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Bacteria and fungi – the WHOLE diversity of these organisms, not just one or five or 20 species, but the whole 25,000 or more that could potentially be present in good compost - retain nutrients in the compost, and ultimately, in your soil too. Or on your leaf surfaces, if you could somehow get compost to stick to leaves. Except, that is possible, if you turn the compost into compost tea – see the sections on compost tea!

Protozoa and nematodes – the good guy nematodes only please! – then mineralize nutrients from the retained nutrients held by the bacteria and fungi. In compost, these mineralized nutrients serve to help other organisms grow and utilize the carbons sources in the organic matter put in to the compost pile.

Bacteria and fungi build micro- and macro-aggregates in the compost as well, and the protozoa and nematodes help build the larger pores in compost, so within a week or so, if you have the right biology in the compost, air passageways and water-infiltration-hallways have been built by the organisms. Turning becomes less and less critical as the biology grows and forms structure for you.

If the compost pile can be left alone, and you have a good set of local microarthropods or earthworms that can move into the pile, then they will move into the pile and set up housekeeping too, stimulating the growth of the fungi, and building structure, improving aeration, aggregation, and taking care of any pathogens in the pile.

Vermicompost, or composting using worms instead of heat, shifts the species of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes as compared to thermal composting, and generally, worm-compost contains some extremely beneficial bacterial and fungal species that are in lower densities in thermal compost. The worms quite clearly enhance certain beneficial bacterial and fungal species. Worm compost is also generally much higher in protozoa, and often have quite complex aggregation patterns that result in a great range of food resources for the beneficial species in the compost.

The dynamic, living system in compost is very influenced by the foods you choose to put into the compost pile, by the biology on the organic matter going into your pile, and by rain, wind, heat, sunlight, and pollution that occurs while you are composting. Only if some disturbance harms the community of beneficial organisms in compost will disease be able to get foothold in the pile.

Understanding compost health requires knowing:

what organisms should be present (community analysis),
how many are present (total biomass of each group), and
how many should be functioning (active biomass).
If anything has been harmed or reduced, or put out-of-balance during the composting process, you either have to start over again, or use a good compost tea to replenish the lost organisms.

Plants depend on beneficial microorganisms in the following ways:

to protect them from pathogens,
to retain nutrients in the soil so they do not leach from the root zone,
to cycle nutrients into plant available forms (both predator-prey and mycorrhizal fungi function to these ends),
to improve uptake of soil or foliar nutrients,
to break down pollutants in the soil, on on above ground plant surfaces or around the roots, and
to build the air passageways, hallways, lving rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, and swimming pools that allow air and water to move into the soil, and to be retained so roots can grow as deep into the soil as physiologically possible, and obtain water and nutrients all year long, regardless of drought.
If the organisms that perform these benefits are missing, they need to be replaced.

The food web in compost will not contain many of the higher level predators if the compost is turned often. But as time from last turn increases, and there is a source of the beneficial organisms to colonize the pile, the higher trophic level, predator organisms will colonize, survive and grow in the compost pile.

Pests in the compost pile need to be discouraged by the habitat built by the biology in the pile. A good compost should be resistant to any diseases moving into the pile, because the beneficials have fully occupied the pile. If something happens to favor the growth of pests, however, then diseases or pests may be selected, and take over the pile. Biology is always a process, never totally stable, never something you can just ignore.

Factors important in making compost:

The starting materials
Commercial composting
i. Quality
ii. Quantity
Back-yard composting
i. Quality
ii. Quantity
Aeration – chunkiness and aggregation
Commercial composting
Back-yard composting
The Starting Materials
Do you want the final compost to be bacterial, or fungal? Are you making thermal compost, or worm compost? Do you want to be finished in 6 weeks, or can you take more time?

You have to know these answers in order to select for the right kinds of starting materials. We can reach the same end-point – from the plant’s point of view – with any composting approach you want to take. From the point-of-view of the microbiology of the compost, each stick of wood, each leaf of each plant, each different kind of material you add in will change the species composition of the compost pile.

From a human point of view, what level of resolution do we need to know?

We don’t need to know the precise names of all the organisms in the compost pile. Just like a human city, we don’t need to know the first and last names of each human in the city in order to be able to know if that city is a good place to live. Is it functioning properly?

We need to know if the diversity of bacteria is adequate, if there is enough bacterial activity so the functions of nutrient retention, disease-competition and microaggregate building are going to be performed adequately. Fungal diversity needs to be adequate too, so the functions of the fungi are carried out properly. So, we need to know active bacterial biomass, total bacterial biomass, active fungal biomass, and total fungal biomass in order to know if the compost is good for the plant we want to grow.

There are minimal levels of activity and total bacterial biomass, active and total fungal biomass that are needed regardless of plant type, and then we can change whether the compost will be more fungal or more bacterial, by adding in foods that shift fungal or bacterial growth, just as you put the compost out on the soil, or use it to make compost tea.

To heat or not-to-heat?

Heat in a thermal pile is the result of the growth of bacteria and fungi. The more rapidly bacteria and fungi grow, the faster the pile will generate heat. You have to have the right ratios of carbon and nitrogen, but all the rest of the nutrients must be adequate so these other nutrients are not limiting either. But generally, in plant material, all the other nutrients are in good amount, it is the C:N ratio that will determine how hot the pile will get.

These ratios, the proper way to alter the relative amounts of high nitrogen plant material to not-high nitrogen plant material to low nitrogen plant material is explained in the compost book.

The compost biology book also explains why with back-yard composting, the ratio of high N to not-high N to low N has to be different. With back-yard composting, we only have to turn once after the pile has gotten started, but with commercial composting, we have to turn more often.

The need for proper “chunky” material is also explained, as well as how to aerate the pile. Again, back-yard is quite different from commercial conditions.

There are any factors that can be worked with to make compost be what your plants need, and that will help you reduce, and most likely end entirely, your reliance on toxic chemicals in order to raise high yields of fruits and vegetables. Let us help you do that.
Extract from Soil food web
Check out the Foodweb in Compost book now available.

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Replies to This Discussion

Apparently the best carbon to nitrogen ratio is 30: 1.
Anything hard and woody is basically just carbon. Anything green and soft, and also manure are high in nitrogen. (Note green leaves have carbon as well and are not as high in nitrogen as manure. The lusher the leaves the more nitrogen, generally. Also legume leaves are higher in nitrogen than other types of leaves).
Scarlett, basically right manures also vary, eg,
Cow manure is microbially rich and a good N:C ratio 20 to 28-1
Horse manure N:C is around .8 to 1 more organic matter high carbon
Sheep/goats roughly = components
Chicken depends on how much saw dust or straw is in the mix but always good phosphorous content
The longer the manure has aged and the more carbonous the organic matter mix the more N will be used to break it down........
It is possible to inoculate with N fixing bacteria or before spreading load it up with legumes and before flowering, chop the legumes into the composted manure, and then spread or incorporate into your garden this will have the effect of injecting natural nitrogen nodules into the mix.......
generally chicken or cow is the best..........................
The reason the legume leaves are high is the symbiotic relationship between the N fixing bacteria and the plant, the plant doesn't fix N as such its the colonising bacteria that live with the plant, but a well colonised plant will be high in N especially in the leaves.
yes, that sounds right :)
Compost tea making
Manure Tea
Manure-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 Tea
Plant-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 Manures
Mixtures of plant and animal byproducts seeped 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.

Summary: Compost 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.

Caution: Wheareas raw animal manures are used as a compost windrow feedstock, the composting process thermophyllic heating to 45-60c 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.

Methods of Compost Tea Production
Bucket-Fermentation Method
Passive compost tea is prepared by immersing a burlap sack filled with compost into a bucket or tank, stirring occassionally. Usually the brew time is longer, from 7 to 10 days. This is the method that dates back hundreds of years in Europe, and is more akin to a compost watery extract than a brewed and aerated compost tea.

Bucket-Bubbler Method
The equipment setup and scale of production are similar to the bucket method, except that an aquarium-size pump and air bubbler are used in association with microbial food and catalyst sources added to the solution as an amendment. Since aeration is critical, as many as three sump pumps may be used in a bucket simultaneously.

With homemade compost tea brewing, a compost sock is commonly used as a filter-strainer. Ideally, the mesh size will strain compost particulate matter but still allow beneficial microbes including fungal hyphae and nematodes to migrate into solution. Single-strand mesh materials such as nylon stockings, laundry bags, and paint bags are some of the materials being used; fungal hyphae tend to get caught in polywoven fabrics. If burlap is used, it should be aged burlap.

Trough Method
Large-scale production of compost teas employs homemade tanks and pumps. An 8- or 12-inch-diameter PVC pipe is cut in half, drilled full of holes, and lined with burlap. Compost is placed in this makeshift trough. The PVC trough is supported above the tank, several feet in the air. The tank is filled with water, and microbial food sources are added as an amendment. A sump pump sucks the solution from the bottom of the tank and distributes the solution to a trickle line running horizontally along the top of the PVC trough filled with compost. As the solution runs through the burlap bags containing the compost, a leachate is created which then drops several feet through the air back into the open tank below. A sump pump in the bottom of the tank collects this tea and distributes it back through the water line at the top of the trough, and so on. Through this process, which lasts about seven days, the compost tea is recirculated, bubbled, and aerated. The purpose of the microbial food source is to grow a large population of beneficial microorganisms.

Commercial Tea Brewers
Commercial equipment is available for the production of brewed compost teas (see a list of suppliers below). Usually there is a compost sack or a compost leachate basket with drainage holes, either of which are used to hold a certain volume of compost. The compost-filled container is placed in a specially designed tank filled with chlorine-free water. Microbial food sources are added to the solution. A pump supplies oxygen to a specially-designed aeration device which bubbles and aerates the compost tea brewing in the tank.

Summary: Depending on your scale of production and the level of financial resources available to purchase commercial brewing equipment vs. making some kind of homemade brewer, there are several methods to choose from. Research at Soil Foodweb, Inc. in Corvallis, Oregon has shown that differences exist in the beneficial attributes of compost teas, with commercial tea brewers producing the greatest numbers and diversity of beneficial microorganisms.
Further Web Resources
Understanding Compost Tea
Vicki Bess, BioCycle, October 2000

Time for (Compost) Tea in the Northwest
Adrienne Touart, BioCycle, October 2000

Brewing Up Solutions To Pest Problems
Lisa Wickland, Todd Murray and Joyce Jimerson, BioCycle, March 2001

Evaluating Microbiology of Compost
Vicki Bess, BioCycle, May 1999

Using Compost To Control Plant Diseases
Tom De Ceuster and Harry Hoitink, BioCycle, June 1999

Compost Microbiology
Compost Microbiology and the Soil Food Web
California Integrated Waste Management Board

Microbial Activity and Diversity of Soils and Composts
Vicki Bess, BBC Laboratories,Tempe, AZ

Dr. Elaine Ingham: The Soil Foodweb & Compost Teas
The Soil Foodweb - Ezine Articles
Elaine Ingham, Soil Foodweb, Inc.

Brewing Compost Tea
Elaine Ingham; A Kitchen Gardener reprint

Web Resource Collections on Soil Biology
Sustainable Soil Management: Web Links to Make Your Worms Happy!
Steve Diver, ATTRA

Compost Specialists: David Granatstein & Harry Hoitink
Suppressing Plant Diseases with Compost
David Granatstein; The Compost Connection for Washington Agriculture, No. 5, October 1997

Foliar Disease Control Using Compost Tea
David Granatstein, The Compost Connection for Western Agriculture, No. 8, January 1999

Compost Teas and Liquid Humus
David Granatstein, CERWA

Controlling the Compost Process: Compost-Amended Potting Mixes
Ohio State University, Fact Sheet CDFS-160
H. A. J. Hoitink, M. J. Boehm, J. E. Heimlich

Compost and Disease Suppression
Bibliography on Compost for Disease Suppression
Chloe Ringer, USDA Soil Microbial Lab

Disease Suppressive Potting Mixes
Steve Diver, ATTRA

Sustainable Management of Soil-borne Plant Diseases
Preston Sullivan, ATTRA

Suppressing Plant Diseases with Compost
David Granatstein; The Compost Connection for Washington Agriculture, No. 5, October 1997

On-Farm Composting: Plant Disease Control / On-Farm Composting - A Review of the Literature
Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development

Composts for Disease Suppression UConn Integrated Pest Management

Microbial Ecology of Compost-induced Disease Suppression
Eric Nelson, et al.; Proceedings of the 5th International PGPR Workshop

Disease Suppressive Compost as an Alternative to Methyl Bromide Methyl Bromide Alternative
Case Study, EPA 430-R-97-030 10 Case Studies, Volume 3, September 1997
wow fantastic :)
Thanks for the information overload ;) - so do I need to go out and buy some bubblers for my liquid fertiliser/ compost tea/ manure tea?

At the moment I have chicken manure, older broccoli leaves, compost & water in an old fashioned black plastic garbage bin filled up with water - no sacks used, just all chucked in and intend to stir weekly. When the comfrey (finally got some) grows a bit I will add some, and intend to keep adding miscellaneous 'stuff' as the brew gets older and keep it topped up with water. As always you need to spell it out for me - what can I do to make it better?

On a side issue, what is 'bugs' in the scheme of things - is it similar or completely different? Come on A - give the newcomers the benefit of your huge store of knowlege!!
Ok D, the em bugs are a greater mix through diversity than compost tea's are able to deliver.
Em will stop the teas going to rot and kick start the process, but the plants will create greater colonisation of specific groups of bacteria and fungi..........

Don't continually add to a tea, stockpile ingredients make the tea and use it up, then repeat the process

Yes cheep fish tank aerator's will help a lot.

I am leaving for Sydney in the morning until Sunday but will list the common plant types and the benefits of each in teas, when I get back.
Have fun
D, as promised this is the first instalment on plants for teas.............
I have used the BD knowledge but the plans without preping will give the same sort of outcomes as teas...........
In reality, herbal teas usually consist of one
fermented plant extract, while liquid manures
are made by fermenting a mixture of herb plants
in combination with fish or seaweed extracts.
The purpose of herbal teas and liquid manures
are many fold; here again, they perform dual
roles by supporting biological as well as dynamic
processes on the farm; i.e., source of soluble
plant nutrients; stimulation of plant growth;
disease-suppression; carrier of cosmic and
earthly forces. To reflect their multi-purpose
use, they are sometimes referred to as immune building
plant extracts, plant tonics, biotic
substances, and bio stimulants.
Further insight into foliar-applied plant extracts,
liquid manures, and compost teas can be
understood by viewing biological farming
practices in the way they influence the
rhizosphere or phyllosphere. (Those microbially rich
regions surrounding the root and leaf
surfaces). Herbal teas and liquid manures aim
to influence the phyllosphere; composts, tillage,
and green manures influence the rhizosphere.
In addition to physical modification of the leaf
surface to inhibit pathogen spore germination
or the promotion of antagonistic (beneficial)
microbes to compete against disease-causing
organisms (pathogens), foliar-applied biotic
extracts can sometimes initiate a systemic
whole plant response known as induced
Horsetail tea is extracted from the common
horsetail (Equisetum arvense), a plant especially
rich in silica. Horsetail (not so easily obtained these days) is best seen as a
prophylactic (disease-preventing, not
disease-curing) spray with a mild
fungus-suppressing effect. You
can prepare an extract by covering dry plants
with water and allowing them to ferment in a
sunny place for about ten days.
Stinging nettle tea is extracted from whole nettle
plants (Urtica dioica) at any stage of growth up to
seed−set. To make nettle tea, use about three
pounds of fresh plants for every gallon of water,
allow the mixture to ferment for about ten days,
then filter it and spray a diluted tea. Dilution
rates of 1:10 to 1:20 are suggested in the
biodynamic literature. A biodynamic nettle tea
is prepared by adding BD preparations 502, 503,
505, 506, and 507 prior to the soaking period.
Chamomile tea is derived from the flowers of
true chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) which
have been picked and dried in the sun. Fresh
flowers may be used too, but they are only
available during a short part of the growing
season. To prepare the tea, steep about one cup
of tightly packed flowers per gallon of hot
water. Stir well, and spray the filtered tea when
cool. Chamomile is high in calcium, potash, and
sulfur; it is good for leafy crops and flowers and
promotes health of vegetables in general.
Comfrey tea is another tea commonly used in
organic farming and gardening. Comfrey is a
rich source of nutrients; it is especially good for
fruiting and seed filling crops. It can be made
by packing a barrel three-quarters full with
fresh cut leaves, followed by topping the barrel
full of water. It is allowed to steep for 7−10 days with a bubbler, then filtered and diluted in half with
water prior to use.

Hope this helps some
Hi Anthony. Lots of technical information here - can you tell me in simple terms why poo/weed tea needs to be used up in full, not added to, please? I was thinking of just keep adding goodies and water to the bucket.
Hi Lissa, sorry for delay in response........
Some folks do just keep adding, but I feel this may tend to subject the teas, over time to harboring the potential for a rot process to kick in, in short some micro flora which you really don't want may start to gain the dominant roll.
By adding a putrefied tea to the garden you are just inviting trouble. What you are looking for preferably is a good fermented product that should not smell to bad, if it smells rotten then the chances are it is rotten..........
I hope this explains the reason why you make a tea and use it reasonably quickly......
Hi Anthony. I know you're busy - the long response isn't a problem.

I've pretty much been experimenting and found out what you are describing - plus it's easy to use up the batch in short time. I won't add horse poo direct anymore, that was nasty. The "teabag" hung over the side would be a better option.

I'm taking great delight in using the weeds around the place to good effect.



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