Who ever said “Farming is a never-ending learning process” sure got it right. As a result of participating in the Rodale Institute Soil Health Workshop, we are developing a compost tea program on our farm. We are learning how to brew tea compost for use as part of our soil nutrient plan and are well underway with the construction of our own 55-gallon compost tea brewer. We plan to use the compost tea and monitor using microscopes the microbes in the tea and in the soil this year. It all proves once again that science is fun!
Here is what we have learned so far. Fruit trees and vines prefer fungi dominated teas while vegetables prefer bacteria dominated teas. By altering the tea recipe, one can control the fungi to bacteria ratio of the teas and by “aerating” the tea batch in the tea brewer one can create favorable conditions for the growth of these beneficial microorganisms. Of course, success is mostly a result of starting with really good compost. Another thing that we found out is that commercially made compost tea brewers are very expensive. So that is why we have decided to make our own brewer in our very best sustainable farmer’s way.
Organic means it has been grown without synthetic pesticides, artificial fertilizers and no chemical preservatives. Almost everyone can agree on that. But there are also a set of rules that apply to organic farms under the National Organic Program (NOP). And, almost nobody can agree on them. We investigated them to find out if composed teas are allowed under this NOP. We wanted to know how these compost teas are to be applied and what are the restrictions.
Here are the findings based on the research. It turns out that compost teas are allowed under the NOP, and basically follow similar restrictions as the 90/120-day pre-harvest rule use of raw manures. Compost teas can be applied without restrictions, but one has to follow the rules that were set in place by the Compost Tea Task Force. As the Rodale 2004 article says it best: “Erring on the side of caution, the Compost Tea Task Force has set up separate, more restrictive guidelines for those who use “compost tea additives” in their brews than for those who do not.”
The article makes one the best statements to sum up the entire NOP and their rule making processes. “Critics of the recommendations say that they are too restrictive and too broad-spectrum, that they favor large producers who can afford expensive and frequent testing over small farmers who cannot, and that they offer yet another example of organic producers hands being tied from using a tool that they developed while conventional farmers are free to use the same tool with impunity.”
We further investigated to find out the costs involved in the EPA-recommended recreational water tests. The Basic Pond/Lake Water Package Plus Bacteria is recommended for ponds or lakes that are used for swimming, boating, or other recreational activities where there is close human contact with the water. The cost of the test is $70 per test, and the Compost Tea Task Force calls for a minimum of two tests per set-up. Any changes to our equipment, our processes or the recipe that we use would require us to do additional tests. The point being that the conventional farmers are free to do as they please without any tests or any of these restrictions. But, organic farms are subject to these rules or more.
So, there you have what we found out about it, so far. Is it too restrictive or not? You as the consumer can decided, but as for us we will follow the NOP recommendations on our farm.
If anyone has any additional information or other research findings on the subject, please let us know. In the mean time, here is a sneak peek at our compost tea brewer. More to come…