid amendments are the organic growers’/permaculturalists’ alternative that are applied with a rather different philosophy.
Water could be described as the cradle of life on earth. We use it everyday and have kind of taken it for granted but it is something very special and we may not yet have discovered it’s full potential. I was only just reading Dr Redhawk’s post on phenomena with water in vortexes with great interest. Historically in some cultures there was an intuitive understanding of the nature of water that has been rationalised away now. Anyway I won’t digress further.
Do you recommend checking the tea under a microscope throughout the brewing process?
Also, we have been brewing our teas in the greenhouse, which significantly varies in temp. from day to night since we are in the mountain west. Would you recommend not brewing it in a space where the temp fluctuates 20 to 30 degrees between day and night?
Your set up sounds pretty good. You don't mention how long you do runs in the bubbler. I would recommend around three days because it allows larger and important microorganisms such as protozoa to develop. If you are in the greenhouse try and rig up some way to get a bit of shade because many microorganisms may get nuked with the UV light. 20-30 degrees centigrade is fine but I would recommend that just before you apply it that you let it cool down to the temperature outside and not in direct sunshine if its a foliar application.
I do recommend you use a microscope because it is a great educational opportunity although you can make very good compost tea without one. The microscope gives you the direct insight that helps you tweak things and is a great diagnostic tool. Can I suggest you check out my free download on here because there is rather a lot of discussion regarding this matter. The classic example is spotting too many ciliates which is an indication of anaerobic conditions which should be avoided with this system. The kids can watch videos on YouTube of the different microorganism then spot them under the microscope. I would also recommend you start making your own compost with all your little helpers it would be easy to set something up.
I am glad you picked up on the seed ball thing. You can use the compost tea in the seed balls. I run workshops doing seed balls from time to time and the kids love it, but it is a touch messy.
Hi Eric. My husband is from up around Milwaukee and all these references to "bubblers" has me a bit confused. Is this like something that aerates the tea, or mixes it?
You are correct in that it is something that aerates tea. Set-ups start from around 5 gallons. It is part of a way of making compost tea that encourages microorganisms (AACT) - Actively Aerated Compost Tea. The set ups are usually composted of some bubbling device like you might get in ponds, a bucket and then various ingredients being added, the main one understandably being compost. Some people suspend the compost in muslin or a stocking in the bucket. Hope that clears it up.
If you are doing it I would recommend you stir also. I have included a photo self-plagiarised from my book.
Hi Eric! Looking forward to reading your book! What do you call compost or vermicompost (in dry finished form) mixed with water and immediately fed to plants? I've been told that this is not "Compost Tea" as it is not aerated.
Hi Melanie, thanks for your interest and hope you enjoy the read.
I understand that some authorities define compost teas in different ways and some 'official' organisations have got in a terrible tangle over their definitions and guidance. This is further confused by different definitions in different countries.
My definition of 'compost teas' is anything within the Kingdoms of life that has undergone some degree of decomposition (hence the name) and is mixed into a solution or suspension. So in answer to your question, I would call it compost tea, but I wound not do it like that. There are a number of different approaches some emphasise soil life, some emphasise nutrient value. Approaches are either aerobic or anaerobic or a combination of the two. I would contend that quality compost has a living aspect that is intrinsic and a million miles away from the sterilised lifeless organic matter you get wrapped in polythene from the supermarket.
You mention 'dry finished form' I would be rather concerned about this because compost is not meant to be dry. With approaches that emphasis soil life
we try to encourage in the mixes, many microorganisms are aquatic living around the thin layers of water around soil particles. I think the issue is that it is not really an off the shelf product because we are dealing with living organisms such as with the AACT approach. Science has not really got a handle on the complexity of the soil organisms we are dealing with in the 'live' aspect and have only identified around 1% let alone thought up way of putting them into dormancy. I think the way forward would be to analyse some soil on a piece of land that has severe droughts but springs into life very quickly when the rains hit; I'm not saying it's impossible.
Welcome! Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I have been reading to learn about compost tea; looking forward to starting. I have a feeling that within the next few days I will be saying how much I didn't know what I didn't know.
Cheers for your interest Susan. I enjoyed reading your quote by Aristotle and your fiery signature - very inspiring.
I'm curious if you cover any shelf stable tea recipes in your book. Sometimes I have a window of opportunity to apply something beneficial but don't have the time to brew a fresh compost tea so it would be nice to make up something that I can have on the ready.
I do describe an IMO (Indigenous Microorganisms) tea method that has a shelf life of up to six months although after you've done the preparation you don't actually seal it but use an airlock or the kind of semi-permeable cover as shown in the photo.
I am thinking the content of your question is leading us away from the title of your question so I will deal with them one at a time.
Question : Is making compost tea necessary? Answer : It is as necessary as fertiliser is to conventional agri-chemical growers although the focus is often different in many compost tea approaches where there is more of an emphasis on nurturing soil life. I would answer not absolutely necessary, there are always other ways of doing things, but it can be a very useful and interesting avenue that growers can go down.
Now getting onto the content.
If you have organic matter in the ground (manures, compost, etc) and it rains, are you making compost tea?
This is really a philosophical question and is stretching to limits of what compost tea is about, but just for fun I will engage with it. I think it has two aspects. 1. Does compost tea exist here ? Short answer – YES. Long answer : Compost tea would exist to the degree that decomposed matter exists in the organic matter that is mixed with water 2. Are you the direct agent regarding the first point ? It is easy to say – I got hold of a 100 gallon bubbler and added the ingredients messed around with it for a few days and decanted. In this scenario yes you made it. But agency is harder to establish with the scenario you outline. I suppose it comes down to if it was you who made the compost and spread it out. If someone really wanted to be argumentative it could be argued ‘ but you didn’t make the rain, so you are not the direct agent’, but I’m not going there.
If your question is inferring ‘how is this different from making compost tea with a bubbler’ then it could be contested that with the bubbler you have more control of what is going on and you can tweak it for specific applications. Also you can target where you want to apply it which you can’t do with the scenario you describe.
If you have a worm tower (bucket in the ground with holes, kitchen scraps added, water added that mixes with the castings and leaves from the holes, am i making compost tea.
I would concur with Dr Redhawk on this one. That is not compost tea, it’s leachate which is biologically and chemically different. The contrary could be argued but you would have to go down some very specious avenues.
Compost teas seem to be like chemistry 101 with bubblers and maybe test strips, etc. Am i missing something critical doing it lazily?
It is a matter of taste and style. The AACT method is probably more inherently technical than other options. If you understand the principles of what you are doing, know how to make good compost, and know what good compost looks feels and smells like you can make good compost tea. Having all the bells and whistles can be useful and informative, if you like that kind of thing. It would help you tweak things, gauge how things are going and give you further insight into what’s going on in the bubbler. Recently I did a couple of interviews with industry leaders and asked a question that touched on what you ask – ‘Is it necessary to use microscopy to make good compost tea’ one said ‘Yes definitely’ and the other said ‘No it’s not essential’. You have a many options to go your own way with this and at the end of the day it comes down to whether it does what is intended.
What is a good way to brew a large amount of compost tea in site in the field? I am thinking a clearly marked old water barrel with wheels may do the job nicely. If I shake it at least once a week would the compost tea be usable and aerobic or would I need to aerate more frequently? Or would a solar powered air pump be a better option for aeration?
Really interesting question for me this. I am glad you are growing such high value crops and congratulations on your potatoes. If you are growing cilantro you must like curries, no ?
Your traditional method will work and has been for generations but it doesn’t hurt to be armed with some extra science. As it stands it is semi-aerobic/semi-anaerobic. I’d be reluctant to put it on my leaves for eating but otherwise fine. Many aerobic organisms like consuming anaerobic things, humans included, although realistically this will be not be fermented so a little caution is suggested. If you put your week old semi-decomposed sludge around your plants it’s going drive your earthworms crazy, they love this kind of stuff. The anecics are known to prefer this over fresh organic material. They like dragging it into their galleries to break down for a few days, rather like what you are doing. A lot this organic matter is going to be microbially mediated before it gets to your plants. If it goes through the gut of an earthworm it is renowned for its cleansing properties and the casts awesome regarding fertility.
Adding comfrey is a good start but it occurs to me, why stop there ? Comfrey is good for potassium and phosphorus but you are missing one of the big three there – namely nitrogen. Chuck in some clover (N) and kelp meal (P, traces growth hormone) too. If you have time to let it break down use the abundant nettles and put your comfrey in a couple of weeks later.
If you prefer greater aeration, a safer and sweeter smelling mix you have a good idea with the solar bubbler. There may a question of it getting pilfered and it now occurs to me with little gardening synergy you could also add the type of pond weed that produces oxygen. You may need a container that has a broader base in relation to the height to get more sun in. With a raised pond shape you can get in more volume and you mentioned wanting to make lots of tea. A children's pond would do it but it's not very elegant or environmentally sound, guess this a permi design matter.