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Compost Tea made easy  RSS feed

 
Travis Schultz
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Compost Tea made easy

This is my take away and understanding of compost tea, it is written in the form of my honest opinion.

If I have information wrong, and you know it is indeed wrong, than tell me and I will change it. I feel I have a pretty good understanding.

There are many different ways to make compost tea from a 1 gallon jug, to 5 gal bucket, to 55 gallon drum (my preferred method), and beyond!
There are two main style tea brewers- a bubble brewer (uses an air pump and air stones), and a vortex brewer (uses an air pump, no stones).

The vortex brewer is substantially superior…

Please youtube both compost tea brewers to learn how to make them. The information I am going to supply is the more advanced stuff: what is happening during the process, how to brew specific micro life, warnings to watch out for, extended brew times and benefits.

So first I will detail the different ingredients used, and in a later post I will list several recipes for different purposes. There is many more ingredients that could be used than what I will remember to list, but these are the main ones.
All ingredients need to be organic and free from any chemicals.

1. Worm Castings/high quality compost. This will make up the bulk of what you add to the tea. This adds the humus, and the bacteria. I will add a half cup to a gallon, a cup to 5 gallon, and a half gallon volume of castings to a 55 gallon drum, or just a shovel full.

2. Nitrogen sources- blood meal, feather meal, soy bean meal (not suggested), poultry manure, any good nitrogen source. Its good to use both a quick release nitrogen like the blood, and a slower release nitrogen like the feather meal together in the same tea, always diversify your ingredients to cater to as much micro life as possible. Between 2 tbsp a gallon, 1 cup a barrel.

3. Phos- bone char is one of my preferred sources as its quick release, and free from many of the toxins that plague rock phos. But Bone meal will def work too. 2 tbsp a gallon, 1 cup a barrel.

4. Potassium- I use both kelp meal and greensand, always. Besides the potassium each one brings a whole spectrum of micronutrients and minerals/trace minerals. 2 tbsp to half cup per gallon.

5. Micro nutrients- kelp and greensand 2 tbsp to half cup per gallon. 1-2 cups a barrel.

6. Minerals/trace minerals- azomite, glacial rock dust, crushed marble or granite. 2 tbsp each.

7. Molasses- this is the main fire for the tea. This is what fuels (in part with nitrogen) to allow extremely quick breeding and colonization of the microbes added with the worm castings or compost. 2 tbsp a gallon, 1-2 cups a barrel.

Ingredients can either be added loose, which means you have to clean your vessel after each use, for a 1 gallon jug or 5 gallon bucket this is quick and painless, not so much so with a 55 gal drum.

The other option is to put your ingredients into a tea bag of sorts, I like to use a paint strainer, hung over the side of the vessel for my 55 gal drum. If using a vortex brewer you most likely would want to use a tea bag method because you want to keep the tea in a vortex brewer going for long periods. More on that below.


What is really happening, day by day.

The first 18 hours your beneficial bacteria are forming colonies and breeding rapidly, due to the high concentration of air, sugar, and nitrogen. Between 18 and 24 hours of brew time is when you want to use your tea for most applications. This is when the bacteria levels are at their highest. You will notice several inches to a foot or more of frothy bubbles on top of your vessel, this means your biological activity is very high.

From 24 to 48 hours your bacteria start dying off and are fed upon by the newly forming webs of fungi. The fungi take over substantially around the 48 hour mark. At this time you will see the foaming and frothing stop. This is normal as the foam is due mostly in part to the bacteria (and due in part to the molasses).

From 48 to 72 hours the fungi are slowly replaced by your predatory bacterial life forms like your protozoa’s, amoebas, and nematodes to name a few. This is where the tea can really help your garden, in moderation of course.

If I make 3 drums of tea a week, one of them will be a 72 hour brew, the other two will be 48 hour brews. I never cover the entire garden with one brew, I am always spreading the tea through a few beds at a time, so that different parts of the garden have different colonies thriving at different times. This is the ultimate pest and disease prevention. Diversity always kicks pest and disease butt, every time!

A 72 hour brew inoculates the garden with beneficial predatory bacteria; this is huge when fighting things like root maggots, slugs, caterpillars, and many others. Like pathogens to us, predatory bacteria are the pathogens of the pests to our garden, put simply.

In a bubble type brewer you cannot exceed 72 hours, at that point you run the risk of breeding anaerobic bacteria and severely damaging your micro system you worked so hard to create and diversify.

This is where the vortex brewer excels, if properly made, and if properly maintained, it will not go anaerobic, you can continually brew for weeks or months, or the entire growing season, mostly due to the dissolved oxygen content that you just cant get with a standard bubble brewer. Instead of emptying the drum and using all your tea, you take out only a portion at a time, leaving the rest to continue to vortex. Any tea you take out, you replace with more nutrients, sugar, and compost. After 3 days, when maintained, you have a full spectrum brew, consisting of a good balance of bacteria, fungi, and predatory bacteria. If you want to accentuate the fungal brew for a few days, add a handful of woody decaying mulch, this will allow a better environment for the fungi to take hold for several days. To bring the fungi back down add more compost, nitrogen, and sugar.

Bacterial brews are great for annual gardens, while fungal brews are much better for trees and shrubs due to their buffering effect on the soil, and the need for fungi to help breakdown woody material. But a fungal brew can also be incredibly beneficial during wet times of the season when certain crops suffer from molds and mildews.

I want to mention here that molds and mildews can be completely controlled in my garden with the use of Lactic Acid Bacteria, it is very easily made, and I will make a thread on that soon.

Problems that come from compost tea- The main issue I see is the air stones or diffusers going anaerobic, once this happens you have to replace the stone which adds up in cost over time. I bought a rubber perforated hose that will not go anaerobic, it continues to oxygenate better than any stone I have used, it does not break, and it is round and sits on the bottom of my barrel.

Besides that I cannot think of any other issues that can come out of compost tea, unless you consider an incredibly healthy vigorous garden an issue…

Anytime I see signs of an unhealthy plant or section of my garden I will focus tea on those areas first, any area that seems to be lacking.

The compost tea is not going to do a whole lot of feeding, and it is very difficult to make a tea hot enough to burn your plants.

The tea can be made much stronger and diluted by half with fresh water if you want. This can save time and space if your brewing vessel is not big enough to meet your gardens demand.

Good luck! And happy brewing! I highly suggest you all start incorporating compost tea into your systems at least a few times a year if you have not already done so. And if not, at least knowing how to make a couple specific brews to heal your garden should pest or disease get even a minor foothold will be of great benefit to the natural farmer.

 
amarynth leroux
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Really nice Travis. We follow about the same procedure sometimes varying what we make the tea out of. Sometimes, we make it out of our own compost.

I was always wondering what the real function is of a bubbler?

Why do we do that? We don't have that, and just make the brew or tea in 5 gal buckets and stir it so now and again. It seems to work for us, but now you've got me asking the question.
 
Travis Schultz
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amarynth leroux wrote:Really nice Travis. We follow about the same procedure sometimes varying what we make the tea out of. Sometimes, we make it out of our own compost.

I was always wondering what the real function is of a bubbler?

Why do we do that? We don't have that, and just make the brew or tea in 5 gal buckets and stir it so now and again. It seems to work for us, but now you've got me asking the question.


Have you heard how beneficial bacteria thrive in oxygen? Pathogens and bad bacteria tend to thrive without oxygen. We breath oxygen, our plants make oxygen for us, and the bacteria that is good for them is good for us!

By increasing the dissolved oxygen you are multiplying the bacterial life by many hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of times. As compared to stirring now and then, the bubbler is keeping the oxygen levels high, if you stir for a few minutes and walk away it is already starting the anaerobic process because the good bacteria are using up the oxygen and in turn bad microbes are starting to consume and feed on the dead bodies of the good bacteria.

Peter Proctor (watch the movie One Man, One Cow, One Planet) makes a sort of compost tea by stirring a bucket or barrel for at least one hour by hand. It is not easy work, and usually done with people taking turns. But he uses it up immediately, because the microbes that stirring has created will start dying right after the oxygen levels start dropping and that amount of life cant be supported. Proctor uses his bio-dynamic preparations for stirring, And he is doing many other things by stirring by hand when it comes to giving life to the water.

Water is alive, and by stopping the addition of oxygen, the water and the life within it start to die. The vortex of water is highly documented and I will link a short video you should watch that will send you down this path. His name is Viktor Shauberger.

This is also why a vortex brewer is so much better than a bubbler, but a bubbler is far superior to occasional stirring. An air pump and stone that would work with a 1 gallon jug would be very cheap and affordable, maybe $5 or $10.

Hopefully that answers your question for you, let me know if you need more info or names of people to get you started on a path of living and dead water, and the power living water holds. I buy an alkaline water that is made by a bio-dynamic alchemist farmer, it is modeled after Shaubergers water, its like a vortex tea brewer, but with colloidal gold and many other trace minerals and elements, when drinking a shot glass worth, it makes you buzz and feel high, simply because of the life within....

 
amarynth leroux
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Thanks Travis, yes, water ... I'm fairly up to date with water (Dancing with Water, Pangman) and the other research in the field of water, as well as its magical qualities, structuring and the work of Victor Schauberger and later researchers. Like I see you can, I can just continue on for hours simply on water. Perhaps I should have mentioned that we do use triskelions, (copper triple spirals) on all our water and it is always always structured. (grins). Just a little woo woo this morning.

Thanks, I understand better why the bubbling.
 
Travis Schultz
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amarynth leroux wrote:Thanks Travis, yes, water ... I'm fairly up to date with water (Dancing with Water, Pangman) and the other research in the field of water, as well as its magical qualities, structuring and the work of Victor Schauberger and later researchers. Like I see you can, I can just continue on for hours simply on water. Perhaps I should have mentioned that we do use triskelions, (copper triple spirals) on all our water and it is always always structured. (grins). Just a little woo woo this morning.

Thanks, I understand better why the bubbling.


Awesome! Very cool! I want those copper spiral faucets and shower heads.... SO BAD.... If I wasnt saving my grubstake I would have it...
 
amarynth leroux
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Very easy to make a few to hang around water sources - http://www.dancingwithwater.com/products/triskelions/

We tested these in a few controlled tests, and in some miraculous way, the pH of the water indeed changed.
 
Travis Schultz
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Ben Zumeta
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The biggest improvement in my teas came when I started basing them around my muscovy duck's pool/pond water. Their straight poo is something around .7-1.4-.8 on the NPK scale (depends on their feed), but it gets diluted in 35-60 gallons of water, and aerated with a pump as well as the duck's frequent splashing for 2-4 days plus a day in the tea aerator. I have gone to starting the tea using full strength pond water unless I don't want as much fertilizer in the tea, and it hasn't burned anything. I can use full strength additions of other fertilizers but generally don't need to go more than half strength and could get by with little more than the duck water in good soil.
 
amarynth leroux
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Now why did I not think of that? Going to follow that one as well Ben. We're in the tropics and it is a continual work to keep everything well composted and richly composted. Compost Tea is a staple around here.
 
Andrew Mateskon
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I've got a combination airstone vortex brewer. It works like this, I have a sidearm connected to a 55 gal bucket, and an airstone in the bottom of the sidearm. Water flows into the bottom of the sidearm, and gets lifted with the air through the sidearm and back into the top of the barrel. I can direct the flow of this water, as well as the intake on the bottom, si that a light vortex forms. I haven't had any issues with anaerobic conditions, but I haven't tried to take it to 72 hours yet, either. I'll try it this spring. The airlift is a great design element, much better than just an airstone in the bottom of a bucket.
 
Travis Schultz
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Andrew Mateskon wrote:I've got a combination airstone vortex brewer. It works like this, I have a sidearm connected to a 55 gal bucket, and an airstone in the bottom of the sidearm. Water flows into the bottom of the sidearm, and gets lifted with the air through the sidearm and back into the top of the barrel. I can direct the flow of this water, as well as the intake on the bottom, si that a light vortex forms. I haven't had any issues with anaerobic conditions, but I haven't tried to take it to 72 hours yet, either. I'll try it this spring. The airlift is a great design element, much better than just an airstone in the bottom of a bucket.


Yeah I am putting one together now for this summer. Had a 30 gallon vortex a few years back.

Although you dont need an air stone for the air lift, it can become anaerobic. Just the hose in there worked fine for me.
 
Andrew Mateskon
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Yeah it is a homemade airstone, just a bunch if holes drilled in a PVC pipe. It increases bubble surface area a little bit, but doesn't seem to restrict the airflow at all.
 
Ryan Lenz
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I'm trying to understand why the brew goes anaerobic after 2-3 days....its still being aerated, correct?

Wondering if the sugar is depleted so lots of those aerobics that enjoyed eating it so much just die off, and the decomposition of their cells overwhelms the oxygen availability? Looking for a mechanism.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Any photos of your tea making system, Travis?
 
Roberto pokachinni
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or a few links to ones that are similar?
 
Hans Quistorff
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I realy like this system. It combines vortex and worm composting without having to move or bag the compost. Because I have set my bins up on roofing I can adopt this with little effort.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I have done some research of this topic in the past, and do like the book Teaming with Microbes a lot, but I have not made Actively Aerated Compost Tea yet on my own. My only experience with doing so was at a Permablitz instructed by Javan Bernakevitch of Permaculture B.C., and Gord Heibert of Element Eco-Design. The system they used bubbled furiously with a high volume high powered pump. It was not at all like the video Hans posted. I do like the idea of the compost still in the bin being used. That's cool; however Gord and Javan did indicate that it was best to use compost that had gone through the full compost process. The video that Hans posted reminds me of the biomeiler in this permies link
 
Travis Schultz
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:I have done some research of this topic in the past, and do like the book Teaming with Microbes a lot, but I have not made Actively Aerated Compost Tea yet on my own. My only experience with doing so was at a Permablitz instructed by Javan Bernakevitch of Permaculture B.C., and Gord Heibert of Element Eco-Design. The system they used bubbled furiously with a high volume high powered pump. It was not at all like the video Hans posted. I do like the idea of the compost still in the bin being used. That's cool; however Gord and Javan did indicate that it was best to use compost that had gone through the full compost process. The video that Hans posted reminds me of the biomeiler in this permies link


Yes I agree with all of that. I use an industrial sized pump, it moves the water up and down with vigor, the more oxygen the better. And yes finished compost is best. If I can only use one I would choose castings, but a combination of both castings and compost (be it composted manure or plant based compost) is best. As much diversity as possible.
 
Travis Schultz
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Ryan Lenz wrote:I'm trying to understand why the brew goes anaerobic after 2-3 days....its still being aerated, correct?

Wondering if the sugar is depleted so lots of those aerobics that enjoyed eating it so much just die off, and the decomposition of their cells overwhelms the oxygen availability? Looking for a mechanism.


Yeah you are on the right track, I am not the end all expert so somebody with a little more microbiology training may be able to give the actual science behind it.

If you add a little sugar, nitrogen and compost every day, you can extend that from 3 days to maybe 5 or more (with a standard bubble type brewer).

But there is simply not enough dissolved oxygen to keep the cycle going indefinitely. I would love it if someone tried it though, and reported back here with the news!

I have had my bubble type brewer start smelling off after 3 days on a regular basis. The vortex in the vortex brewer dissolves much more oxygen than the bubbles. I know someone who has tested it in a lab because he sells the tea in his organic shop, he has tested many samples and the vortex water was off the charts for dissolved oxygen and micro life (his words, I have no reason not to believe him though, I aspire to know what he knows one day).





 
Travis Schultz
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I have both Teaming with Microbes, and Teaming With Nutrients. Both must haves for anybodies collection.
 
Travis Schultz
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I will get some pictures up soon, I need to get it out for the year and set it up.
 
Brian Vagg
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Travis Schulert wrote:I have both Teaming with Microbes, and Teaming With Nutrients. Both must haves for anybodies collection.


Totally agree. Both of those books are very influential to the way we approach managing our homestead.
 
Andrew Mateskon
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A lot of what I know comes from this website, a good resource.

Microbe Organics
 
Travis Schultz
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Andrew Mateskon wrote:A lot of what I know comes from this website, a good resource.

Microbe Organics


Bookmarked, great source there. Spread that to as many people as possible.
 
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