needed to make those nutrients more available to your crops. Byincorporating nutrients into their bodies, microorganisms ensurethat the nutrients are conserved in the soil and not leached throughrainfall and erosion.Although trials that have tested compost tea for diseasemanagement have generated variable results, compost tea has thepotential to suppress certain plant pathogens on some crops. Forexample, compost tea has been shown to partially control powderymildew, though it has not yet been proven to be sufficientlyeffective to use as a sole means of control for commercial growers.While plenty of anecdotal evidence suggests that compost teacan control disease, research has not supported this evidenceto date (most of the pathogens and diseases tested have notbeen controlled by compost tea). However, there are multiplemechanisms that may explain the variations in disease suppressionthat have been observed, including different forms of competition,such as resource competition, antibiotic production, parasitism,and systemic acquired resistance. While more research is neededto investigate the validity of compost tea as a disease suppressant,its ability to improve soil health is certain.If these benefits sound appealing, then read on to find out how youcan make compost tea and use it as part of your operation.
How Do I Get Started?
If you are interested in making compost tea, you must begin bymaking a couple of decisions. First, you need to decide if you wantto make passive or aerated compost tea.
Passive compost tea is a great way to start experimenting withcompost tea use. An easy way to make passive compost tea is to fillan old burlap sack with one part compost, and suspend this bag in agarbage can filled with five parts water (by volume) for severalweeks. This tea can then be applied to crops or soil as a fertilizer.Most published research on the use of compost tea for diseasesuppression utilizes passive compost teas.Although passive compost tea is not aerated, it is not necessarilyanaerobic unless additional nutrients are added. If a passive teaturns anaerobic, it can putrify, rather than ferment, which may producephenols and alcohol that can harm plants and beneficial soilmicroorganisms. Therefore, it’s important not to add fertilizers ornutrients to your passive tea, in order to keep it aerobic and healthy.
If you choose to produce aerated compost tea, you then need todecide whether you want to purchase a commercial compost teabrewer or build your own. These systems require a source of elec-tricity to power the air and/or water pumps that provide oxygen andextract microorganisms and nutrients from the compost.Commercial brewers can cost anywhere from $100 to thousands ofdollars, depending on the volume and complexity of the system.Fortunately most manufactures have developed good brewinginstructions to go with their systems, so if you purchase a brewer, itis best to follow the directions provided. A list of commercial com-post tea system manufacturers can be found in the resource sectionof this fact sheet.If you decide to build your own system, you have many more choicesto make. Homemade aerated compost tea systems vary greatly intheir design, and can employ aeration devices that range from fishtank aerators to commercial grade air compressors. Although thismay be a more economical option, you should expect a certainamount of trial and error before your system is fully functional. Forinformation on how to make homemade aerated compost tea,check out the Pennsylvania Department of EnvironmentalProtection’s online article,
“Compost Tea as Easy as 1, 2, 3”
, athttp://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/airwaste/wm/recycle/Tea/ tea1.htmRegardless of how you make compost tea, proper sanitation isessential to produce a consistent, quality tea. Most producers usechlorine bleach to clean the inside of their systems, but otherproducts such as hydrogen peroxide and detergents can also beeffective. One of the most basic, easy cleaning tricks is to rinse outthe system with clean water as soon as you remove the tea, so thatthe residue doesn’t have time to dry. That step, followed by propersanitation, will help you maintain a clean brewer that generates goodquality tea every time you use it.
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Some examples of commercial and homemade aerated compost tea brewers.
Passive compost tea can be made by simply suspending a burlapsack full of compost in a tank of water.