in the last post, we saw how to make a compost tea (the 24 hour recipe) which is essentially a way of moving bacteria and other microbes from the contents of the compost pile into a liquid that can be applied to our precious plants.
but is that the only method of improving the bacterial content of our soils? compost teas is but one route to take, as caretaker of the organic realm:
Compost Teas vs. Compost ExtractsFirst, it may be helpful to share some common terminology and practices associated with compost teas. How do compost teas differ from compost extracts or compost leachates?
Compost LeachateCompost windrow leachate—the dark-colored solution that leaches out of the bottom of the compost pile—most likely will be rich in soluble nutrients; but, in the early stage of composting it may also contain pathogens. It would be viewed as a pollution source if allowed to run off-site. Compost leachate needs further bioremediation and is not suitable or recommended as a foliar spray.
Compost ExtractCompost watery extract—made from compost suspended in a barrel of water for 7 to 14 days, usually soaking in a burlap sack—a centuries-old technique. The primary benefit of the extract will be a supply of soluble nutrients, which can be used as a liquid fertilizer.
Compost TeaCompost tea, in modern terminology, is a compost extract brewed with a microbial food source—molasses, kelp, rock dust, humic-fulvic acids. The compost-tea brewing technique, an aerobic process, extracts and grows populations of beneficial microorganisms.
Compost teas are distinguished from compost extracts both in method of production and in the way they are used. Teas are actively brewed with microbial food and catalyst sources added to the solution, and a sump pump bubbles and aerates the solution, supplying plenty of much-needed oxygen. The aim of the brewing process is to extract beneficial microbes from the compost itself, followed by growing these populations of microbes during the 24- to 36-hour brew period. The compost provides the source of microbes, and the microbial food and catalyst amendments promote the growth and multiplication of microbes in the tea. Some examples of microbial food sources: molasses, kelp powder, and fish powder. Some examples of microbial catalysts: humic acid, yucca extract, and rock dust.
Liquid Organic Extracts vs. Compost TeasBuilding on the concept of compost teas as a liquid organic extract, what are some other common organic extracts used as a liquid drench or foliar spray?
Manure TeaManure-based extracts—a soluble nutrient source made from raw animal manure soaked in water. For all practical purposes, manure tea is prepared in the same way as the compost extracts described in the preceding section. The manure is placed in a burlap sack and suspended in a barrel of water for 7 to 14 days. The primary benefit of the tea will be a supply of soluble nutrients, which can be used as a liquid fertilizer.
Herbal TeaPlant-based extracts—stinging nettle, horse tail, comfrey, clover. A common method is to stuff a barrel about three-quarters full of fresh green plant material, then top off the barrel with tepid water. The tea is allowed to ferment at ambient temperatures for 3 to 10 days. The finished product is strained, then diluted in portions of 1:10 or 1:5 and used as a foliar spray or soil drench. Herbal teas provide a supply of soluble nutrients as well as bioactive plant compounds.
Liquid ManuresMixtures of plant and animal byproducts steeped as an extract—stinging nettle, comfrey, seaweed, fish wastes, fish meal. Liquid manures are a blend of marine products (local fish wastes, seaweed extract, kelp meal) and locally harvested herbs, soaked and fermented at ambient temperatures for 3 to 10 days. Liquid manures are prepared similarly to herbal tea—the material is fully immersed in the barrel during the fermenting period, then strained and diluted and used as a foliar spray or soil drench. Liquid manures supply soluble nutrients and bioactive compounds.
SummaryCompost teas and herbal teas are tools that can be made on the farm to enhance crop fertility and to inoculate the phyllosphere and rhizosphere with soluble nutrients, beneficial microbes, and the beneficial metabolites of microbes.
CautionWheareas raw animal manures are used as a compost windrow feedstock, the composting process—thermophyllic heating to 135-160° F for 10-15 days—assures pathogen reduction. The raw organic matter initially present in the compost windrow undergoes a complete transformation, with humus as an end product. Any pathogens associated with raw manures will be gone. So caution is extended: Manure teas are NOT the same thing as compost teas or compost extracts. Because of concerns over new pathogenic strains of E. coli, the author advises growers to reconsider manure teas and/or to work with a microbial lab to ensure a safe, worthwhile product.
references above are available from NCAT - National Centre Appropriate Technology