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Liquid fertilizer vs Compost vs Compost tea

 
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Hi!

After reading this post :

https://permies.com/t/26359/composting/Liquid-fertilizer-weeds-true

I was wondering what is the difference between compost, liquid fertilizer and compost tea? I get that compost tea would be more about beneficial bacteria, but what about the purpose? Do they serve a similar purpose for the soil?

As for liquid fertilizer and compost tea, would it be possible to make something similar to hydroponic in nutrient deficient soil? Like growing potatoes in sand and pouring liquid fertilizer on a regular basis?

Edit: When I say liquid fertiliser, I mean weeds in a bucket of water (just to be clear).
 
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With compost the nutrients are always available to the plant, and the plant shuts off and on its own uptake as needed.

I think with the tea its probably more of a timing issue, not that either one is better, just that compost is more automated and certainly less work...
 
pollinator
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I use all of the above. Ideally, I top dress with compost, and use a dilute amount of liquid or solid organic fertilizer in compost teas if something  is seeming to be deficient, based on plant growth or lack thereof. I then mulch with woodchips, pine straw, or chopped and dropped weeds.
 
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Compost is added for the nutrient value, organic material, and/or microbial life.  Depending on how you made it, what's in it, how old it is, to start.

Liquid fertilizer is anything in liquid form, used to "fertilize"...I suppose your definition of that may vary too.  Can be urine, dissolved chemicals or compost, fish ferments or blends, diluted sea water...whatever.

Compost tea (as explained in the linked post) can be aerobic (with added oxygen and sugars to feed the microbes), or anaerobic (ends up like stinky swamp water.)  Starting with some compost ("normal" or worm bin compost).

See David the Good's Fetid Swamp Water videos for more info on the anaerobic type.

I've been lately using weeds, food scraps, fish guts, seaweed, urine, prunings (of non-poisonous plants) in buckets of water, covering, letting them rot, adding to them continuously.  Plus a handful of good microbes, finished fresh compost, or leaf mold.

See Korean Natural Farming for the Cadillac versions; see JADAM liquid fertilizer for the more approachable versions, like I'm doing.

I like simple and easy, low maintenance.  Basically, microbes feed the soil, so the plants can take up nutrients, create healthier plants, so the animals that eat them (including us) end up healthier too.  Despite all the bad-mouthing of anerobic bacteria, scientists will admit we only know a tiny fraction about any of it...something like a fraction of 1% of the microbes have even been identified, much less studied!

I suspect with the food/farming/global craziness out there now, and to come, that more and more people will begin turning (in desperation, very likely!) to this sort of stuff.  But it's what Nature does naturally.  Stuff grows, falls, dies, gets wet, rots, breaks down, feeds what is alive...then repeat, over and over and over.

Interesting to see what my different buckets end up smelling like (since they each have different mixes of stuff in them).  One smells like a pig farm.  Another smells like elephants (you'll recognize it if you've ever smelled an elephant before, I promise!!!)

Some plants are more sensitive--some get leaf burn if applied to the leaves.  I don't bother dealing with a sprayer, either.  I use a thrift store pot, ladled out and dumped, then watered--a 2-part dilution.  No measuring, per say.

Yeah, life is short...too short for me to pay attention to those details.  So your results will vary.  hahaha

Let the experimentation begin!  (Keep them covered.  Any bug/mosquito larvae I consider nitrogen sources.)
 
Alina Green
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Oh yeah, for cheap, natural entertainment, I rest a potful on top of the lid of the bucket, sit there, and watch the flies start to buzz...then the lizards hop on over...and I give up after I see one of them eat a fly.  
 
pollinator
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Depending on what you are giving to the soil you might be feeding the soil, the plants or inoculating microorganisms into a dead soil.

A liquid fertilizer usually contains nitrogen in a form readily available for plants (actually, any fertilizer does this, liquids are just faster). This is fast food for your plants, but it may be counterproductive for the bacteria in the soil. So yes, your plants grow stronger thanks to the extra fertilizer but you are interfering with the natural process, reducing the number of benefitial life in the soil. This is not a problem for you if you can provide liquid fertilizer forever (like you have grazing animals that pee and poo seasonally). It's not ideal, but you get immediate results, which might be financially necessary.
A problem with fertilizers is finding the right amounts of macro and micro nutrients. Since you are feeding the plants, you have to provide enough Nitrogen, Phosporus, Potasium, Calcium, Magnesium, sfsf. Sometimes you might know what's missing by looking at your plants (iron deficiencies are easy to spot), but most likely you will want your soil analyzed.

A compost tea is made mixing in water finished and active compost, so it's full of active bacterial life, and applied before the microbes suffocate. It is used for regenerating degraded soils in big areas. You inoculate the microbiota and add your seeds, so your growing plants and your microbiotic life work together. Plant exudates increase the organic matter in the soil, and the life in the soil gives the plants all they need.
Compost extracts are similar to compost teas, but you might grow larger quantities in sugar fed tanks, for larger applications.
Inoculation is a long term solution. It takes a while for the soil to recover, like two to three years. But once you are in the right spot, you no longer need to apply compost tea. The soil will be fully alive and it will take care for itself.

A layer of solid compost is a growing substrate and soil amendment. It adds huge quantities of organic matter (improves water absorption and soil structure), microbiotic life and nutrients, so it's the fastest and most expensive way to regenerate a soil. Good compost is usually very expensive, made locally and applied fresh. Bad compost lacks microbiotic life, or worse, it might be the wrong type of microbes for your plants.
Since it is expensive, you might want to apply it just on market garden beds.
 
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Great answers, one and all.  It looks like a pretty solid stream of insight given by all who have replied; here's my two bits:

I moved to where I currently live 3 years ago.  Soil is dry, sandy, rocky, and probably fungal dominant with pinon/juniper middle story, pine overstory, and scrub oak understory with lots of duff on the ground.  This kind of dry is so dry if a fire goes through, the duff will burn.

Did I mention hilly?  Well then, hilly it is as well, so much so that my veggie garden is on contour.  I had to do this to catch all the rain when it rained.  This year it finally really rained and I caught it all.  The swales were filled and covered with 8 inches of wood chips, and, as always, the worms showed up; along with all the beetles and bugs and micro-biota that live in the wood chips.  

I used the Gabe Brown method, (keeping living roots in the ground at all times,) and covered the soil and constantly planted my garden mixed in with cover crops.   My goal was to get as many different plant roots into the ground as possible to interact with the soil micro-biota.  The first two years were barely marginal, production of anything was really tough, but this year perseverance paid off!  The beds are popping and I'm feeding all the local critters to boot.  They love showing up and feasting on the earth worms and grubs that have moved into the wood chips.

ALL of this was a lot of work.  I think that's what I am getting at.  All the solutions mentioned in this post so far work, but the bottom line is that you still have to put your equity, your labor, your blood, sweat, and tears into this.  The blessing of all of this is that we can do this, and because we can, we should.  Love and peace to all.
 
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Jordan, thank you for starting this thread and for posting the link to the other thread.

Both are really great.

My choice would be to use compost tea or the weed tea from that other thread.

I am not sure that using compost would be equal to using compost tea because it is not being watered into the soil.

Thanks, again for a great topic.
 
William Kellogg
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There is also the foliar feed option available with compost tea.
 
Anne Miller
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Foliar spray is something that is forgotten when we consider how to get nutrients to plants.

Good suggestion.

Here are a couple of postss for those interested in learning more about foliar spray:

https://permies.com/t/180770/Aerobic-Anaerobic-Soil-close#1428906

https://permies.com/t/113313/Ways-Homestead-Resilient-Drought#1402014
 
Jordan Beaupré
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Thanks everyone!

As for foliar spray, that is actually what have brought me into tea fertilizer.

I think it would be interesting to compile data about liquid fertilizer. For instance, I am currently growing potatoes in a soil with a lot of sod and rocks. So instead of tilling, I just put the potato on soil with mulch. I was thinking that I could get a good enough harvest if I feed them from these liquid fertilizer since I don't have enough compost available. I planted them quite late, but the first I planted seems to be doing good so far with diluted urine and other liquid fertilizer from plant around. But since urine is high in nitrogen, I was wondering what should I use beside ash. I do have some ash available, but the problem is that this is ash that likely contain toxic waste from glossed cardboard and probably plastic. So I try to avoid using it too much. Maybe some plant would provide a better NPK ratio for potato than urine. There is fern (Bracken) and blueberry growing in that soil. Maybe liquid fertilizer from fern would do better, since it apparently likes similar NPK fertilizer ratio (15-15-15)?
 
Ben Zumeta
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This is not Dr. Ingham’s most up to date work, but it’s worth a read:

https://forum.lepeuplier.ca/uploads/default/original/1X/f0bada96cecaa70408f5f4b11abeb64b163be032.pdf

I also found this to be a good explanation by a good company:

https://www.composttealab.com/brewing-compost-tea.html


One key take away is that its the microbial waste products that result from ecological processes, that feed plants in organic systems. In particular, predators like nematodes and micro arthropods, that are “higher” on the trophic scale, provide the form of nitrogen “non-weedy” plants need. Basically weeds can thrive on ecologically simple, young (recently disturbed and early in succession) and bacterially dominated soil. Later succession plants need more complex ecology in the soil (ie diversity including fungi and micro predators). Actively aerated Compost tea provides a highly aerobic, food filled breeding ground for the microbes in the compost. If they survive in the soil, they help its ecological succession and mineral chelation long term. However, even if they die their carcasses become food other microbes and therefore plants.

Compost and compost tea can help provide biodiversity to the soil. Compost, with its aggregates and organic matter, will provide better habitat for their survival than tea alone. Compost tea over mulch and/or compost will help that mulch decompose into compost, and recharge the compost with aerobes, with the microbes being protected by the organic mulch.

Liquid fertilizers that claim quick effects are generally chelated to be absorbable by the plant immediately. With inorganic fertilizers, this can easily cause chemical burning. It is also very inefficient as it bypasses the microbial plant partners (with similar negative effects to what Amazon has on local businesses), with upwards of 98% running off to over nitrify waterways downstream. Organic liquid fertilizers (manure slurries etc) can also runoff problematically, but this is much more easily mitigated. Organic matter and biodiverse soil microbes absorb/consume the nutrients and disperse them to plants in exchange for their sugar rich root exudates, 30%+ of which they will put out whether they have a trade partner or not. Inorganic fertilizers, and excessive fertilizer of any kind, kill or make these partners “seem obsolete” to the plants, and they disappear.

So I generally put any fertilizers (organic only for me) through/in compost top dressings, or in small amounts (ie 1 cup fish hydrosylate in 50gal) in compost tea that is then poured over this. Arborist woodchip mulch is on any bare ground to provide sheltered habitat that is more analogous to later succession, fungally dominated and biodiverse forest soils, providing habitat for the tea microbes.

I have seen nice results from using TeaLabs recipes as a baseline for my teas tecently:

https://www.composttealab.com/compost-tea-recipes.html


I’ve spread 500+gal around my garden and 5-acres of newly planted food forest this year.
 
Alina Green
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Also important is that moisture is needed, or the microbes will die.  That's why the mulching.  (It's also why in desert/dry climates, adding shade to the equation can be a game changer.  Ditto for burying seeds/crops lower, where soil is moister and will capture rainfall and water and flying dust and debris, creating soil.)

I forget the details (more in my book), but thus the dryland practice of waffle gardening.  Also search Andrew Mollison's series of videos of the grids created in India.  They had a series of contests, with amazing results.

Basically, if you are going to go to the trouble to add microbes, your time/money/effort is wasted, unless you provide conditions for them to thrive, and that's basically why mulch is key.

If times are hard, you can use low-fertility mulches, which won't add much in the way of nutrition, but will add organic matter, which the microbes break down.  (Organic matter also holds moisture in the soil--you can watch videos with water holding capacity tests of soil samples in clear tubes.)

Examples:  shredded paper, junk mail, branches. etc.

I read in an old Rodale Publishing book (?) on organic gardening about a study where they trialed various mulch materials, including compost, manure, and paper.  While all the plants benefited (did better than crops without mulch), some of the mulch materials (manure) added a less-desirable flavor to the end product (I believe it was raspberries that were grown...but don't quote my aging memory!)

Obviously, avoid the garbage like sewage sludge (labeled as "biosolids" in some packaged composts for sale)--they contain high levels of drugs and heavy metals.

Also avoid non-biodegradable garbage that likely add toxins to your plants, such as rubber or ground up this or that plastic or tires, or whatever they've started selling.  Ugh.
 
Alina Green
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I've also heard (but don't know much about it) that NPK synthetic fertilizers cause the wrong metals or nutrients to get absorbed.

In other words, a crop will take up arsenic instead of copper, for example (my details are likely wrong; just using it as an example) if you use NPK versus organic forms of those same nutrients, such as manure, eggshells, wood ash, etc.

Someone else more knowledgeable will have to chime in...

And yes, NPK doesn't even consider trace minerals, which are also important.

So using the methods of real materials, breaking down and providing for the newer growing stuff, makes sense.  We might not know all the details, but it WORKS, and it HAS WORKED, for humanity, or we would never have been born.  Kept our grandparents and before them alive!

Whereas this "new" agriculture appears to be killing us faster than ever.  At least, it certainly is already creating unforseen consequences that we are only just learning about.
 
Alina Green
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And while we can't all afford or get fancy organic fertilizers, we all have urine and at least, weeds, to chop up.

If you cannot even grow weeds where you are, you have a REAL problem!
 
Alina Green
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It's Andrew Millison, not Mollison (must be thinking of Bill...)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8nqnOcoLqE

about rectangles:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtHuIlfyJao

waffle gardening:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZHLOnR2aFA

A longer (35 mins) segment on shade in drier climates (Geoff Lawton):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xg_YzAdjU_U

Mulching in desert:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AQF3iftL3I

And shade/microclimate plus mulch in arid conditions:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Kb5V5nM3IE

Yah, kind of veered off topic a bit, but it does link up to the fungal network mentioned in a post above.  It's all related, as you know!
 
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Alina, you are very wise.
And while we can't all afford or get fancy organic fertilizers, we all have urine and at least, weeds, to chop up.

If you cannot even grow weeds where you are, you have a REAL problem!

  urine on a compost pile makes a big difference in the finished product;
 
Alina Green
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John Duffy wrote:    urine on a compost pile makes a big difference in the finished product;



Sure makes it heat up fast!  So does a carcass buried in the center (such as a dead rat or other predator!)

John, have you noticed a difference in the plants you apply compost to--I mean, compost with urine, vs. compost without urine--?
 
Jordan Beaupré
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Alina Green wrote:

John Duffy wrote:    urine on a compost pile makes a big difference in the finished product;



Sure makes it heat up fast!  So does a carcass buried in the center (such as a dead rat or other predator!)

John, have you noticed a difference in the plants you apply compost to--I mean, compost with urine, vs. compost without urine--?



Are there safety measures to take when burying dead animals in compost?
 
Alina Green
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Jordan Beaupré wrote:
Are there safety measures to take when burying dead animals in compost?



Definitely let the compost finish, and make sure it's a hot compost pile.  The heat and time, in combination, kill most harmful pathogens (read the Humanure Handbook for data on that.)

But you'll discover when you turn it  later, how much it's already broken down, even in a few days.

You'll smell the carcass when you turn the pile, but not when it's properly buried in the middle of the pile itself.

The bones will last a bit longer, especially the big ones.  You may need to sift them out and return them to the next pile you build.
 
Alina Green
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Jordan Beaupré wrote:

I think it would be interesting to compile data about liquid fertilizer.



I do think it would be interesting.  Please post any results you get.  I'd like to hear about them.

I've considered doing something similar, but just getting things done becomes more of a priority, in general.  That's why community is so important...we can all learn from each other.
 
Alina Green
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A pdf about using urine in the garden:

http://richearthinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/UrineMyGarden_DIYGuide.pdf

I do know the hugest Swiss chard leaves I've ever seen were at a rose garden in Texas, and when I asked what they used for fertilizer, she said rock dust and compost tea.  Turns out it was aerobically brewed compost tea.

The leaves were like 2 feet tall, enormous.

Makes sense, though, from what I know now...minerals come from the rock dust, and the aerobic tea produces microbes, which helps to break down the minerals so the plants can absorb them.

I'm just looking for the simplest, cheapest, off-grid ways to do things, using what is already available---thinking like a permaculture practicioner, basically!  
 
Jordan Beaupré
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Alina Green wrote:
Makes sense, though, from what I know now...minerals come from the rock dust, and the aerobic tea produces microbes, which helps to break down the minerals so the plants can absorb them.

I'm just looking for the simplest, cheapest, off-grid ways to do things, using what is already available---thinking like a permaculture practicioner, basically!  



That reminds me I've saw someone mentioning (in a Youtube video) that he uses a commercial rock dust made of all kind of minerals for his worm bin. I didnt really think it was worth it, cause I already have a soil full of rocks. But now that you mention it as an effective foliar spray, this rock dust mix is probably a wise choice. Would that be something we can make at home (I mean, a fine rock dust mix)?
 
John Duffy
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Alina, I don't have any compost without urine to compare...My pile is approximately 10'x10x'5' and only me "contributing"
 
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I prefer compost, with all the organic materials since I don’t dig or till much. Just keep adding compost on top, and plant into that. So That means I need a LOT of compost piles working so I have enough. Right now I have five piles working. They get up to 160, 170, even 180 *f, so very few weed seeds get through intact.
FI don’t buy compost.

If I were to mess around making tea, I would use it as compost activator for my piles.

 
Jordan Beaupré
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Speaking of compost, what about this compost method:

https://youtu.be/SROtDjwGFO0


I've started making one but didn't finish and just ended up piling my compost.

I've also received a black bin compost (city gift). It is a round bin with a little trap at the bottom. It seems like it is the opposite of the system above since there is no aeration trap.

Great video Alina! I wish I had just a 1/10 of a community like that around. As for technique like waffle gardening, are there purpose for these in places where water isn't much of an issue?
 
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