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The concepts of compost tea doesn't make any sense to me....

 
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Over the years I have seen a lot of people posting about compost tea. I thought it was just diluted compost, but then I realized the point is to increase the microbial life using compost as a catalyst. That makes sense. But I don't understand how it will work if the microbes are put into barren/beat up/ poor soil. Often times compost tea uses sugar like molasses to boost microbial levels, but poor soil will not (in my understanding) have those same sugars to feed the microbes. So the concept seems to fall apart if there is no food for these creatures in the new environment. Wouldn't they all just die? Wouldn't adding compost to the soil have the same benefit?

I just imagine a bunch of goats dropped off in the desert and having it assumed they will just live. Can someone please help explain this to me.
 
pollinator
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The compost tea brewer is super breeding the bacteria, making them breed to very high levels (levels not found naturally in most soil) furthermore, the soil has certain families of bacteria and fungi that are going to thrive best in those conditions and dominate. But the goal of natural farming is to have as much diversity as possible. Though certain bacteria are thriving in your soil right now, by breeding out the full spectrum in your compost you can re inoculate your soil with more diversity. Where diversity thrives pathogens and un beneficial bacteria are inhibited. You are just increasing diversity with compost tea, among several other things.

Read through the Compost Tea link in my signature below, that has a bit of info you could use.

Good question by the way.
 
master pollinator
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I can imagine compost tea working if there is a lot of organic material/mulch on the surface but I also have trouble understanding how the microbes can improve raw mineral soil with little to no organic material. Are compost teas always used in concert with mulch?

 
Travis Schulert
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I can imagine compost tea working if there is a lot of organic material/mulch on the surface but I also have trouble understanding how the microbes can improve raw mineral soil with little to no organic material. Are compost teas always used in concert with mulch?



It does not matter what you have living on the soil, whatever it is, from rocks to weeds to mulch to plants and trees. Some fungi live and thrive on the rocks in the soil. Furthermore, if you just sprinkle compost tea over bare ground and do not water it into the earth, to get the microbes past the surface of the soil than most of them will just die off. Also best to apply in the evening then water it in. This is because the sun with kill them once it comes out. Sometimes in the evening if rain is expected I just use a bundle of foliage as a paint brush and dip it into my bucket of tea and throw the tea willy nilly around the garden. The idea here is that each area that it lands will have different levels of different bacteria and fungi thriving in it, and spots of the garden that got compost tea a day before, or week before will have again, different levels and layers of bacteria thriving. The goal is to keep applying continuously over the course of the growing season. This drastically reduces fungal issues like powdery mildew.

Those same bacteria will live and thrive on and under the leaves of the plants. The whole point is to increase microbial diversity, and where diversity thrives, life thrives. At least the kind of life you want thriving in your garden, because what is good for your plants and soil is good for you.

All the yeasts, lactobacillus, fungi, predatory bacteria like amoebas, protazoa, nematoads, etc. are all competing, and left unchecked certain strains will dominate, and those dominating strains will favor the growth of only certain plants and organisms. So to complete the circle of diversity, compost tea plays a big role. At least in my mind... I am a big advocate, and the visual results of using tea regularly in the garden are HUGE. Literally plants that get more tea for one reason or another tower above the same plant 5 feet away. There is a whole lot more going on there than meets the eye, and a whole lot more going on than my puny brain can explain to you. I am no expert, but I have been making tea for several years and I preach it to everyone for good reason.


 
Travis Schulert
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The earth was once rock, all rock. The first living organisms on the planet were fungi, and certain types of mycellium literally turn rock into organic matter. They say that the earth before it could sustain plant life had to first sustain millions of years of fungal life. There are fossils of 7 story tall mushrooms that once covered the earth. They SLOWLY turned that rock into soil, and because they release c02 similar to us, they were needed to get the earth ready to sustain plant life.

My point in saying this is that even adding a fungal tea to rocky mineral sand and watering it in, you are adding an element that can turn that rock and mineral into usable nutrients for the life sustaining plants that you eventually want to plant in their place. How long will it take and is it doing anything in your lifetime? I do not know, but it certainly is not going to hurt anything by increasing the diversity and life of your soil. Even if its just for cacti in the desert. The benefits are there no matter what the situation.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Travis Schultz wrote:The earth was once rock, all rock. The first living organisms on the planet were fungi, and certain types of mycellium literally turn rock into organic matter. They say that the earth before it could sustain plant life had to first sustain millions of years of fungal life. There are fossils of 7 story tall mushrooms that once covered the earth. They SLOWLY turned that rock into soil, and because they release c02 similar to us, they were needed to get the earth ready to sustain plant life.



That's why I'm thinking if we want to see results we'll need to include mulch. I don't have millions of years to wait for my garden to improve!
 
Travis Schulert
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Mulching I think should be done regardless of what soil you have or where you live. It only really helps everything, just like compost tea.
 
pollinator
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The youtube videos "One yard revolution" talks about his actual tests with compost tea, and why he stopped using them. His testing protocol was pretty good and he got no results from using compost tea at all. In fairness, he talks about the fact that his soil is already really good from adding lots of compost over the years.

I personally think Tyler and Dougan are right and you need mulch with it at a minimum. It may be that Travis' soil has enough good stuff in it to sustain the life created in the tea, but not enough to be optimal, and so he gets good results from compost tea. I would rather just put the compost directly into the garden and focus the extra time I would spend making compost tea into making more compost.
 
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I have similar experiences to Todd. Although, I don't doubt that compost teas can be beneficial. I think, like any soil amendment, they are only beneficial when there is a specific problem to be addressed.
At least for me, side by side testing has shown no difference in "tea-ed" plots vs those grown without compost tea. I skip the extra step and just add compost when it is ready, that seems to work far better, for me, than making a tea.

Of course, depending on your soil conditions, you may have a different experience, so I suggest you test and see. I strongly recommend "testing" rather than just assuming something will or will not work, as soils vary widely.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I skip compost altogether and just put raw materials on my garden and let them compost in place. But I'm super lazy.

 
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I admit: I have yet to brew one tea, so I know nothing. But damned if I cant speculate!

I used to brew beer (not very well) but got the hang of it, it led me to brewing kombucha (not much better) and most importantly - the magic of fermented foods in the diet.

I read Sepps book in which he talks about brewing tea (mostly from weeds/culls/coppice) and lets it actually ferment before applying it.
Next was a biodynamic book which Ive mostly just browsed (quite a rabbit hole) but noticed too - they also ferment certain teas.

To further tease the knot of not-knowing tea's - I cant help but assume the process of fermentation that yields up increased micro-flora and bio-available nutrition would naturally be providing the same function for the green guys.... ?

Now to play devils advocate against myself - I also suspect that the fermentation going one step too far could result in a toxic, boozy brew that might waylay ones plants with the same chemistry that keeps our college students way-laid? Hmmm.
 
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Alberta Urban Garden on YouTube has the first part of a series on compost tea. I really like the channel because he finds sources that are hopefully outside the reach of US chem AG, as well as using lab testing. He also qualifies his results with some of the possible ways that his testing could be flawed. Lab results alone don't always tell a complete story, but they can be a useful tool for figuring out what is going on in your soil when you make certain changes. The videos plus the comments can reveal some interesting information and methods used by others.

I personally try to directly bury stuff in my sand pit I call a garden. It is slowly getting better. I have used compost tea but using my own method. I would simply put some compost in a bucket and add a little bit of water from my rain barrels while I'm working outside. I then fill up a glass and dump it in at irregular intervals when I am passing by with the hope that the action of dumping it in mixes oxygen into the water. Once it was full I would use it to feed my trees. Since starting the direct burial method I haven't had much compost left to make tea with and I don't have any measured results other than my trees haven't died and appear to be growing well.

I imagine in my case that adding organic matter to my soil to retain water and nutrients is more important than compost tea since we get around 5' of rain a year which can wash nutrients through the sand and into the subsoil where some garden plants can't make much use of it.
 
Ian Rule
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A thought occurs - I also noted that in the biodynamic book there is often a 60 minute "cauldron stirring" session after adding concentrates to water.

Seems rooted in actuality... perhaps *that* inclusion of oxygen (and good ol' magic) makes a difference in the efficacy?
 
Steve Oh
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I skip compost altogether and just put raw materials on my garden and let them compost in place. But I'm super lazy.



We often do the same. It works quite well as long as we bury it to keep the critters from carting it off.
 
Dougan Nash
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Great replies so far, everyone. I think I'll primarily focus on adding compost to my soil rather than focusing on tea. I do plan on fermenting all the Bermuda grass taking over my lawn and turning it into a tea (I really hate the idea of burning weeds, I feel you lose out on so much organic material).
 
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I'm kinda the same as the rest.
I let my water set a day to age then add to barrel of weeds and compost then aerate by just pouring it up and down back and fourth and use
helps me to just keep things watered at least
 
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Compost tea, compost, and mulch (which turns into compost) and trench composting where you put the greens and browns right there in the garden, are all doing the same thing.

They increase microbial diversity, and (except for the tea) they add organic matter and humic acid, which is all good.

Some scenarios legitimately have very low microbial diversity, like a recovering corn field. While there will be some organic matter, the limited biology is probably the biggest hindrance. That might benefit more from compost tea. Plus, you are inoculating with compost tea, you're not adding bulk amendments. It would be possible to inoculate an acre with 50 gallons of compost tea.

It is quite a different job to acquire/make/spread a meaningful layer of compost on an acre. Not that you couldn't, or shouldn't. It would just be hard and expensive.

You might also change and improve the microbiology on the plant leaves directly with compost tea and reduce or preclude certain kinds of undesireable fungi problems.

If you have fantastic alive soil, it won't even notice compost tea.
 
Ian Rule
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Dougan Nash wrote: (I really hate the idea of burning weeds, I feel you lose out on so much organic material).



Agreed.
I read somewhere that if you're dealing with an invasive (lets say, H. blackberries), you can hack down a swath of them, collect and burn the slash, then make tea from the ashes... Apply this tea to the swath and theoretically the berries wont grow back there?

Id like to try this for the 'poison' oak in my garden that Im highly allergic to.... if not for the obvious, suicidal dangers of burning the stuff.
 
pollinator
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Where does the sugar for the microbes to eat come from?
Plants actively secrete tons of sugar into the soil, the same way how they secret nectar for insect to pollinate flowers.
The roots secrete sugar to fungi to trade for mineral, they do the same for good bacteria actually legumes also capture the Nitrogen fixing bacteria and force feed them sugar to trade for bio-available nitrogen.


Plants have tons of root hair (tiny roots) that only live for 10days +\- then die and become microbe food https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Root_hair

I know nature is wild.
 
Travis Schulert
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Lol I am saddened to see so many people not using compost tea because someone did some tests and didn't have the results they wanted. Another key to tea that has been left out of this conversation is the ionization effect that a vortex brewer has, and the effect that ionizing water has on the soil. Which ionizing water makes nutrients more bio-available through absorption through the cell wall.

I do not really make compost out of my garden refuse, I, like Tyler, just chop and drop my no till beds and then sheet mulch over it and plant through that. Having all that organic matter that needs to be broken down on top of each bed means that an increase in organisms is an increase in available nutrients for the plants, as well as sped up humic acid formation.

If I have stunted growth with certain plants in a bed, I concentrate the tea on them, and in a week or two they always catch up to their brothers and sisters.

I also see more compost tea being made poorly or wrong than I do seeing it made right. I have had a couple people tell me they make compost tea by putting compost in a bucket of water and letting it sit a couple days. Just because compost is in the name does not mean compost is the only ingredient. When you incorporate fermented plant extracts and beneficial indigenous microorganisms, you add a ton of life and growth hormones to your tea which you do not get with just straight compost. I also add kelp, phos, glacial rock dusts, manures, etc etc to my compost tea. I think the growth hormones concentrated in the growing tips of plants (which is what fermented plant extracts are made from, the growing tips) has a huge role to play in why I see so much growth so quickly when adding compost tea.

My compost tea has a NPK to it, which if you just use compost in water it does not. I can also breed specific families of bacteria and predatory bacteria, which make it easy to fight things like root maggots and slugs, because you can breed basically the pathogens of the garden pests, which are the amoebas, protozoas, and nematodes etc.

I mean, ultimately everyone has to find their own way, but tea done right can have amazing outcomes through ionization and microbe growth. But to each their own, so use it if it works, but dont knock it based on someone else' personal experience.
 
steward
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Another huge plus for compost tea is foliar feeding.
When your plants need a shock treatment, spraying the leaves works much quicker than trying to feed the roots via the soil.
 
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Dear Dougan,
Thanks for your interest. I think part of the reason for the many misunderstandings that abound is that with compost teas they are not just one thing, there are many different approaches which are sometimes in disagreement and very often conflated. What you  described  was actively aerated compost tea (AACT), it is very popular with the grassroots in America and hardcore permaculturalists  everywhere. You mention adding microbes to  ‘barren/beat up/poor soil/ ‘ -  Your descriptions here are the farmers attempts at remediation.  Something very important to mention at this point is that this compost tea is not a panacea on its own.  Think of it as the matches used to start a fire (you did mention catalyst – I agree), you need to do other things to keep it going, other good organic  practices such as mulching etc.  Many microorgansims are rather awesome because they have adapted to survive in extremely harsh conditions, so they have their own survival mechanisms, but the right conditions have to be developed for them to thrive and develop within resilient food webs.  You mention a load of goats dropped off in the desert, I think it’s a great analogy and in numerous ways the same but obviously on a larger physical scale.  They would do fine in the balance with a creative and resourceful agent guiding them.  

I would be interested to know Dougan if my comments have clarified things or made them more confusing. I would appreciate your feedback. Best E
touregs-and-goats.jpg
[Thumbnail for touregs-and-goats.jpg]
Goats are great and they have an intrinsic value to human society in so many ways.
 
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Travis Schulert wrote:The earth was once rock, all rock. The first living organisms on the planet were fungi, and certain types of mycellium literally turn rock into organic matter. They say that the earth before it could sustain plant life had to first sustain millions of years of fungal life. There are fossils of 7 story tall mushrooms that once covered the earth. They SLOWLY turned that rock into soil, and because they release c02 similar to us, they were needed to get the earth ready to sustain plant life.

My point in saying this is that even adding a fungal tea to rocky mineral sand and watering it in, you are adding an element that can turn that rock and mineral into usable nutrients for the life sustaining plants that you eventually want to plant in their place. How long will it take and is it doing anything in your lifetime? I do not know, but it certainly is not going to hurt anything by increasing the diversity and life of your soil. Even if its just for cacti in the desert. The benefits are there no matter what the situation.



The first organisms on earth were bacteria, fungi came along far later than the bacteria (about 5 million years later). Those formations that look like mushrooms are actually mineral deposits put there, in layers, by bacteria (they were formed much like a coral reef is formed by the coral animals) and new ones are being formed even today by bacteria.
Fungi do not break down rocks, that is the realm of bacteria (the break down is from the bacteria secreting enzymes that erode the chemical bonds that form the mineral compounds), the fungi are more the transport system of the microorganism world, the hyphae (the actual fungi) are used by most of the microbiome as if these strands were freeways allowing organisms as well as chemical and electrical messages to travel to other plants.


Redhawk
 
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Dougan Nash wrote:

I just imagine a bunch of goats dropped off in the desert and having it assumed they will just live. Can someone please help explain this to me.



The goats in our desert are thriving!

Seriously though, I use moderately fresh sugarcane cuttings (the hard outer shell removed so they can sell fresh sugarcane sticks on the street). It has enough sugar in it to be infested with ants almost immediately.

I also trench compost kitchen scraps including lots of fruit.

And I dump water from boiling pasta, potatoes, whatever else, into the trenches too . . . My bacteria should have lots of food!
 
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I can attest first hand that compost tea does indeed work, and works incredibly well, and on a large scale too boot.

Since 1988 my fields have been fertilized almost exclusively with compost tea. We use compost tea on the grass-ground (hayfields) because it has less organic matter. Since organic matter increases with grass ground, and I am already at optimum levels (and yes, too much organic matter is an issue), we want to fertilize, but not overcompensate on organic matter. Compost tea is perfect for this application. We use a 3% dairy cow manure slurry sprayed onto the fields. Incidentally, for corn ground that is tilled, we use solid dairy cow/sheep manure to maintain the organic matter in the soil. (My soil is at 7%)

Other than needing some occasional lime to sweeten our low PH soil, we maintain almost optimal soil. Nitrogen fixers eliminate our need for nitrogen, and we get enough phosphorus and potash with the compost tea.

But we really see the quality of the soil when we crop rotate. Worms are EVERYWHERE! And I mean everywhere! If you were to take a shovel and dig just one scoop, I bet you would find 3-5 nighcrawlers, it is just that thick teeming with worms. Constant applications has just made that soil alive.

I chose this picture because it shows both corn and hay fields. I am not a sheep or a cow, but I would eat either, both look so good. Compost te really works. Here is the proof.



DSCN0791.JPG
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I dont go to extremes for making compost teas --like growing  masses of comfrey or nettles to harvest and barrel brew them up----- i prefer the grow it in place or close by and do chop and drop , but some of us only have allotments or backyards and it works for them , the ones i do brew up in barrels for teas are things like ragwort and japanese knotweed plus horsetail----these buggers i wont chop and drop or even try to compost ---just in case the heap is too cold or a piece of them escapes---so i drown and ferment them into nutrients before returning back out into the soil---if theres any usefull bacteria afterwards in this ---lucky for the added bonus.
 
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Compost tea for me is a like a maintenance and/or supporting the plant stage it is in to help maintain healthy to optimum soil life and plant nutrition.

Perhaps a bit of information on soil life and soils can help.
http://culturalhealingandlife.com.www413.your-server.de/index.php?/forums/topic/112-soil-microlife/

For way to much information on and about composting and compost tea.
http://culturalhealingandlife.com.www413.your-server.de/index.php?/forums/topic/51-composting-compost-extract-compost-tea/
 
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