Specialty Crop edible weight gain yield trial using compost tea: five vegetable crops vs control
Making compost tea: a step action guide
Discussion of materials and microscope setup for compost tea, compost extract, and soil sample microscopy. Note: In the video, I mistakenly said the lowest powered lens was 10X but it is really 4X. Generally, I view microbes between 80-200X magnification.
Tim Wilson - very helpful DVDs of protozoa
Professor Elaine Ingham
"I purchased model MD8211E30 (~$300) because it had a reliable LED light and the 3MP camera w/USB interface. It has a PC application that you can measure with and export image and video files with pretty detailed image resolution. I am very happy with it. Dr. Elaine"
Compost Tea Brewing Company - good discussion of what to consider when purchasing a microscope.
Compost extract is made by flushing water through compost for about 30 minutes to "extract" the existing micro-biology into the water. Compost tea also washes the micro-biology into the water but then the water is "brewed". This consists of adding foods for the microbes like fish oil and vigorously bubbling the water for over 24 hours. The result is a bloom of beneficial protozoa in the tea.
Soil Stories with Dr. David Johnson & Hui-Chun Su Johnson
Johnson Su (BEAM) compost was applied to a corn field – see aerial photo. The BEAM only corn was applied at 2 lbs/ac and was $86/ac more profitable with a 2% yield reduction than conventional 100% nitrogen only corn. The BEAM plus 15% nitrogen was applied at at 2 lbs/ac and was $121 more profitable than conventional 100% nitrogen only corn.
Treated corn had fewer small root hairs. Both were in sandy soil. We had to physically pull the clump of soil at the center of the roots to expose them. The control appeared to have slightly less soil aggregation (soil sticking to the roots).
Johnson Su (online) Fungal Count: 23,000 ng/g
Our Johnson Su Fungal Count: 1,400 ng/g
We did not screen out wood chips from our samples and this will skew our results lower – maybe cutting them in half? Still, our Johnson Su had much lower total fungi indicating possibly indicating a lack of fungal foods?
Our Johnson Su (BEAM) compost had about 1,400 ng/g including the wood chips that we mistakenly included in our lab sample. In comparison, BEAM compost sold online has a fungal count of 23,000 ng/g. Given the wood chips in our BEAM compost, we were actually applying at a rate of roughly 1.5 lbs/ac. In addition, our compost had about 1/7th the fungal count. This means we were applying at a rate of 0.2 lbs/ac. Also, the land has been organic for over many years and had a liberal application of compost broadcast over it prior to planting.
Note: The gaps in the corn are due to the planter not working well – didn’t drop a seed. Also, the SE corner is very sandy compared to the rest of the field.
Due to the wet fall weather, the corn may be harvested as snaplage. That combine does not have a meter on it so we may not get bushels/acre numbers. We did take samples wherein every other cob from a 17.5 foot long length of a good row was pulled. We took samples from each of four quadrants – NE, NW, S..
Video Corrections: Toward the end of the video, I said we needed to make better “Vermi” compost but meant “Johnson Su”. I also said the “Anaerobic” trays did better but it was the “Aerobic” trays that had better emergence and plant health.
1. Applied four different types of extract to 72-cell seed trays in our greenhouse. Each extract was applied to a tray of soybeans and a tray of corn. The trays were filled with organic soil that was mixed to create a homogeneous mix.
2. Since it is cold and there are fewer hours of sunlight, we used supplemental lighting from 1000 watts halogen lamps and used fans to prevent spindly/leggy plants.
3. The trays were marked A-B-C-D to indicate the compost used to make the extract.
A) Aerated Static Pile compost
B) Gerry Gillespie compost
C) Johnson Su compost
D) Vermi compost.
4. The question we were trying to answer was whether we needed to go through the time and effort to use Johnson Su (BEAM) compost or whether other easier to make composts would work as well.
5. About 1/4 of the cells at one end of each tray were not treated.
6. Try to use well water or water from a creek or pond because it’s microbiologically active and doesn’t have chemicals like municipal water or excess minerals like well water.
7. Given the concentration of extract we mixed up, we applied one drop of extract to the seed after placing them into the cell and before covering. This was an equivalent of 2 pounds of compost per acre.
8. We made the extract by stirring about a 8 ounces cup of compost into water 2.5 gallons of water and then filtered it through an 80 mesh screen. We then added 3 cups of additional water to each cup of extract and dripped that solution onto the seeds.
9. We didn’t know what to conclude both in terms of emergence and the initial growth. This because even though the Aerated Static Pile compost had better emergence and seemingly healthier plants, this was t..
Actively Aerated Johnson Su (BEAM) Compost – A Cold Climate Solution?
Johnson Su (BEAM) composting consists of placing material in an enclosure with aeration shafts every 12”. In cold climates, the stack effect from the 4” vent shafts provides too much cold air flow that then quickly cools the entire pile shutting down microbial activity. In cold climates with limited passive solar potential, this approach necessitates an expensive heated space to keep the material warm. In addition, the vent shafts also provide an easy way for applied water to exit the material rather than being absorbed.
In Aerated Static Pile composting, the material is kept warm in winter by providing the right amout of oxygen to keep the pile microbiologically active and covering the pile. Air is injected at timed intervals into a plenum at the base of the pile consisting of a course, porous material such as large wood chips. Above, the pile is insulated with a layer of wood chips, finished compost, breathable fabric, or similar.
International Symposium Recovery Of Organic Waste Through Composting Process
BEAM compost produced in cold climates needs active temperature monitoring and controlling of air flow either by regulating the amount the tops of vent shafts are opened or by changing air blower times in an aerated static pile. Furthermore, insulation is a necessity. Creating an aerated static pile with additional insulation seems to be a viable solution for BEAM composting in cold climates.
Actively Aerated Johnson Su (BEAM) Pros
• Provides precise air movement through the material
• Too warm or too cold temperatures can be controlled with air infusion
• Air infusion can be used to dry out too-wet materials
• Composting material may be placed in a windrow rather than an enclosure
• Does not require making an enclosure and placing vent pipes every 12”
• Eliminates water runoff through the vent shafts
• Compared to a rigid encl..
1. Sweetwater 1hp air pump
2. Switch from 60 mesh (250 micron) nylon mesh bags to 100 mesh (150 micron)
3. Use a 80 mesh (175 micron) screen in the 2" Semi-Automatic T Screen Filter 160gpm
4. The 2" Hydrocyclone Sand Separator is rated at 110 GPM
5. To prevent deforming the T Screen Filter, use a smaller trash pump running at low RPM
6. To make hanging the nylon bags easier, consider placing the blower on the ground
7. Improve the nylon bag lid so the water in the bags can be roiled more-or-less
8. Taper the bags at the bottom (cone shape) so heavy material is directed toward the air at the end of the pipe.
9. The hole size in the PVC is 3/16”
10. Design was loosely based upon the Bio5 DIY extractor and GeoTea tea brewer. You can call Soil Works for the Bio5 extractor plans. 605-260-0784
Making GEOTEA compost tea
Farm scale extraction that uses two massive tanks with spin-down filters on top
1. We blew air into the aerated static pile for a few weeks in fall until adding more air didn’t raise the temperature. In spring, it looked OK when we dug into it. It did have large, one square foot, clumps that were very compact and not completely broken down – still had straw bits. Also, the wood chips didn’t break down. The smell was earthy – like mushrooms. We’ve heard that turning the window row once after aeration helps to finish the material. Under the microscope, there were very few hypae.
2. There are tiny patches of white in the aerated static pile that I point to. Often, folks confuse a white bloom of Actinobacteria or Actinomyces bacteria as fungi. These bacteria are common where the pile is going anerobic - often near the zone where the pile transitions from dry to moist. They are harmful to health.
3. We switched the other aerated windrow to Gerry Gillespie (SPICE) after about one week of aerating it by dumping on about 5 gallons of anerobic innoculant – only need 1 quart for every 13 cubic yards. We didn’t mix in the innoculant as per Gerry’s directions. Oops. About a year later, we uncovered this pile and it still smelled bad in pockets – still anerobic. It had one square foot clumps that were greasy and anerobic – stinky. This trial needs to be redone.
4. A year after starting the compost, the remaining Johnson Su material that wasn’t used in the field trial was still moist and loaded with earth worms. For a time, there were good fungal hyphae counts under the microscope.
5. We used the PLFA labs from Ward labs as this is what is shown on the BEAM compost website and mentioned by Professor Johnson. Professor Johnson did say that PLFA testing was not recommended for comparing compost between two different producers. Instead, it should be used to see how well batches of compost from a given location compare.
Ward Laboratories - Phospholipid Fatty Acids (PLFA)
Note: It can take months to get your results back!
1. We insulated our Johnson Su BioReactor with straw bales and 2” foam board. Heat lamps weren’t enough but a small ceramic heater was easily enough to keep the tote at 60F. I do NOT recommend our setup due to water and straw being in close proximity to the heater!
2. The drip line tends to form little rivulets that run down the vent shafts so tiny misters with a very low rate would be better. We ran the drip line 15 minutes every day.
3. The compost was a bit wet but still fine with a neutral smell – not even fungal or “earthy” as much of the material has been consumed. In the future, we will use smaller wood chips.
4. The orange nylon dear fencing was too porous causing the material around the perimeter to be too dry.
5. We introduced red wigglers early on but the pile was loaded with native earthworms at 8 months with no red wigglers to be found.
6. The compost blew out due to not being covered and in the cold so make sure to cover the material right away and even choke off the vent shafts.
7. This video was shot after 8 months of composting and shows compost with a putty like consistency. We used bedding pack material from the barn along with leaves and wood chips – see previous videos.
8. For a large scale farm Johnson Su operation in cold Colorado see David West’s setup.
9. Professor David Johnson and his wife Hui Chun Su recommend apply extract in furrow at a rate of 2 pounds per acre. For a typical planter that applies 20 gallons per acre, this would be about 1.5 buckets of compost extracted into a tote filled with 250 gallons. This is just a ballpark rate. If your compost isn’t great or your soil is really lacking, use more.
10. In terms of what to expect from a full 250 gallon tote, we’ve heard that it will shrink down to about 2 feet with a 5-gallon bucket of compost weighing about 35 pounds. This is really variable depending on your starting materials.
Professor Johnson commented that leaves, pine needles, are dried grass best when run through a “chipper-shredder” or farm bale-grinder to “open” them up so they compost better. He said that the issue with material that is “green” is that it compacts too much. For example, dried grass that is re-wetted is fine while green grass is not. Also, very small material like sawdust packs too much.
2. Notice how the materials in professor David Johnson's bio-reactor are high in carbon. (5:45 – 6:05)
3. Jay Young from the Young Red Angus farm discusses the results of using various Johnson Su ingredients.
BioReactor #3 - got up to 160F (too hot) due to the grass but did not smell bad
BioReactor #4 - only got up to 120F (too cold to kill pathogens)
BioReactor #5 - got up to 160F (too hot) due to the grass
Jay Young commented that the next trial will be with 80% wheat straw, 10% grass, and 10% horse manure. He said about 80% of the mix should be a “high carbon source” like, wheat straw, dried leaves, dried corn stalks, etc.
4. Mycorrhizal fungi only exist when there is a plant. BEAM compost brings a “full complement” of microbes that have been shown, according to professor Johnson, to help up to 23 different mycorrhizal fungi in a soil thrive.
5. In my opinion, adding soil into the mix from old growth woods may help to promote a more diverse range of microbes that are specific to your area.
6. Start watering and add worms after the high-heat thermophillic phase at about 80F.
7. Notice the putty consistency of BEAM compost. (1:46-1:51)
8. Extract “jump starts” the biology but to maintain and increase it, farmers must plant a diverse mix of cover crops to feed the soil microbes.
1. Soil ecologist, Christine Jones, suggest that “fermented” compost like Korean Natural Farming or Bocashi will have more signaling “bio-stimulants” than aerated compost. Elaine Ingham discusses the benefit of aerated compost tea and the multitude of beneficial protozoa it contains. But will they perform better than a Johnson Su compost? Professor David Johnson has commented that the Johnson Su compost is mostly devoid of plant nutrients and is primarily for signaling along with providing a wide array of bacteria and a large number of fungal fragments and mold spores.
2. What goes into the pile will play an important role in determining the fungal content of the compost. Typically, 40% green, 40% brown, 20% manure – not the best for fungal compost.
3. Colorado State University, David Johnson, and Hui Chun Su farm scale hoophouse project – difficulty in keeping warm in winter – CO (7600) actually has more heating degree days than WI (6800) - used high carbon to nitrogen ratio
4. We used bedding pack compost that had been turned for about one week along with chipped up maple trees.
5. The material was wetted by spreading out the material and putting an oscillating “fan” sprinkler on top.
6. David Young – Young Red Angus Farm
1. Aerated Static Pile Overview
1. Quivira Coalition: https://quiviracoalition.org/techguides/
2. Inexpensive Jump Tent blower
3. Rubber Fernco 6” to 4” coupler
4. 6” plenum
5. 4” solid green sewer pipe to 4”x40’ perforated piping
6. 4” solid green sewer at end with cap for inspection
2. Per Elaine Ingham phD, with any aerated compost pile, it is important that the piles do not sit in rain water puddles as the wetted material will go anerobic and spike pathogen lab counts. Using a wood-chip bed, minimizes this issue.
3. In terms of scaling up Aerated Static Piles, heavy DR-11 pile can be pulled out of the pile after being blown by wrapping chain around one end and using a tractor – see pic.
1. Actively turned compost piles must reach 131F for 15 days versus 3 days for a static pile to kill pathogens, parasites, and weed seeds while staying under 160F to prevent killing beneficial microbes. Due to the turning, fungal communities are unable to thrive and consequently turned compost is mostly bacterial.
2. Aerobic or anerobic static piles must reach 131F for 3 days. This makes sense if the piles have a thick cover of composted material or wood chips so even the material near the outer face of the pile reaches 131F.
3. This cover also serves to retain moisture noxious gases such that they are consumed in the composting process
4. In Wisconsin, we can have frequent rain and no sun for weeks on end. This presents a challenge to keeping the piles from getting too wet and going anerobic. That’s why we decided to try to convert one of our aerated static piles to an anerobic SPICE pile.
5. The Gerry Gillespie SPICE (Static Pile Inoculated Compost Extension) composting.
2. In general, pile material is treated with a special blend (Lacto) of microbes and then covered for 4-6 weeks. If the piles are too dry at that point, water is added as they are turned. After another 4-6 weeks, the piles are uncovered and allow to “cure” – further break down – see pic.
3. It’s important to create a trough at the top of the pile so moisture that condenses at the top of the pile drips back down into the pile.
4. Has the benefit of not being impacted by high rainfall.
5. Mr. Gillespie specifies how to create the special blend of anerobic microbes “Lacto” by adding liquid from fermented rice and milk into a barrel of water containing salt, basalt dust, molasses, bone meal, and fresh cut plant greens – see pic.
6. To what extent fungi flourish in this environment is not clear but there are images of visible fungal hyphae in SPICE compost. At a..
1. During the initial phase of aerobic composting, bacteria begin the process of heating and breaking down the pile. Later, the process becomes more fungal as more difficult to digest dried plant material is composted.
2. One important question with any aerated compost is what is the carbon:nitrogen ratio - see chart from University of California Cooperative Extension.
1. One recommendation for Johnson Su (BEAM) compost is 40% green, 40% brown, and 20% manure with half of the brown material being small wood chips.
2. Another is 25% farmyard manure, preferably from cattle or chickens, 25% hay or other dried green material, 25% fresh green material such as grass clippings or forage crop, and 25% chopped corn.
3. On the other hand, in a discussion between Jay Young from Young Red Angus farms, David Johnson and Hui-Chun Su, professor Johnson commented that he wasn’t concerned about the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio when making highly fungal BEAM compost.
4. In terms of composting bedding pack manure, our experience is that if there isn’t enough nitrogen, the bacteria in the pile won’t proliferate and cause the pile to heat enough to kill pathogens. If there is too much nitrogen, the piles will heat too much due to massive bacterial growth increasing the possibility of causing the piles to go anerobic as the consume all the oxygen and overheat – go above 160F.
3. We estimated a carbon:nitrogen ratio of our bedding pack material that had sat for 6 months to be 10:1 based.
4. We added in wood chips with some dried needles and leaves with a carbon:nitrogen ratio of 400:1 to bring the C:N ratio to about 40:1 – see Cornell website.
5. Carbon:nitrogen ratios are on a weight basis so you’ll need to do some math to figure out how many skid-steer loads of various materials need to be blended t..
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Category DIY & Gardening
We care deeply about our land, about our planet, about the CBD hemp we grow. Practices that nurture soil biology in turn heal the land and produce robust plants with the fullest of entourage effects. We take great pride in our efforts to nurture the land under our care. Unlike so many other operations that make hollow claims of using “sustainable, ethical and organic farming practices” in a paragraph on their websites, we invite in everyone to see our operation first hand, to see we are more than just words on a page.
Soil biology is key to vibrant soils and robust plants. The starting point for Organic Entourage is our certified organic land. In addition, we continually work to improve our soils with the use of composted cow manure, compost teas, cover crops, benign pest/disease controls, and other restorative practices. Our goal is to go well beyond organic in our efforts to revitalize the soil micro-biology and rebuild organic matter.
For example, we use composted cow manure, from our organic dairy partners, on our hemp fields and pastures. This is unlike other organic operations that truck in manure tainted with the chemicals and drugs from conventional dairies, feed lots, and the like – a practice that is technically "organic" but clearly less than ideal. Likewise, we do not bring in specialty soil that is placed in large pots and is regularly discarded and replaced. Nor do we grow our plants on barren fields devoid of microbe sustaining vegetative growth. Similarly, we do not grow our plants indoors under artificial light in soilless mediums (hydroponics). While all of these practices technically qualify as being "organic", we believe it’s an imperative to do better.
We have also taken on the work of sharing what we learn and know with others. We do this as a way of educating potential consumers about what to look for in quality CBD hemp. We also do this to hopefully help and challenge other smaller scale growers. It is our conviction that a robust farming community is built from a network of smaller farms, not a handful of mega-farms.
Join us in brewing excellent compost tea proven out with microscopy, turning organic manure piles into excellent compost by monitoring pile temperatures, employing rotational grazing to keep cows healthy, and all the other works we do to heal the land by rejuvenating soil biology and growing CBD hemp with the fullest of entourage effects. Join us as responsible stewards of the land.