(fwd) Compost Tea

Lawrence F. London, Jr. lflondon at mindspring.com
Wed Jun 21 23:10:12 EDT 2000

On Thu, 15 Jun 2000 23:59:24 -0700, in alt.sustainable.agriculture
jko at xprt.net (Jeff Owens) wrote:

                      Compost Tea FAQ

This FAQ still needs work so comments are welcome.  I
would like to see the Biodynamics information expanded
and better information on how different tea's perform.
Anyone having ideas email jeff at jko at xprt.net.

What is compost tea?

  A wide variety of organic slurries are called compost
  tea.  Generally, the tea contains living organisms which
  provide useful functions.  Since it is made from organic
  materials it can also function as a fertilizer.

Is compost tea based on science or folklore?

  Compost tea has a long history of use and does contain
  much folklore.  The preparations used by BioDynamic
  farmers could be considered compost teas.  In the last
  few years some of the claims for compost tea have been
  validated and new ideas introduced.  All indicator
  suggest compost tea has a significant future in agriculture.

Why do we need compost tea?

  The uses for compost tea are still emerging but here is
  a partial list:

    1. foliar feeding
    2. soil pest control
    3. disease control
    4. soil revitalization

  Orchard magazines are talking about controlling soil
  life using tea's along with apple scab and fungus.  Garden
  magazines describe booster sprays for mid season.  The
  list of uses are long as are the types of compost tea.

How does compost tea work?

  It is believed that compost tea works in many ways.  Since
  it is a soup of diverse organisms the result can also be
  very diverse.  If the tea finds a niche it can fill then
  it will.  In nature everything eats a neighbor and adding
  new neighbors can change the ecology quickly.  Anyway,
  that is one view.  The scientific view might focus on
  beneficial nematodes and how they attack cutworms, root
  weevils, and other soil pests.

If tea is that great why isn't everyone using it?

  The use of compost tea is growing and new companies selling
  specialized products appear each day.  Many garden catalogs
  are now carrying various teas.  The problem is that each
  site is different and the variety of possible tea's is almost
  infinite.  We have begun to open up the old efficient farming
  issue again.  Do you make teas for a specific function and
  manipulate the ecology or do you build a diverse healthy
  garden an let it regulate itself.  The later view would
  be more sustainable and less interested in a large array
  of specialized products.  The efficient farming approach
  would want tea's to address specific problems and simple
  rules for using tea's with various crops.

What approach fits sustainable gardening and agriculture?

  The use of compost tea is ideal for sustainable farming
  and gardening.  It trades local labor for imported products
  to fight pests or increase fertility.  It also connects
  a farmer with the soil and rewards careful observation.
  The gardener spends time brewing tea, thinking about
  soil and plants, identifying optimum spraying times,
  and developing a local art.  Compost tea can be part of
  local recycling and use of compost piles.
Are there easy methods to make compost tea?

  The process of making tea can use complex fermentation
  equipment or be the byproduct of other organic activity.
  Some people use the liquid from worm bins or the liquid
  from composting toilets, but most small scale tea production
  is from fermenting finished compost in water.  Another easy
  approach is to ferment organic materials in a large tub
  of water.  This process can utilize summer temperatures
  to speed the fermentation and dark containers to increase
  solar heating.  For most sites an easy method of making
  tea can be found which utilizes existing materials
  and fits the climate. 

What ingredients can be used?

  Most organic materials can be used to make tea.  Teas
  made from animal manures are preferred for some applications
  but other teas also work.  We still have a lot to learn
  about ways to brew tea.  Some of the materials mentioned
  often are:

    animal manure    fish emulsion          kitchen scraps
    molasses         citrus rinds           grass clippings
    kelp             comfry leaves          weeds
    compost          mushroom compost       nettles
    seaweed          worm castings          urine
    cider vinegar    straw animal bedding

How is compost tea made?

  Quick tea can be made by mixing one gallon of finished
  compost with 5 gallons of water and letting sit for 10
  to 14 days.  The ideal temperature for this is somewhere
  over 50 degrees. Probably temperatures of 80 degrees would
  reduce the time and increase the fermentation.
  Commercial tea production usually requires a tank with
  attached bubbler and enough heat to keep the mixture at
  around 70 degrees.  This method requires 2-3 days.

  Home brew systems can be much simpler.  Any tank
  can be filled with water and a started mixture
  added along with organic matter.  In some cases it
  is enough to just dump in organic matter and let
  nature takes its course.  This can take months.

  A very simple biodigester can be made from two garbage
  cans and works well for small urban sites.  It provides
  both compost and tea.  This is described at the
  Cornell composting site (see references).

What are some common recipes?

 Simple Tea:  1. place aged compost in cloth bag and soak
                 in tub with 5 parts water.  After 2 or more
                 weeks remove the bag.

              2. Mix 2 tbls molasses, 2 tbls seaweed extract,
                 1 tbls apple cider, 1 gallon of water.  Ferment
                 for awhile.

              3. In late spring fill a barrel with comfry or nettles,
                 or other greens.  Place barrel in warm spot and
                 wait till well aged and stinks.  Strain and use

              4. Fill tub with 5 parts water to one part urine.
                 let it age for two weeks in warm spot or use

 Complex tea: 1. Obtain a fish tank bubbler and method to keep
                 tea container at around 70 degrees.  Mix 5 parts
                 water with 1 part compost, 4 oz of molasses, and
                 kelp extract.  Ferment and bubble for about 2
                 days.  Strain and spray on trees and plants.

Where can more information be found?

Compost Council of Canada

Good article on state of art compost tea

Simple compost tea recipe

Cornell compost home page

garden ideas including compost tea.


This FAQ is maintained by jeff owens.
Please send FAQ comments and additions to:
   jko at xprt.net, http://www.xprt.net/~jko
   or to the ecopath discusson list at ecopath at csf.colorado.edu


Lawrence F. London, Jr. Venaura Farm ICQ#27930345
lflondon at mindspring.com  london at metalab.unc.edu
metalab.unc.edu/intergarden InterGarden
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metalab.unc.edu/intergarden/orgfarm AGINFO

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