• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Root Exudates vs. Sprayed Teas

 
Marco Banks
Posts: 398
Location: Los Angeles, CA
31
books chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur trees urban woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I realize that I am setting up an either/or false dichotomy from the outset, but my question is: which is more beneficial to long-term soil health, feeding the micro-herd food web and enhancing plant growth? If you had to choose one, would it be putting your efforts into brewing and spraying compost tea (or any other variation of teas people make -- comfrey, etc.), or would it be focusing your efforts on planting a rich diversity of cover crops, companion plants and plant guilds, so as to pump root exudates into the soil?

Foliar spray teas are applied directly to the plants, or can be feed into the root systems of plants by watering with them. It requires time and effort to manufacture them, filter them, spray them, but the benefits seem to be quite immediate, and the long-term impact upon soil health is also observable over time.

Root exudates also provide extensive benefits to soil health, but their impact isn't seen as quickly. It may take a year or two of cover-cropping, no-till planting, as well as chopping and dropping before you see better soil aggregation and plant response. Unless you are mindful about closely observing, often you can't really tell that much is happening below the surface—the soil food web and bacterial community does its work silently and invisibly. The roots are buried in the soil, so it's impossible to see the bacteria and fungi being feed by the sugars being secreted into the root zone.

So -- choose one. (Recognizing that many of you put a great deal of effort into both). If you had to give your energy to one technique to improve your garden/food forest/orchard, what would it be and why?
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 1992
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
152
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
For me, making teas and other things to spray on plants to make them grow is just like buying chemicals and using them. Both are artificial means to get plants to grow.

I used to make teas and other things for enhancing plant growth/ health, this was when I was a commercial nurseryman working for my mother.
Now it just takes to much time and effort to go through the motions, today I simply use the compost the plants provide after harvest is completed (chop and drop).
The only "additives" I use now are to increase bacterial and fungal growth, density in the soil, even then, these items come from our land so I suppose they are not truly additives but rather redistributions of what is already here, just not exactly where I need them.

Now-a-days I try to not think like the scientist I became in the white eyes world of colleges and their degrees.
Now I work with mother earth and use her methods for most all things (Human poop being one area I can't duplicate natures ways and so have to use "the standard methods" of dealing with this item).
I grow cover crops (trying to keep to those that already can be found in my farms area rather than import seeds to do the same job the local plants can do seems like a waste of money.
I do plan on growing some items like comfrey, that are not localized but they will be sequestered so as to keep them from escaping to the wild, most of this sort of plant importing is for medicinal uses only.

I would have to put myself into the category of soil health builder over fertilizer maker/ user.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9456
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
163
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Since I want to be growing a diversity of plants anyway, and like to avoid extra work, I'm going with a diversity of plants, not special preparations.

 
Michael Newby
gardener
Posts: 646
Location: Mount Shasta, CA Zone 8a Mediterranean climate
112
books chicken duck forest garden greening the desert hugelkultur trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I would say that it is going to depend a lot on your land. If the land is terribly degraded to the point that soil is lifeless dirt then some judicious use of compost teas might be worth it to help kick-start the soil life that supports the plant life.

Once there's even moderate plant cover I feel like I get more returns for my efforts from just focusing on increasing plant diversity and doing regular chop-and-drop routine.

Both techniques are just tools in the permaculture toolbox and like tools they're great when used for their right purpose, silly and wasteful when used for the wrong thing.

 
Marco Banks
Posts: 398
Location: Los Angeles, CA
31
books chicken food preservation forest garden hugelkultur trees urban woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'll weigh in on my own question.

I messed around with making compost tea and comfrey tea for a couple of years. It's a LOT of work. My totally non-scientific side-by-side trials didn't really show that much benefit (if any). Initially, I thought that using the compost tea as a foliar spray seemed to make the plants perk up, but after a few days, I couldn't tell the difference. I had a couple of rows of corn, one of which was sprayed weekly for a month, and the other not sprayed at all. Upon harvest, the sprayed corn didn't yield any larger ears than the non-sprayed. I would spray my already healthy looking trees --- and if it helped, it wasn't as if they suddenly jumped up in a way that was significant.

I'm not saying that compost tea spraying isn't effective, but in my experience, I just didn't see any discernible difference.

As for using compost tea to stimulate soil microbial activity, that makes much more sense. However, since I deep mulch throughout the food-forest with wood chips (Eden method), every rain event is, in essence, a compost tea dousing for the soil. After laying a new layer of wood chips down for the past 16 years, there is so much microbial and fungal activity in the soil that any additional boost given by the compost tea is essentially not necessary.

However, I've become a huge cover crop fan in this same time period. In the summer, every empty space is planted with veggies. It's tough to find enough space to plant everything that I start in pots. All those plants are putting out exudates. Once October and November come along, most of those summer crops have been harvested, and a thick cover crop with 10 or more species goes into the ground. I have a hillside that is difficult to do very much with because it's pretty steep, but I've got a 15 fruit trees back there (avocados, peaches, figs, asian pears, nectarines, cherries). Between the cover crops and the sweet potatoes that volunteer back there, the bio mass is very significant, and there is a living root pumping exudates into the soil from November through May. Then, throughout the summer and fall, vining crops are allowed to run wild back there, and additional wood chips are laid down in any open space.

Between the chop and drop bio-mass produced by the winter cover crops (which regularly grow 4 or 5 feet high), the wood chips that I lay down by the ton/truck load, and the compost that is generated for use in potting soil and to prep holes where things are being planted, the entire third-acre is basically covered with composting plant material. The roots of hundreds of plants are busy building soil life. I don't feel the need to go to all the work making compost tea any more.
 
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!