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Aerated Compost Tea Questions

 
                  
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I was surprised to discover that the process of making aerated compost tea (ACT) is fairly simple.  I am going to try it out, based on the instructions on Pennsylvania's DEP site ( http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/airwaste/wm/recycle/Tea/tea1.htm ).  Of course, I am sure everyone has their own recipes and secrets, but I thought that this would be a good starting point.

What would be the best method to apply it to my quarter acre lot?  In addition, can I go ahead and apply it to my cool weather grass now?  I understand that it is most beneficial when the grass is actively growing, in the early Spring and Fall, but my lawn is hurting.  I need to do something to improve the dirt, so that my grass has a fighting chance.

My goal is to transform my dirt into soil.  I was thinking routine ACT applications and organic fertilizer in the Spring and Fall.  Supposedly, ACT applications can't hurt, but I don't want to waste time and effort.  That said, how often should I plan on brewing and applying ACT?
 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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There are gob of people that are totally bonkers about compost tea. 

When I first hear about it, the idea was to fill an old sock with compost and the throw it into a bucket of water in a sock for a day.  In the sun.  And then water with that.

I did it a few times. 

I have talked to no less than a dozen people that do the stuff with the bubblers and all.  They are riddled to the gills with excitement over all of the benefits and whatnot. 

I also ran into one person that was so passionate about it, he insisted that anybody that wasn't doing it was abusing their land, their lawn and all plant life.  What a nut.

I don't do it. 

It is really good for the soil and for the plants.  But so are a lot of other things that aren't nearly as much work. 

If we are talking about grass, I would rather lay some home made compost out on the bad spots of soil.  As it rains, the rain will dribble through the compost, making a compost tea which then goes into the soil.

I'm too cheap and too lazy for compost tea.  Especially for grass.


 
                  
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Thanks for the feedback!  Unfortunately, the yard is one giant bad spot.  The farmer who used to own the land said that the developer hauled off all the prime topsoil, leaving behind less than desirable dirt.

I am also planning to topdress in the Fall with some compost, to try to make my yard look less lunar.  The landscaper claims that there was heavy rain right after they seeded, which caused pooling.  The end result is craters all over the place.  I was hoping the ACT might be a cheaper alternative to having to topdress the whole lot.

I do hear what you are saying though!  However, as a first-time lawn owner, I can't help it; I can't fight the urge to get out there and break my back trying to make my grass look nice.
 
paul wheaton
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Posts: 20474
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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Did you read my lawn care article?

In your shoes, I would focus first on:  mow high.  Next, I would look into organic lawn fertilizer.  I would probably stop there. 

If I were bored and wanted more, more, more, I would probably send a soil sample or two into a lab for testing.  That would probably lead me to adjust the pH. 

I would not add commercial compost.  But that's just me.  I've done that sort of thing in the past, and it did work, but that was in the days before clopyralid. 

 
jeremiah bailey
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Don't forget that even healthy cool season grass will look a little sad during the hot summer months. Don't waste your time and money on trying to fertilize with tea right now. In fact, I agree with Paul that its too much work for the results. As with many things, less is more.

If your lawn is largely bare dirt, I'd suggest placing a layer of mulch from an organic source. Make sure it is organic. Many sources of mulch include rubber tires, treated lumber pallets, and other toxic waste. Don't use those. My first big attempt at soil improvement involved tilling the sod under. With what I learned from that, I'd suggest not tilling. But after leaving that area bare for awhile, I discovered that the condition of the soil was rapidly getting worse and not better from the amendments I had added. That was lesson number two actually. The amendments are good, but there is one single thing I think turned my project from disaster to recovery. That was laying mulch over the dirt. The mulch regulates and moderates soil temperature and moisture. These two things make the worms, microbes and insects happy. Happy fauna for a happy lawn, ahhh. Excuse the pun. The mulch also breaks down and enriches the soil.

My suggested cheap, and lazy way of doing this is simple. It's like Paul says: Mow high, leave the clippings. I would also add that I let my lawn get a bit over grown a couple times a year to help get a good mulch layer. Not too much as to clog the mower, but enough to build some biomass in one mowing. You know what's used to grow your mulch, so you know its good. Remember the part about making sure its organic? Plus, you get free mulch, spread for you on your lawn. If you get some good spots growing while others are bad, maybe bag or rake these good spots every third or fourth mowing and spread the clippings on the bad areas.

Next, what's your feelings about clover? I personally love it and let it grow as it wishes in my lawn. Clover is a legume. This means its gets happy with a certain bacteria called rhizobium. The bacteria pull nitrogen from the air and makes it into plant food, while the clover makes sugar and feeds it to the rhizobium. Win-win. The same nitrogen plant food made by the rhizobium is also available to your grass. Win-win-win. Yay! Go Team! Get some white clover seed (or similar legume suited to your area) and throw it around. Or better yet, if you already have clover, encourage it to grow and spread. Why waste time and money on buying and spreading seed when you already have it?

 
                  
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Thanks for the additional ideas and feedback!  I read the lawn care article when I first stumbled across the site a few weeks ago, and I found it to be both informative and well written. 

I have been mowing high for about a year now with my Scott's reel mower.  I will definitely fertilize in the early Fall with some organic fertilizer; one of  the small local hardware stores will order Ringer on request.  I keep meaning to stop by the county extension office to ask about soil testing, but keep putting it off.  I should probably get that squared away, since that is the one productive thing that I can do now, in the heat of the Summer.

I definitely have more grass than dirt, so I think that the mulching idea might be too extreme for my situation.  In addition, if you couldn't already tell, I am far too impatient.  I'd say that my yard is thin, patchy, and scraggly; however, it is not bald.  I have a ton of clover, and while I am not crazy about it, I figured, hey at least it is green.  When I learned that it was adding much needed Nitrogen to the soil, I began looking at it more affectionately.  The honey bees love it, too, which makes me nervous with a toddler running around, but what can you do.  I do rip up the black medic though.

I really appreciate this discussion, and I think if I have learned anything, it is to relax a bit and just be a bit more patient.  There is no magic bullet that will transform my yard overnight.  Instead of it being me vs. the yard (a la Bill Murray vs. the groundhog), I have to treat the yard like a sick loved one who needs to be nourished back to good health.

I am still intrigued by the idea of compost tea, but I will hold off on it.  One major benefit is that it allows one to make the little bit of homemade compost that he or she can produce go a long way.
 
jeremiah bailey
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I don't think the mulching thing isn't too extreme. In fact, you're doing it now unless you use a grass catcher with your mower. It is an important part of the method to leave your grass clippings, either for helping repair, or for general maintenance. It sounds like you've found the mindset, so let us know how it goes and keep us updated. I grew up in a yard full of clover and bees. The only time I got stung was by a wasp. By then I was old enough to know better, but invaded their nest anyways. As long as you keep close tabs on your kids especially when they're this young, I don't see a problem. Get your kid tested for bee allergies, just as a precaution. I'd recommend that whether or not you had a lawn full of clover. For those allergic, bee stings can be deadly in a matter of minutes unless the antidote is administered. On the plus side, the bees are too busy with your delicious clover to care about your toddler, but always err on the safe side.
 
                            
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I just realized after years of composting that I have been doing it wrong.
- have not been draining well enough, and letting the bottom of my bin get anaerobic. I keep reading that this can be harmful to plants- does this mean it's garbage? (I'm only talking about the bottom 5% of the bin, not the whole batch.) Can I mix it in with the good stuff, can I aerate the mix enough to turn bad juice into good? I should mention that the worms seem to love it, that's where they all seem to hang out.

I also just bought an aerator to try making aerated compost tea- so I want to pose the same question regarding tea.  This I presume is a much more common problem, good healthy tea that sits too long and quickly becomes anaerobic- I am hoping that one can just revive it by aeration.

Perhaps both can be answered by explaining whether I am right or wrong about a basic principle:  I always believed that soil should follow the simple equation that nutrients from compost and other dead agricultural material needs to be returned from whence it came- that cycle in itself should be the key to healthy soil.  Since you have not REMOVED (or added) anything from anaerobic compost/tea, and the only thing missing is oxygen, time and oxygen should restore that balance.  Am I deluding myself, am I being too cheap/lazy?
 
This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. Now it's a tiny ad:

The permaculture playing cards make great stocking stuffers:
http://richsoil.com/cards


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