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What is Compost Tea?

Compost Tea is a naturally aerated liquid solution brewed in a compost tea brewer that is teeming with beneficial microorganisms (all species of bacteria, protozoa, and fungi) and soluble nutrients extracted form compost.

This can be applied directly to the leaf surface of a plant as a foliar spray in the summer months or as a soil drench in early spring or late fall. The brewing process can be likened to brewing beer or wine and, like these same processes, requires care and the best tea-making equipment.

A healthy program of applying compost tea in the orchard allows the plants to thrive in a healthy soil which is matched to the needs of the plants. In the case of Haskap, its needs are a fungal dominated soil because it originates from the forests edge.

Why use Compost Tea in a Haskap orchard?

We use compost tea in our Haskap orchards for two reasons:

  • Add microbial life into the soil or onto the foliage of plants.
  • Add soluble nutrients to the plant’s foliage or soil to feed the organisms and the plants. We use compost tea any time the mineral content or organisms in the soil are not at optimum levels. We determine this by testing the soil’s biological and mineral content.

All modern chemical-based pesticides and many synthetic fertilizers kill a wide range of the soil’s beneficial microorganisms (in particular fungi) that encourage plant growth. Compost tea improves life and the structure of the soil and on plant surfaces. Therefore, the advantage of high quality compost teas is it is not only very cost effective, but inoculates the Haskap’s leaf surface and its soil with beneficial microorganisms, instead of destroying them.

Benefits of using of Compost Tea in a Haskap orchard

  • Increase plant growth as a result of protecting foliage with beneficial organisms, preventing disease-causing organisms from weakening the plant.
  • Increase plant growth as a result of improving nutrient retention in the soil, and reduce fertilizer use.
  • Improve plant nutrition by increasing nutrient availability in the root system and amounts that the plant needs.
  • Reduce the negative impacts of chemical based pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers on beneficial microorganisms (in the case of Haskap – fungi) in the soil.
  • Reduce water loss, by improving the soil’s capacity to retain water.
  • Improve and build a better soil structure. So that all organisms in healthy soil are in balance. You can not have just bacteria, you must also have fungi, protozoa, nematodes and microarthropods in the soil.

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What is in Compost Tea?

Tea contains all the soluble nutrients extracted from the compost plus additional microbe foods, as well as contains all the species of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes in the compost. Not all the individuals in the compost, but representatives of all the species in the compost are found in the compost tea. Making sure only beneficial species are present in the compost is therefore critical.

Foods extracted from the compost or added to the tea grow beneficial organisms. A large diversity of foods and organisms are extracted from compost. The beneficial bacteria and fungi growing on the compost foods, along with the added specific microbe foods, results in growing many individuals of many different species. Molecular diversity analysis is required, however, to assess even a small portion of the species present in compost tea.

Only aerobes are desired. Anaerobes make alcohols that kill plant tissues very rapidly. Putrifying organic matter, which is anaerobic, also contains organisms, many which are not beneficial for your plants or your soils.

The making of a good brew

In order to have the organisms in the tea, brewing conditions must be correct. ?The biology that is active and performing a function will be very different, depending on:

  1. Temperature of brewing
  2. The foods added to the brew
  3. Oxygen concentrations in the brewer during production
  4. The initial compost used, and therefore which species are present to be extracted (highly diverse inoculum compost is a pre-requisite to highly diverse “compost tea”)
  5. The length of time tea is brewed

We are often asked about compost tea receipes and usual responce is to recomend Compost Junkies Ultimate recipe listed below.

In the first year we recommend trying to brew as diverse and balanced (batcteria and fungal ratio around one) a tea as possible and letting Nature select what she needs at that given time. The more diverse the set of microbes in your tea, the better chance you’re going to provide your soils with the needed beneficial organisms. Once this has been achived you can alter the tea type to the specific needs of your crop or plants.

Receipe Source: Compost Junkie

Annual plants, such as vegetables, prefer a more bacterial-dominated soil, whereas, trees prefer a more fungal-dominated soil. Therefore, you would want to brew compost tea that is more bacterial-dominated for your vegetables, and tea that is more fungal-dominated for your trees.

To complicate things a little further, the type of tea you make, may also depend on the type of soil in your garden; so you must consider two variables: plant type and soil type. This may seem a little confusing at the moment, but just keep reading and soon it will all make sense.

There is one thing to always remember when working with any compost tea recipe: mother nature is very forgiving. If, by accident, you apply a fungal-dominated tea to a bacteria-loving plant, you’re not going to harm it; However, your plant won’t benefit as much as if you had applied a bacterial-dominated tea.

Okay, let’s get started, If you know what type of plant your are growing, than it’s easier to determine which ingredients to include in your compost tea recipe.

 

Type of Plant Type of Tea
Most brassicas Highly Bacterial
Vegetables, Grasses Moderately Bacterial
Berries Balanced Bacteria to Fungi
Deciduous Trees Moderately Fungal
Coniferous Trees Highly Fungal

 

What if your specific plant is not included in the above list? Simply find the type of plant that is most similar to the one you want to grow, and use it as a guide. For example, if you want to apply compost tea to a bed of perennial flowers, we would suggest using a more balanced (equal bacteria to fungi) compost tea recipe.

Without going into too much detail about specific teas for specific soil types, we would just like to point out two important things:

First, if you’re growing any type of plant in really sandy soils, you would benefit from applying fungal-dominated teas. Fungi help to build soil structure, which is always needed in sandy soils. Otherwise, we suggest you cater your tea to the type of plant, as shown in the table above.

Second, don’t be afraid to experiment. If you apply several bacterial-dominated teas, and nothing seems to happen, try a fungal tea for a couple applications.

The Most Important Ingredient

The most important ingredient in determining which type of tea you produce is your compost. Your compost will ALWAYS be the biggest factor in determining whether you brew a balanced tea, or a tea dominated by bacteria or fungi. If your compost doesn’t have any fungi in it, and you don’t add any, then there is no way your finished compost tea will have fungi in it.

So how do you make each type of compost?

Each of the different types of compost are determined by their initial ingredients. Bacterial-dominated compost begins with materials that have a lower carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N); whereas, fungal-dominated compost begins with materials that have a higher C:N. Said another way, the more fungi you want in your compost, the more woody materials you are going to have to include.

For example, bacterial compost can be made using 30% dry straw (brown material), 45% alfalfa (green material), and 25% manure; whereas, fungal compost can be made using 45% dry straw, 30% alfalfa, and 25% manure. If you would like to create a more balanced compost, we suggest using 35% dry straw, 35% alfalfa, and 30% manure. To learn more about proper carbon to nitrogen ratios, please visit our compost ingredients page.

The Common Compost Tea Recipe Ingredients

Ingredient Feeds Ingredient Feeds
White Sugar Bacteria Maple Syrup Bacteria
Corn Syrup Bacteria Cane Sugar Bacteria
Molasses Bacteria/Fungi Fish Emulsion Bacteria
Fruit Pulp Bacteria/Fungi Fish Hydrolysate Fungi
Kelp Bacteria/Fungi Ground Oatmeal Fungi
Rock Dusts Bacteria/Fungi Yucca Fungi
Humic Acids Bacteria/Fungi Soybean Meal Fungi

 

 Note – Fungi like to attach to the surfaces of various ingredients while they grow. Some of the above ingredients feed bacteria, and also provide surfaces for fungi to attach too (e.g. kelp).

Compost Tea’s Ultimate Recipe –  Please note, the amounts indicated in the following recipe are intended for a 5-gallon brewer.

– 1/4 cup bacterial-dominated compost (usually vermicastings)
– 1/4 cup fungal-dominated compost
– 1/4 cup garden soil
– 1/4 cup forest soil
– 1.5 ounce of soluble unsulphured black-strap molasses
– 1 ounce maple syrup
– 1 ounce of soluble kelp
– 1 ounce humic acids
– 1 ounce fish hydrolysate
– 3 tablespoons rock dust

LaHave comment: If you do have a fungal-dominated compost to hand, we would replace it with forest soil.

Temperature

Temperature during brewing should be related to the temperature of the soil, or of the leaf surface. If tea is applied in the late autumn, when temperatures are cool, it may be wiser to apply a tea where the organisms are mostly asleep, or that are selected to grow on plant residues and active during the cooler periods. Selection for this ability would be enhanced by addition of plant material to the brew, such as oatmeal, alfalfa meal, etc.

Foods

Foods added to a brew will select for particular species that can use those foods. Do you want a bacterial tea? Add sugars, simple proteins, and simple carbohydrates. If a fungal brew is desired, add more complex foods, such as plant material (oatmeal, soybean meal, flour), humic acids, fulvic acids (which will release bacterial foods after fungi begin the process of decomposition). Predators (especially protozoa) can be enhanced by adding hay (cut green and dried), or by soaking hay for a few days and adding the water to the tea brew.

Oxygen

Oxygen is perhaps the parameter that has been least understood in centuries of tea-brewing. Most beneficial organisms, the organisms that promote the processes that plants need in order to be productive, grow without stress, and therefore have the greatest resistance to disease, are aerobic organisms. To enhance this community of beneficials, tea must remain aerobic.

Compost Tea Supplies

We recommend you check out our local compost tea ingredient and other soil amendments supplier – LaHave River Berry Farms.
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Compost Tea Equipment

We recommend Peter Schmidt at Compostwerks for all your related compost tea and spraying equipment needs. Compostwerks is your source for organic products and equipment designed for the organic land care practitioner. You will not find another resource with the capabilities, experience and pricing that they have to offer.

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