Overview of Compost Tea Use in New South Wales

Second Edition

Recycled Organics Unit PO Box 6267 The University of New South Wales Sydney Australia 1466 Internet: http://www.recycledorganics.com Contact: Angus Campbell Copyright © Recycled Organics Unit, 2006. Second Edition. First Published 2006. This document is jointly owned by the Recycled Organics Unit and NSW Department of Environment and Conservation. The information contained in this document is provided by the ROU in good faith but users should be aware that the ROU is not liable for its use or application. The content is for information only. It should not be considered as any advice, warranty or recommendation to any individual person or situation.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS SECTION 1 INTRODUCTION ........................................................................................................................4 1.1 Objectives of the report ............................................................................................................................................4 1.2 Who is the report for?...............................................................................................................................................4 1.3 Terminology .............................................................................................................................................................5 1.4 How to cite the report ...............................................................................................................................................5 1.5 Acknowledgement....................................................................................................................................................5 SECTION 2 OVERVIEW ................................................................................................................................6 2.1 Definitions ................................................................................................................................................................6 2.2 Benefits of compost tea ............................................................................................................................................7 2.3 Compost tea production techniques..........................................................................................................................10 2.4 Factors affecting compost tea production and its quality .........................................................................................12 2.5 Compost tea characteristics and quality assessment.................................................................................................19 2.6 Application of compost teas .....................................................................................................................................21 2.7 Compost tea production and use in NSW.................................................................................................................23 2.8 Implications for recycled organics industry .............................................................................................................24 2.9 Conclusions ..............................................................................................................................................................25 SECTION 3 SECTION 4 Appendix 1 REFERENCES ...........................................................................................................................27 APPENDICES ............................................................................................................................29 Glossary....................................................................................................................................................29

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Section 1


Objectives of the report

Compost tea is emerging as a crop protection tool for organic agriculture for a number of reasons. Firstly it contains microorganisms which can reduce incidence of foliar and/or soilborne diseases, and nutrients contained in compost tea support the survival and proliferation of these microorganisms. Secondly it contains nutrients (extracted from compost) in a readily available form, which rapidly benefit plant growth through direct contribution to plant nutrition. Thirdly compost tea is easily integrated into existing plant fertility and disease control programs due to its ease of application via existing irrigation or spray equipment, or as a soil drench. Finally unlike composts, compost teas do not require transport of large quantities of bulk compost long distances because compost tea is generally produced at the farm or alternatively compost tea concentrate is purchased and diluted before application. NSW compost tea producers advise that these are the potential benefits that have attracted a range of organic and conventional farmers, nursery growers, landscapers and turf managers to begin to use compost teas. Research on compost tea began in earnest in mid-1980 in USA, however results from scientific trials are still scarce. The results of limited research currently available suggest that plant diseases have been suppressed in some cases by treating plant surfaces with a variety of water based compost extracts, whilst in other instances use of compost tea either had no effect on disease suppression or has increased disease severity. The NSW Department of Environment and Conservation has funded this project to provide a concise overview of the current use, practices and benefits of compost teas in New South Wales. The scope of this report is to provide a basic overview of compost teas and their current use in NSW to better understand: What is compost tea? What are the reported benefits and from what types of products; How is compost tea made? What are characteristics of product and how is quality assessed? What are quality issues with production and storage and how is compost tea applied; and Compost tea production and use in NSW.


Who is the report for?

This review has been specifically developed for the Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW) and will be of direct interest to: Government agencies Manufacturers and sellers of recycled organics products

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Terms used throughout this report are documented in the Recycled Organics Dictionary and Thesaurus: Standard terminology for the recycled organics sector (Recycled Organics Unit, 2003a). This document is freely available from http://www.recycledorganics.com. In this report, the term agriculture is used broadly and includes intensive horticulture and turf.


How to cite the report

This publication should be cited in the following manner: Recycled Organics Unit (2006). Overview of Compost Tea Use in New South Wales. Recycled Organics Unit, internet publication: www.recycledorganics.com



The Recycled Organics Unit (ROU) acknowledges funding of this project by the Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW). The ROU also wishes to thank the following compost tea producers and distributors in NSW for sharing their experience: • • • • • • • Mr Ray O’ Grady, O’ Grady Rural, Lismore, NSW Mr Luke Maunder, Australian Soil Additives and Products, Lismore, NSW Mr Greg Hallet, Footprint Directions, Banglow, NSW Mr Stuart Larsson, Maraseeds Pty Ltd, Mallanganee, NSW Mr Paul Patten, Soilsmart NSW, Sydney, NSW Mr Bart Davidson, Bio Nutrient Solutions Pty Ltd, Moree, NSW Harry Wilson, SMS Municipal Services, Artarmon, NSW

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Section 2
2.1 Definitions


Until recently compost tea has been defined simply as a liquid extract from composted material that may contain organic and inorganic soluble nutrients, and a large number of organisms including bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes (ROU, 2003b). Recent compost tea research (from the past ~5 years) still defines compost tea as a “water extract of compost” (Ingham, 2005). However contemporary proponents of compost tea use now distinguish compost teas on the basis of production (or brewing) method, which influence tea characteristics and potential benefits. The following expressions are now commonly used to distinguish between different types of liquid extracts: Compost leachate is the dark coloured solution that leaches out of the bottom of the compost pile (compost windrow leachate). This leachate is most likely rich in soluble nutrients, but in the early stages of composting it may contain pathogens (Diver, 2002). Compost leachate needs further bioremediation and is not suitable as a foliar spray. Compost extract is a centuries old technique in which compost is suspended in a barrel of water for 7 to 14 days, usually soaking in a sack (Diver, 2002). The primary benefit of the extract is to provide a supply of soluble nutrients that can be used as a liquid fertiliser. Compost tea is a compost extract that is brewed with a microbial food source (such as molasses, kelp, rock dust, humic-fulvic acids and others). The compost tea brewing technique (aerobic or anaerobic) extracts and grows populations of beneficial microorganisms (Ingham, 2005; Scheuerell, 2003; Scheuerell, 2002) Compost tea is made by two different methods: • • Non-aerated method; and Aerated method.

In the non-aerated method {which produces non-aerated compost tea (NCT)} there is no attempt to supply the organisms with supplementary oxygen (Scheuerell, 2003), resulting in, for the most part, anaerobic conditions during tea production, which limits growth of microorganisms (Kelley, 2004). In the aerated method {which produces aerated compost tea (ACT)}, the mixture is deliberately aerated (Scheuerell, 2003; Kelley, 2004; Ingham, 2005), allowing large numbers of beneficial organisms to populate the mixture (Ingham, 2005). For both methods of compost tea production, microbial food may or may not be added. If additional food is not added, organisms are not typically active and, are less likely to survive the transfer from mixture to soil, or applications to plant surfaces (Ingham, 2005).

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Aerated compost tea (ACT) can be prepared in 2 to 3 days which enables growers to respond quickly to weather forecasts or indications of disease outbreak (Kelley, 2004). Aerated compost tea production also creates fewer odours and reduces the risk of contamination by human pathogens. Non aerated compost tea (NCT) preparation takes up to 2 weeks, however longer fermentation time enables accumulation of antibiotics in the NCT which are claimed to activate natural plant defence responses thereby help in disease suppression (Scheuerell, 2003). Non aerated compost tea may develop odours. In NSW, aerated compost tea (ACT) is primarily being promoted and used.


Benefits of compost tea

The main performance objectives for which compost teas being used in agriculture are: • • • Enhanced disease suppression or resistance towards diseases, to promote crop health and to reduce the need for pesticides; Provision of water soluble, available nutrients for plants to decrease fertiliser requirements and associated costs; and Increased soil microorganism populations and diversity to improve soil structure, water retention, rooting depth and plant growth. The production and application of compost tea is primarily focussed on disease suppression and supplementing plant nutrients. It is thought that disease control results from beneficial microorganisms that are antagonistic towards various plant pathogens, microbial by products (metabolites) and plant nutrients present in compost tea. The mechanisms by which beneficial microorganisms suppress pathogens are (Scheuerell, 2003; Kelley, 2004; Grobe, 2003a): • • • • • Populating leaf surfaces thereby restricting growth of pathogens; Competing for nutrients required by pathogens; Secreting secondary metabolites (antibiotics) on plant surfaces; Directly parasitising pathogens; and Stimulating plants’ natural defence systems.

Internationally, there has been a limited amount of research conducted on compost tea. The results of this research are presented in Table 1.

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Table 1 Compost tea and disease suppression. Study Compost Anonymous, 1996 Compost teas in agriculture. Animal manure and bedding compost Description Compost tea preparation Used 30 litres of animal manure and bedding compost in 210 litre drums of water with 1 litre each of fish and seaweed emulsion to brew tea. Compost tea is extracted from compost, molasses, sea kelp, cane sugar, rock dust and yeast. Benefits Application rate and method Foliar application Suppressed early grey mould and damping off on a wide range of seedlings. Compost tea application supplied fertiliser requirements of seedlings. Mean percentage of turf area with microdochium symptoms (a foliar fungus) was 0.042% for compost tea treated plots as compared to 0.604% of untreated turf. Mean root length of compost tea treated turf had longer root length (6.25 cm) compared to untreated turf (4.75 cm).

Grobe, 2003b Golf courses find value in compost tea programs. Research results from Conforti et al., 2002.

Equal parts of woodchips, grass clippings, horse manure and horse bedding, composted for minimum four months

Scheurell and Mahaffee, 2004 Compost tea a container medium drench for suppressing seedling dampingoff caused by Pythium ultimum.

Touart, 2000 Time for compost tea in the northwest.

Three types of compost were used: Ground landscape trimmings composted for 2 years and 9 months; Vermicompost produced from mixed vegetation in a vertical flow reactor. This product was cured for 2 months in an open container; Tea compost was a blend of vegetative and animal manure based compost available in market was cured from 5 months. Crop residues and diary manure.

Aerated compost tea (brewed for ~40 hrs) and nonaerated compost tea (brewed for ~10 days) with or without additives. Additives included were kelp and humic acid or molasses

Greens were sprayed with about 4 litres of compost tea per 300 m2 weekly during times of high disease pressure and every two weeks during times of low disease pressure. Application method alternated between drench applications in which tea was watered in for 5-10 minutes and foliar applications in which tea was left on the greens surfaces. Compost tea was used to drench a soilless container medium inoculated with P. ultimum.

Aerated compost tea (brewed for 1-2 days).

Applied compost tea for 2 years on monthly basis on a variety of crops as a foliar spray and a soil drench

The most consistent formulation for dampingoff suppression was ACT produced with kelp and humic acid additives. ACT produced with molasses inconsistently suppressed damping-off. Heating or diluting the compost tea negated disease suppression. Across all compost tea samples, there was no significant relationship of bacterial populations measured as active, total and colony forming unit to disease suppression. All ACT produced without molasses there was a threshold of bacterial population density above which composts were suppressive to Pythium. Suppressed grey mould, buttercup and tomato blight infestation. Increased soil tilth of tight clay soil.

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Table 1 Continued: Compost tea and disease suppression. Study Gangaiah et al., 2004 Suppression of Septoria leaf spot disease of tomato using aerated compost tea. Description Compost Vermicompost. Benefits Compost tea preparation Aerated compost tea from vermicompost, alfalfa pellets, molasses, humic acid, fish emulsion and yucca extract. Application rate and method Compost tea applied via drip irrigation and as foliar spray 2 weeks after planting and compared with fungicide (Dithane) and water. No effect of fertigation (compost tea application via drip irrigation) treatment. However in case of foliar spray, disease severity was low for compost tea (26.3%) and fungicide (31.9%) sprayed plots compared to water sprayed plots (45.9%) at trial termination. Severity of Septoria leaf spot significantly reduced with two Cu treatments.

Joslin et al., Unknown Control of the foliar disease, Septoria lycopersici, in Organic Tomato production. Al-Dahmani et al., 2003 Suppression of bacterial spot of tomato with foliar sprays of compost extracts under greenhouse and field conditions.

Windrow composted Cattle manure (WCCM) and vermicomposted cattle manure (VCM). Composted cow manure, composted pine bark, organic farm compost and composted yard waste.

Compost teas from WCCM and VCM.

Aerated composted extracts.

Compost teas from WCCM and VCM compared with control and Bravo plus Cu; Quadris plus Cu and Champion and Sernade Cu based fungicides. Applied as foliar sprays.

Vossen and Gubler, 1995 North Coast apple scab trials 1993/ 1994 Plotkin, (Unknown)

Dairy manure compost.

Compost tea made for 21 days and brewers yeast was added 24 hrs prior to use.

Compost tea compared with conventional fungicides Ziram, Funginex, Benlate and Topsin Compared control, copper hydroxide, and two different microbial products (Agricola and compost tea) Sprayed with compost tea and water. Cherry trees were sprayed at the developmental stages when fungicide is normally applied.

Chalker-Scott, L (Unknown) Compost Tea: Miracle Cure or Marketing Gimmick?

Compost tea

Moderate and significant reduction in bacterial spot. Population of X.vesicatoria in infected leaves reduced significantly by composted cow manure extracts. Efficacy of extracts was not affected by oxygen concentrations, compost maturity, sterilization or autoclaving. Degree of disease control by compost extracts did not differ from chemical fungicides. Compost tea was not effective in preventing scab infection and in some cases appeared to enhance apple scab. Copper hydroxide treatment resulted in the lowest disease ratings. There was no difference between control and biological treatments. Little difference between two treatments. Compost tea did not reduce brown rot infection, and in some cultivars tea worsened the infection rates.

Note: The limited characterisation of production process, filtration or otherwise, and other tea attributes relevant to quality as defined by compost tea proponents significantly restricts ability to draw conclusions from the published research.

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Compost teas have been used for years as surface sprays to control foliar diseases of plants (Weltzien, 1992; Yohalem et al., 1994). The results of research have been variable. Some research results have shown compost tea to reduce the severity of diseases such as: powdery mildew and downy mildew of grape, caused by Uncinula nector and Plasmopara viticola respectively; grey mould of strawberries and late blight of potato (Elad and Shtienberg, 1994; McQuilken et al., 1994; Yohalem et al., 1994); buttercup infestation and tomato blight (Touart, 2000); bacterial spot of tomato’s (Al-Dahmaniel et al., 2003); Septoria leaf spot (Gangaiah et al., 2004); seedling damping off caused by Pythium ultimum (Scheurell and Mahaffee, 2004); turf Microdochium (Grobe, 2003b). Where compost teas have been compared with conventional fungicides, in most instances, compost teas have been ineffective. Other research results have shown that the application of compost tea was either ineffective for disease suppression or resulted in increased incidence of diseases. Compost tea application has also shown increased soil tilth of tight clay soil; to meet fertiliser requirements of seedlings and increased root length of turf. Touart (2000) suggests that compost tea is not a silver bullet and does not provide a complete cure, and that good regular care and maintenance procedures are equally critical to healthy plant growth. Additionally, the cost of biological products to control diseases is similar to that of synthetic products, because the biological products need to be applied more often than the synthetic products (Grobe, 2003a). However, Scheuerell and Mahaffee (2002) claim that an increased understanding of compost tea microbiology and the survival and interactions of microbes on plants surfaces should make it possible to modify compost tea production practices and application technology to delivery of a microorganisms that optimise pathogen suppression via multiple mechanisms of action.


Compost tea production techniques

There are numerous variations in compost tea producing equipment. These range from home-designed pieces to commercially available equipment, and every year efforts to improve efficiency and decrease costs result in different designs and new tea making processes being introduced and variously tested. Described below are common compost tea production techniques for which there are many equipment designs:


Bucket-Fermentation Technique

This technique has been used in Europe for hundreds of years. It is more akin to a watery compost extract than a brewed compost tea (Diver, 2002). For the bucket technique, compost and other non-soluble ingredients are either suspended in a bag (or a sack) or submerged to soak free in water (Ingham, 2005). Note that when compost is free in the water, the non-soluble chunks need to be strained out of the tea for application. The bucket is half filled with water and stirred vigorously for approximately 10 to 20 minutes to de gas any chlorine. Compost is then added until the container is full, leaving about 3 cm or so from the rim for stirring. The mixture is brewed for several weeks, stirring periodically with a stick to mix it and add a small amount of air. After brewing, the solution is strained and applied to the crop.

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This technique of compost tea extraction has limitations. For example, the tea is likely to develop anaerobic conditions or toxic materials may be extracted into the tea as a result of anaerobic conditions (Ingham, 2005).


Bucket-Bubbler Technique

The Bucket-Bubbler technique allows small quantities of compost tea to be made inexpensively, and is commonly used by homeowners and backyard gardeners. This is a modern version of the bucket technique. For this method, a 15 to 20 L bucket is fitted with air bubblers that are attached to an aquarium type aeration pump (Ingham, 2005). The bucket is half filled with water and air is passed through it for approximately 10-20 minutes from the air bubblers. Compost is then added to fill the bucket to within 2 cm from the top (to allow for bubbling). The aerator provides a continuous flow of air and creates enough turbulence to mix the brew. The minimum time for brewing is 2-3 days, but it can be brewed for longer if desired. To harvest the brew, the aerator is turned off for half an hour or so to allow most of the solids settle to the bottom of the bucket. The soluble portion of the tea is decanted from the top, leaving the insoluble solids, which can be returned to the compost pile. It may be necessary to pass this tea through a fine mesh sieve to prevent plugging of emitters where tea is applied as a spray.


Trough Technique

For the trough technique, compost is suspended on a wire tray over a large tank of water. Water is pumped from the tank, sprayed over the compost, and allowed to drip through the compost back into the tank (Ingham, 2005). The trough can range in size from 20-2000 L. The brewing period lasts for several weeks. The water sprayed onto the compost does not provide enough force to physically remove the organisms from the compost. The spraying process aims to enable UV light to kill many of the organisms in the water droplets (where the unit is located outside) and allows the diffusion of oxygen into the droplets before impacting onto the compost. However, this commonly does not maintain enough oxygen to keep up aerobic conditions in the tea if molasses, sugars, humic acids, or some other food resource for the bacteria or fungi is added. Aerators are therefore often used to increase agitation of the liquid and to maintain aerobic conditions. Evaporation can be a serious problem for this technique, creating a concentration of salts in the tea. With the trough technique, some bacteria adhere to surfaces and develop bio-films (by producing extracellular polysaccharide or in some cases by means of specialised structures producing microcolonies), which may inhibit the maintaining of aerobic conditions. Bio-films typically establish on the surface of the brewing tea, especially in the corners of the tank. Bio-films can result in a significant amount of odour for a portion of the brew cycle (Ingham, 2005). Round-bottom containers are preferable for brewing with this technique. The diversity of bacteria and fungi is typically quite limited in teas produced using this technique. If the tea has been brewed for a longer period of time using this technique, it is likely to be predominantly aerobic when ready for application.

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Commercially available compost tea brewers

Though designs vary, most commercial aerated tea systems consist of a sack or a compost basket with drainage holes, either of which are used to hold a certain volume of compost (Diver, 2002). The compost filled container is placed in or above a specially designed tank filled with chlorine-free water. Microbial food sources are added to the solution to enhance microbial growth and diversity. A pump supplies oxygen to a specially designed aeration device, which bubbles and aerates the compost tea brewing in the tank. Commercial equipment is available for the production of brewed compost teas. The names and web addresses of some suppliers of commercial compost tea brewing equipment are provided below: Growing Solutions, Inc (http://www.growingsolutions.com) Soil Soup, Inc (http://www.soilsoup.com) Microb Brewer (http://www.microbbrewer.com) EPM Inc (http://www.composttea.com) Compara-Xtractor (http://www.compara.nl/Compost_Teas_Systems.htm/English)


Factors affecting compost tea production and its quality

Compost tea can be inconsistent from batch to batch. Therefore it is important to consider the major factors that influence tea quality. Quality compost that has been effectively pasteurised is essential because pathogenic or pest organisms present in compost can be extracted into the tea. Minerals and toxins present in the compost are also extracted, making it critical that salt levels and toxins in the original compost are not excessive (Bess, 2000; Ingham, 2005; Scheuerell, 2003). The most influential factors for compost tea production include (Scheuerell and Mahaffee, 2002; Ingham, 2005): • • • • • • • • Compost quality; Compost to water ratio; Aeration; Fermentation nutrients; Extraction and mixing; Brewing time; Abiotic factors; and Filtration materials.

Each of these factors is described below. Note that attributes described below are as described in compost tea literature and are documented here as described as being specifically relevant for brewing compost tea. These attributes are not necessarily relevant to, or consistent with attributes of composts applied to other purposes.

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Compost quality

The main reasons for compost tea use in agriculture are to suppress plant diseases and to supplement plant nutrition. This requires that the compost tea should contain high diversity of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes, as well as soluble nutrients extracted from the compost. This can be achieved by brewing a known quantity of compost of known properties in water for a defined period of time. A quality compost with high microbial diversity has the potential to make a good compost tea, if made properly. A poor compost will always make a poor compost tea. The transformation of compost into compost tea cannot improve on the original quality of the compost (Bess, 2000; Scheuerell, 2003; Kelley, 2004; Ingham, 2005). Therefore compost quality is critical to maximise the number of beneficial species of each group of organisms (Figure 1) (Ingham, 2005), and should contain all the important groups of organisms that are typically found in the soil (Figure 2).

Figure 1 Typical compost organism groups (Source: Ingham, 2005).

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Figure 2 Typical soil organism groups (Source: Ingham, 2005).

The beneficial role attributed to each group of these organisms is as follows (Ingham, 2005): • • • • Bacteria and fungi on the leaf surface compete with disease causing organisms for food, space, oxygen and water; Bacteria and fungi in the soil retain nutrients in their biomass, decompose plant and animal residues, and build soil aggregate structure; Protozoa eat bacteria thereby releasing nutrients for the growth of plants, bacteria and fungi; and Most nematodes (except plant feeders which are harmful as they consume root material and harm plant growth) in the soil feed on bacteria and fungi releasing nutrients; many nematodes also consume other pest nematodes thereby keep the population of beneficial and harmful nematodes under control because too many nematodes can reduce bacterial populations below the level needed to suppress disease, retain nutrients, decompose residues or build soil aggregates. Composting feedstocks influence the biological, chemical and physical character of finished compost, which in turn impacts the characteristics and efficacy of the derived compost tea. Early work on non-aerated compost tea (NCT’s) indicated that the most disease suppressive tea was attained by using animal manure based composts, as opposed to compost made solely from vegetative materials. The advantage of animal manure compost was attributed to diversity in microbial populations (Scheuerell, 2003), or higher levels of available phosphorus, calcium and trace elements, compared to yard and lawn trimmings (Pittway, 2003). However, other research

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projects have since determined that foliar applications of plant based composts were equally effective as manure based compost for making NCT that inhibited gray mould on foliage in greenhouse studies (Scheurell, 2004). The selection of compost characteristics depends upon the type of compost tea that is required and the purpose of its use (Ingham, 2005). Trees and shrubs are reported to benefit preferably from fungal dominated soil (Touart, 2000; Ingham, 2005). Vegetables, turf and row crops are reported to benefit preferably from bacterially dominated soils (Touart, 2000) or need both bacteria and fungi (Ingham, 2005). Perennials require balance of fungal and bacterial dominated soil (Touart, 2000; Ingham, 2005). Compost produced from high woody materials (resistant to rapid decay) with manure and green materials is considered likely to produce fungal dominated tea. Compost produced from a high proportion of green materials with manure and less woody materials is considered to produce bacterial dominated tea (Ingham, 2005). Highly aerobic compost, made from a mix of manure and plant material is favoured (Grobe, 2003a). Aerobic compost is considered to maintain a habitat that allows beneficial organisms dominate and to out compete less beneficial and non-beneficial organisms that tend to populate more rapidly in reduced oxygen conditions (Ingham, 2005). The soluble nutrients and foods in aerobic compost also help organisms to grow in the tea brewing process. Compost must be effectively pasteurised to destroy pathogens, requiring the temperature of compost to reach 57°C continuously for 3 entire days throughout the entire pile (Ingham, 2005). Then the outside material must be turned to inside and the temperature maintained. Well made compost will be dominated by beneficial bacteria or fungi (Ingham, 2005). If vermi-compost is used, the raw materials must be adequately processed, to destroy human and plant pathogens. The biomass, diversity and growth (or activity of microorganisms) can be enhanced in compost by adding organisms and different kinds of foods, or nutrients to improve conditions for beneficial bacterial and fungal growth (Ingham, 2005). It is claimed that compost teas made from compost that have decayed past the sugar stage and have ample humic acid content, are considered “disease suppressive” (Anonymous, 1996). The less disturbed a compost is, especially in the maturation phase of composting (if bacteria and fungi have gone through growth burst in the early composting process), then, the greater the likelihood that compost will not reheat and will contain a higher biomass of fungi and predators (that will help compost maturation), such as beneficial nematodes, protozoa and microarthopods (Ingham, 2005). It is prudent to use compost that is free of human pathogens. A good aerobic compost should not contain weed seeds, human pathogens and plant pathogens (Ingham, 2005). Scheuerell (2003) cites German work claiming that composts should be cured for 2 to 6 months after processing for use in compost tea production. However, it is not clear whether the shifting microbial community or the reduction in microbial food was the main factor in relation to compost age. The compost made of only plant material such as leaves, yard trimmings and straw is not useful after aging for 3 months, while horse and dairy manure compost can be used until 9 to 12 months of age (Scheurell, 2003). For control of cucumber downy mildew using NCT, 6 months old horse manure compost was significantly more effective than one year old compost (Scheurell, 2003).
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Ratio of compost to water

Optimum ratio of compost to water tends to vary, depending upon the brewing process and equipment used. Too little compost will result in dilute tea with few nutrients or organisms. Too much compost means not everything is extracted that could be extracted. It may also be possible to overload some of the compost tea making equipment, so that water cannot flow through the compost and extraction efficiency will be low (Ingham, 2005). Generally compost tea brewing equipment suppliers provide information on recommended compost to water ratios. For making a compost tea, the compost to water ratios reported in the literature varied from 2-3 kg of compost in 75 litres of water to 9-10 kg of compost in 200 to 400 litres of water for the final product (Anonymous, 1996; Ingham, 1999).



It is considered that aerobic conditions maintain the presence and growth of beneficial organisms. Plant and human pathogens tend to require reduced oxygen conditions in order to be highly competitive, whereas, most beneficial organisms require fully aerobic conditions. If oxygen becomes limited, human and plant pathogen populations will increase under anaerobic conditions (Ingham, 2005; Scheuerell, 2003). Brief anaerobic periods for few minutes, hours or sometimes days may not be undesirable, if the aerobic organisms are not destroyed or become inactive (Ingham, 2005). In fact brief anaerobic periods may increase diversity of microorganisms. However prolonged anaerobic conditions may make many beneficial microorganisms inactive or kill them (Ingham, 2005) Research with anaerobic, non-aerated compost teas (NCT) has shown that a variety of foliar plant pathogens and/or diseases have been suppressed by applications of NCT. For example, powdery mildew incidence of leaflets; grey mould on geraniums, damping off in greenhouse seedlings (Scheuerella, 2003); fungal mycelium of Botrytis cinerea; Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, Rhizoctonia solani and Fusarrium oxysporum (Nakasone et al., 1999). When many compost tea formulations were tested including NCT and ACT for damping off of cucumber, the compost teas that performed most consistently were ACT fermented with kelp and humic acids (Scheuerella, 2004). Therefore producers and users must weigh the trade off between the two approaches. Aerobic or aerated compost tea (ACT) requires aeration in the production process, which adds to the cost and effort. A significant advantage with ACT is that this method can produce tea in 2 to 3 days, as opposed to NCT which requires up to 2 weeks fermentation (Kelley, 2004; Scheuerella, 2003). The shorter timeframe for ACT production is a significant advantage that enables growers to respond more quickly to weather forecasts or other indications of disease outbreak (Kelley, 2004). Aerated compost tea production creates fewer odours than NCT, and ACT reduces the risk of contamination by human pathogens. However, one of advantage of NCT is attributed to the accumulation of antibiotics due to the longer fermentation times (Scheuerella, 2003). Such antibiotics are considered to activate natural plant defence responses and help in disease suppression.

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Ingham (1998) considers that the presence of anaerobic organisms in compost is not a concern, as long as they are not increasing in total population. The main reason for concern over anaerobic organisms is the production of volatile organic acids (VOAs), alcohols, ammonia, and phenols produced by anaerobic bacteria and yeast. These compounds are toxic to the roots of plants, even very small quantities are phytotoxic (Ingham, 1998). Aeration of the brew helps to maintain aerobic conditions, and the by-products of anaerobic conditions such as VOA and alcohols are consumed by aerobic microorganisms (Ingham, 1998).


Fermentation nutrients

All fermentation nutrients place selective pressure on the microbial community in compost tea, ranging from inhibition to an increased growth rate for different types of organisms (Scheurell, 2003). Increasing microbial populations by introducing nutrients can improve biological control, but nutrients must be used with extreme caution (Ingham, 2005; Scheuerell, 2003). In an aerobic environment, excess bacterial and fungal growth resulting from the addition of nutrients can cause higher oxygen consumption that is detrimental to maintaining aerobic conditions, and the liquid may become anaerobic (Ingham, 2005). If compost tea fermentation is terminated at the maximum metabolic activity level, it is likely to leave unfermented nutrients available to all organisms, potentially stimulating pathogens that have an efficient saprophytic phase (when microorganisms grow and derive their nourishment from host and/or dead or decaying organic matter) which is linked to negating the suppressive effects of the compost tea (Scheuerell, 2003). Amending compost tea with molasses has been found to favour the regrowth of human pathogenic bacteria (Duffy et al., 2004), and to assist the loss of disease suppressive characteristics of compost tea (Scheuerell, 2003). Simple sugars and molasses also have potential to result in increased E. coli and Salmonella in compost tea brews, if the compost used to brew the tea contains these organisms (Scheuerell, 2003). For example, a Salmonella population increased from 0 to 1000 CFUml-1 in dairy manure compost tea that was amended with 1% molasses and 0 to 350,000 CFU ml-1 in chicken manure compost tea over a 72 hour period. E.coli populations increased from 0 to 1000 CFUml-1 in both dairy and chicken manure teas over a 72 hr period (Duffy et al., 2004). This raises a concern for public health and the potential for contamination of treated crops, particularly produce intended for fresh consumption. However, others researchers consider that a diversity of food resources and nutrients will improve as more kinds of plant materials are used in the composting process and the addition of molasses to compost tea will not favour regrowth of human pathogens if they are not present in compost to begin with (Ingham, 2005).


Mixing and extraction

Mixing is an important part of the process, assisting the physical extraction of bacteria and fungi from the compost. However, too rapid or forceful mixing can physically destroy beneficial microorganism populations in the tea. Mixing that is too slow may not be sufficient to extract enough organisms from the compost. In addition insufficiently vigorous or slow mixing can allow the development of bio-films and anaerobic conditions, with resulting formation of phytotoxic compounds in the liquid tea (Ingham, 2005).

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Brewing time

The typical extraction time for aerated compost tea is 24 hours. The optimum brewing time is when most of the soluble nutrients and organisms have been absorbed into the liquid or extracted from the compost. A long brewing time will enable greater amounts of soluble material and organism’s to be extracted from the compost and into the liquid. The greater the amount of soluble material in the tea, the more food resources there are to grow beneficial bacteria and fungi, and the more nutrients will be available for plants (Ingham, 2005). However, a long brewing time does not always produce good quality compost tea. For example, if the supply of oxygen is not adequate for a long brewing time, anaerobic organisms will grow in the tea and can produce phytotoxic compounds in the tea. A shorter brewing time is less likely to develop anaerobic bio-films (Ingham, 2005). Therefore the optimum brewing time is the time that allows a balance between the extraction of nutrients and the growth of organisms, depending on the brewing conditions. Studies conducted by Oregon State’s Soil Microbial Biomass Service (Anonymous, 1996) have shown that for ACT the maximum amount of bacterial growth occurs after approximately 18 hours in a 115 litre tank where aeration is sufficient. Extraction time for non aerated compost teas is about 2 weeks. The longer fermentation time has been reported to enable accumulation of antibiotics in the NCT which are claimed to activate natural plant defence responses thereby help in disease suppression (Scheuerell, 2003).


Abiotic conditions

Temperature, humidity, evaporation and other abiotic conditions influence the growth rate of microorganisms. High temperatures volatilise nutrients and causes evaporation that will concentrate salts, while low temperatures slow microorganism growth. It is suggested to place tea making equipment inside a greenhouse or shed. In hot weather, cover tea making units to prevent evaporation and concentration of salts (Ingham, 2005).


Final filtration

Compost tea is usually filtered before application, particularly when applied via sprayers or irrigation systems by using a fine mesh strainer to prevent the clogging of sprayer nozzles and irrigation systems. Irrigation filters, particularly in drip systems, also remove suspended particles that can contain part of the microbial diversity found in compost tea. Filtration does not let a sufficient amount of particulate matter pass through in tea. Some types of microorganisms like to live attached to particulate matter as a result finely filtered teas tend not to contain significant population of such microorganisms. That means beneficial fungi and actinomycetes, prominently active in suitable composts, may be poorly represented because of the necessity to strain out particulate matter that they would normally be attached to due to the functional requirements of irrigation system equipment or various sprayers (Bess, 2000; Ingham, 2005).

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Compost tea characteristics and quality assessment

There are numerous recipes for compost tea. There are also many and varied ideas on improvements for compost teas, some of which focus on its use for more specific applications. For example, to combat plant pathogens, compost tea production focuses on maximising microbial diversity, whereas, to supplement nutrients, manufacturers add nutrients either during production or as a post production addition. It is yet unknown what teas attributes are effective for specific types of diseases. Unknown also is the effectiveness of the microbial concentration or the balance of species. For example, does a greater total population of microbes have a more beneficial effect or is a more microbial diverse compost tea more effective? It is suggested to be more likely that each plant, each cultivar, each climate and each season requires a different set of organisms (Ingham, 2005) this is also likely to differ for soil applications and foliar applications. While there are so many unknown parameters, the most common approach is to use a tea with a diverse microbial community and let natural selection take over (Ingham, 2005; Scheuerell, 2003). A diverse assemblage of microbes possesses all the traits needed to effectively colonize plants and inhibit pathogens over a wide range of conditions (Scheuerell, 2003). Scheuerell (2003) reports that it is important to understand each pathogen’s biology for optimising the biological control of pathogens with compost teas including different requirements for growth, multiplication, survival and infection of pathogens than their antagonists (beneficial microorganisms that exhibit antagonistic properties towards plant pathogens). Scheuerell (2003) also reports importance of considering different requirements in microbial diversity and total microbial population in compost teas for foliar vs soil applications to maximise biological control potential. Scheuerell (2003) explains how plant pathogens differ in their requirements for survival and infection from beneficial microorganisms that exhibit antagonistic properties towards plant pathogens. Most bacteria that infect leaves must multiply or grow epiphytically (on the leaf surface) until a population capable of causing disease symptoms is reached. Epiphytic growth requires leaf surface nutrients, so colonizing the leaf with beneficial organisms that are capable of scavenging nutrients can reduce populations and growth of such pathogenic microorganisms. Such beneficial microorganisms tend to be robust relative to pathogens, better surviving desiccation and other stresses, growing over a wider temperature range and more effectively using available nutrients. This enables such beneficial microorganisms to colonise diverse surfaces, and to predate or parasitise pathogenic microorganisms. The main characteristics of compost tea for disease suppression, as reported in the literature, are the presence of a maximum diversity of beneficial organisms, plant nutrients and low salt levels. The compost tea characteristics needed for different plants and soil types proposed by Soil Foodweb are provided in Table 1. Trees and shrubs are reported to require a fungal dominated soil to thrive, while row and other crops are reported do best in bacterially dominated soils. Sandy type soils are claimed to require both bacteria and fungi to build good soil structure, whilst clayey type soils are reported to require mostly bacteria to form micro-aggregates and to cycle nutrients (Ingham, 2005).
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Plant nutrients in compost teas help to stimulate growth of beneficial microorganisms and can help strengthen their structural defences, physically waiving off invading pathogens (Scheuerell, 2003). Antibiotics and other metabolites, which can accumulate in compost tea during production are reported to activate natural plant defence responses (Scheuerell, 2003). Table 1 Compost tea characteristics for different plant types and soil types (Ingham, 2005). Soil type Broccoli, cabbage, cole (Strongly bacterial) Need both bacteria and fungi to build good soil structure Improve bacteria significantly and some fungi Mostly need bacteria to form microaggregates and get nutrient cycling going Row crops, grasses (Slightly bacterial) Need mostly fungal activity, some bacteria to build soil structure Need both bacteria and fungi Need both bacteria and fungi Plant types Berries (Equal bacteria and fungi) Need to maximize fungal activity Need to maximize fungi Need to improve both bacteria and fungi


Deciduous trees, vines (2-10 times more fungal) Need to maximize fungal activity Need to maximize fungi to overcome compaction Need to maximize fungi

Conifers (100+ more fungal than bacteria) Need to maximize Mycorrhizal fungi Need to maximize fungi including mycorrhizal Need to maximize fungi including mycorrhizal




How compost tea quality is assessed?

Soil Food web advocates assess the quality of compost tea by testing microbial composition of compost and compost tea for the following organism groups. Table 2 The desired minimal ranges for different organisms in compost and compost tea (Ingham, 2005) Product Active bacteria (µg) 15030 Total bacteria (µg) 150-300 Active fungi (µg) 2-10 Total fungi (µg) 150-200 Protozoa (#) F 10,000 A 10,000 C 20 to 50 Beneficial nematodes (#) 50-100

Compost (per gm dry weight) Compost tea (per ml)







20 to 50


The total microorganism populations will vary for each tea, even if the compost, mixing and amendments used were the same.

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Bess (2000) suggests that compost tea should be analysed for the same parameters as compost including beneficial microorganisms: aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, pseudomonades; nitrogen fixing bacteria; and pathogens such as E.coli and Salmonella.


Compost tea quality during storage

Compost tea does not typically improve with time. For best results, it should be used as soon as possible and should be stored in a shaded area with agitation and ventilation of the tank (Bess, 2000; Ingham, 2005). Long storage times negatively impact upon the diversity of microorganisms, as well as nutrients carried by the tea for plant use (Bess, 2000). Number and activity of organisms reduces significantly with storage (Ingham, 2005). Reduction in active organisms is acceptable for a soil application but not for a foliar application. Active organisms are necessary for foliar protection. Continuous aeration and addition of bacterial and fungal food can extend shelf life of compost tea for a few days only.


Application of compost teas


Application methods

Compost tea can be applied either to the soil or to the plant foliage. Compost tea is commonly applied to the soil by drenching the soil, directing compost tea into the root zone and affects the rhizosphere of the plant. Nutrients supplied with the tea are used by the plants as well as by the microorganisms. The microbes in the compost tea compete with other soil microorganisms, and in turn, become part of the soil and rhizosphere microbial ecology (Bess, 2000). Compost tea for soil applications (except when applied via irrigation systems or sprayers, see Section 2.4.8) does not necessarily require fine filtration before application thereby retaining microbial organisms in compost teas therefore provide greater total population and diversity of microorganisms than spray applications. When applied to plant foliage, compost tea may alter the composition of organisms on the leaf surface, both through inoculation of organisms from the tea and through supply of foods that help support survival and growth of leaf-surface organisms (Ingham, 1999). Compost tea applied to plant foliage has immediate impacts upon the plants welfare. Good quality compost tea that provides beneficial organisms and plant nutrients are essential, and should also avoid salt burn problems and risk of pathogens. The key is to achieve thorough coverage on both sides of the leaves. Leaves are coated in various waxes that tend to repel water droplets. Surfactants are added to the compost tea to reduce the water surface tension and allowing tea droplets to spread across the waxy surface (Scheuerell 2003). The sticking agent helps the tea adhere to the surface, also reducing losses from rain. The addition of surfactants, sticking agents and UV inhibitors (referred to as spray adjuvants) to compost tea can increase the proportion of leaf area covered by beneficial microorganisms, thereby increasing leaf coverage and prolonging microbial survival by protecting against desiccation and harmful UV light (Scheuerell 2003).
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significantly reduce disease severity of foliar fungal pathogens compared to less effective foliar application of unamended compost tea (Scheurell, 2003). Compost tea for foliar applications can be applied with a broad range of sprayers. Tea should be preferably applied as a fine mist, so the liquid will remain on the leaf and not drip off (Grobe, 2003a). Compost tea can also be applied via irrigation systems. As discussed in Section 2.4.8, compost tea is usually filtered before spraying for foliar applications or applying via irrigation systems to prevent the clogging of sprayer nozzles and irrigation systems. Filtration removes a sufficient amount of particulate matter and some types of microorganisms tend to live attached to this particulate matter. As a result, these organisms may be poorly represented in filtered compost tea because of the necessity to strain out particulate material to which they would normally be attached to meet the functional requirements of irrigation system equipment or sprayers (Bess, 2000; Ingham, 2005). Selection of soil vs foliar application method will vary case by case basis depending on disease type, severity, crop type and environmental conditions. Both these methods have their merits and demerits. For example foliar applications can be used for immediate impact on disease when noticed on foliage, whilst soil application can be used to protect against soil diseases reaching the roots. Combination of soil and foliar application are claimed to provide best results.


Application rate

For foliar disease suppression, complete plant coverage is desirable. Therefore the crop canopy area determines application rates. For soil applications, sufficient volume should be applied to reach the entire root zone (Scheuerell, 2003). Elaine Ingham of Soil Food Web proposes a general theory of covering at least 70% leaf surfaces by at least 6070% active bacteria and 2-5% active fungi (determined by leaf examination), as this level of coverage prevents the colonisation of the plant surface by plant pathoges. This theory needs assessment to validate under different conditions and for different pathogens that vary in their modes of survival and infection processes (Scheuerell, 2003). Ingham (2005) also suggests as general guide the application of about 50 L/ha of compost tea for foliar application and 150 L/ha for a soil drench.


Application time

For foliar applications the best time to apply compost tea is in the evening, when evaporation is minimum and ultraviolet light, which can be toxic to microorganisms, is minimal (Grobe, 2003a). For soil applications compost tea can be applied: •
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At transplant and seeding stages; and/or,
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To the base of full grown plants.

Application timing will also depend upon the disease that is being targeted and the timing and conditions that pose risks of infection by particular diseases.


Compost tea production and use in NSW

Approximately 20 compost tea manufacturers are accredited through the Soil Foodweb Institute to produce compost teas. The information provided below is obtained from a number of accredited compost tea manufacturers in NSW. Contacts details for these producers are available through the Soil Foodweb Institute, Lismore (www.soilfoodweb.com). The main production of compost tea occurs in northern NSW at Bangalow, Mallanganee, Lismore and Moree. There is also limited production in the Sydney metropolitan area. Many of these businesses manufacture compost tea brewers, compost teas, composts and various inoculants (that are added to compost teas). The production capacity of these businesses varies from 1,000 litres to 500,000 litres per annum. Compost tea in NSW is produced from vermicasts, vermicomposts and composts made from a wide range of materials including: manures, grass, green waste, wood waste and other raw materials. Other products that are used in compost tea production in NSW are liquid malt, water hyacinths, full fat soyabean, fish hydrolysis, kelp and molasses. Manure based composts are considered beneficial in terms of number and diversity of microorganisms, and compost teas are not produced exclusively from garden organics. The duration of compost processing varies depending on raw materials and may range from 30 days to over six months. Compost tea preparation requires quality compost as defined by the number and diversity of microorganisms, nutrient content and low salt levels. Some compost tea manufacturers accredited with Soil Foodweb use compost supplied by compost producers that have a quality assurance program and who work closely with Soil Foodweb Institute. These compost tea manufacturers have the Soil Foodweb Institute test the compost for the number and diversity of microorganisms (particularly aerobic microorganisms) before brewing. In addition, compost tea manufacturers determine compost quality visually; by colour (brown colour indicates good quality); smell (no odours) and compost should not still be hot (check compost temperature). Compost tea in NSW is predominantly prepared by aerated method, the method advocated by Soil Food Web.. In NSW, compost tea is used on a wide range of crops including vegetables, turf, fruit (macadamia, avocado, mango, olives, blueberries, lychees), vines, cotton, cereals, public parks and spaces, trees (eucalyptus) and remediation of mining sites, soil salinity and soil acidity (pers. comm. with various producers, sellers and users of compost teas in NSW). Compost tea in NSW is used as foliar spray and direct soil applications, and via various irrigation systems. High quality compost and compost tea is required for foliar applications. Foliar applications and application of compost tea via various irrigation systems needs filtration before application (to avoid blockage of sprayer nozzles or irrigations systems) however, such fine filtration also removes beneficial fungi, actinomycetes and
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nematodes. Direct soil applications (except via irrigation systems) do not necessarily need such fine filtration and as a result higher populations of fungi, actinomycetes and nematodes are applied in the tea. Compost tea application rates vary significantly depending upon application. Reported application rates range for foliar application varies from 20 to 50 litres per hectare per application, whilst application rate for soil application ranges from 150 to 200 litres per hectare per application. Application rate also varies depending upon the height of foliage (e.g. foliar application of 50 L per hectare for 1m high foliage, higher application rate of 200 L per hectare for 4 m height foliage). Frequency of application varies depending upon crop and purpose of the application. Application frequency tends towards 5 to 6 applications per year. However, frequency of application may increase to weekly or fortnightly in the instance of disease outbreak/infestation. The benefits of compost tea claimed by compost tea manufacturers and sellers in NSW are: • • • • Disease and pest suppression and/or resistance; Reduced use of pesticides; Increased numbers and diversity of microorganisms; To improve soil structure and water percolation that helps to improve plant growth (particularly on compacted soils such as bowling greens which are compacted by continuous machinery use); • • • • Nutrient and carbon cycling, providing nutrients for plant uptake; Reduced fertiliser applications; Improved foliar biology that helps to improve plant vigour; and Improved yield.

The use of compost tea in NSW is gaining momentum. Currently it is suggested that up to 5000 farms use compost tea in NSW/ACT in and around Sydney, Moree, Dubbo, Lismore and Canberra. A national conference on compost tea use held in February 2005 was attended by 12,000 farmers. NSW compost tea manufacturers also sell compost tea in Queensland and Victoria.


Implications for recycled organics industry

The solid compost product from which the compost tea is brewed is usually returned to the composting process for reprocessing. This is the case regardless of whether the tea is produced by a commercial compost producer (pers. comm. Harry Wilson, SMS); or, as is most commonly the case, where the tea is produced on farm by the grower (refer to Section 1.5). Compost tea production is therefore not expected to contribute directly to the diversion of organic materials from the waste stream. The recent increase in interest in compost teas in NSW can be tracked back to the first Elaine Ingham Soil Food Web workshops run in 2000 – 2002, which were jointly organised by Harry Wilson of SMS Municipal Services with a view to developing awareness and agricultural market demand, and the establishment of the Soil Food Web laboratory in Lismore in 2001. SMS are not currently producing compost teas, having determined that there is not currently a real commercial market for the product. SMS characterised current users of compost teas as
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“true believers” in organic farming and philosophy, that growers attending the Soil Food Web workshops were enthusiastic about on farm production of compost teas, are and that commercialisation of compost tea was “a long way off yet”. SMS did not see opportunity for commercial return for compost manufacturers in the foreseeable future with the current emphasis on on-farm production. Compost manufacturers may choose to manufacture and market compost teas where profits can be generated, however cost structure of production would include both the production of compost specifically for subsequent production of the compost tea, analysis of compost and compost tea, and also reprocessing of the compost from which the tea is brewed. SMS intends to produce compost tea in the future via Biomass Solutions at Coffs Harbour facility, but not for sale. Experience has persuaded SMS that compost tea is a useful inoculant for the composting process, and intends to produce tea exclusively for internal operational use. Previous consultation with quality managers of commercial compost facilities (pers. comm. ANL) has suggested that leachate collected from the composting site and reapplied to windrows as irrigation can fulfil a similar function in normalising the duration of processing required to produce compost of consistent quality, and associated achievement of reliable compost production schedules. These are operational decisions that may be implemented at the discretion of individual enterprises.



Compost tea is manufactured and used on a wide range of crops in NSW including vegetables, turf, fruit (macadamia, avocado, mango, olives, blueberries, lychees), vines, cotton, cereals, public parks and spaces, trees (eucalyptus) and remediation of mining sites, soil salinity and soil acidity. Several businesses are engaged in manufacturing compost tea in NSW, including 20 compost tea manufacturers who are accredited through Soil Foodweb Institute at Lismore. The main production of compost tea occurs in northern NSW at Bangalow, Mallanganee, Lismore and Moree and some in the Sydney metropolitan area. Many of these businesses manufacture compost tea brewers, compost teas and/or composts and various inoculants (that are added to compost teas). Compost tea in NSW is produced from vermicasts, vermicomposts and composts made from a wide range of raw materials including manures, grass, green waste, wood waste and others. Manure based composts are considered beneficial in terms of numbers and diversity of microorganisms and compost teas are not produced exclusively from garden organics. The duration of compost processing varies depending on raw materials, ranging from 30 days to over six months. The production and application of compost tea is primarily focussed on: • • Disease suppression, Supplementing plant nutrients, and

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Increasing soil microbiology to improve soil structure, water percolation/retention, rooting depth and consequently improved plant growth.

The research conducted worldwide on compost tea is scarce and the results are highly variable. Results vary from suppression of some diseases to no effect in disease suppression at all, or in few cases increased incidence of diseases. Where compost teas are compared with conventional fungicides, in most instances compost teas have been relatively ineffective. The limited characterisation of compost product, compost tea production process, filtration or otherwise, and other tea attributes relevant to quality as defined by compost tea proponents significantly restricts the drawing of conclusions on the efficacy of compost tea from recently published research. Compost tea application also has shown increased soil tilth of tight clay soil; reduced fertiliser requirements for seedlings; and increased root length of turf. The cost of disease control with compost tea is considered similar to that of the synthetic chemicals, partly because compost teas need to be applied more often than conventional biocides. Compost tea producers estimate that up to 5,000 farms are using compost tea in NSW/ACT, these are mainly organic farms. Use of compost teas is based on faith or anecdotal evidence rather than based on replicated scientific research at this stage. Researchers acknowledge that there are significant limitations in our knowledge of compost teas and its use, and hope that an increased understanding of compost tea microbiology and the survival and interactions of microbes on plants surfaces will enable compost tea production practices and application technology that optimises disease suppression. Compost tea production is not expected to contribute directly to the diversion of organic materials from the waste stream as compost tea is predominantly produced on farms, and as the solid compost from which the tea is brewed is returned to the solid compost production process for reprocessing.

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Section 3


Al-Dahmani, J.H., Abbasi, P.A., Miller, S.A. and Hoitink, H.A.J. 2003. Suppression of bacterial spot of tomato wityh foliar sprays of compost extracts under greenhouse and field conditions. Plant Disease. 87:913-919. Anonymous. 1996. Compost teas in agriculture. BioCycle 37 (12) pp 65. Bess, V.H. 2000. Understanding compost tea. BioCycle 41(10) pp 71-72. Chalker-Scott and Angie Cahill. Unkown. Compost tea: Miracle cure or marketing Gimmick? Internet publication. Available on http://www.puyallup.wsu.edu/~Linda%20Chalker-Scott/ Diver, Steve. 2002. Compost Teas for plant disease control. ATTRA publication available at http://www.attra.org/attra-pub/comptea.html Duffy, B., Sarreal, C., Ravva, S. and Stanker, L. 2004. Effect of molasses on regrowth of E.coli O157:H7 and Salmonella in compost teas. Compost Science & Utilization. 12:93-96. Elad, Y., and Shtienberg, D. 1994. Effects of compost water extracts on grey mold (Botrytis cinerea). Crop Prot. 13:109-114. Gangaiah, C., Carey, E. and Tisserat, N.A. 2004. Suppression of Septoria Leaf Spot disease of tomato using aerated compost tea. Kansas State University. ASHS 2004 annual meeting. Available on http://www.ashs.org/annualmeeting/conference/index.lasso Grobe, K. 2003a. California landscape contractor calls it compost tea time. BioCycle 44 (2) pp 26-27. Grobe, K. 2003b. Golf courses find value in compost tea programs. BioCycle 44 (10) pp 22-23. Ingham, E. 2005. The compost tea brewing manual. US Printings, Soil Foodweb Incorporated, Oregon. Ingham, E. 1999. What is compost tea? Part 1. BioCycle 40 No. 3 pp 74-75. Ingham, E. 1998. Anaerobic bacteria and compost tea. BioCycle 39 No. 6 pp 86. Joslin, K., Taber, H., Helland, S. and Gleason, M. Unkown. Control of the Foliar Disease, Septoria lycopersici, in organic tomato production. Iowa State Univeristy. Kelley, S. 2004. Building a knowledge base for compost tea. BioCycle 45 (6) pp 30-34. McQuilken, M.P., Whipps, J.M., and Lynch, J.M. 1994. Effects of compost extracts of a composted manurestraw mixture on the plant pathogen Botrytis cinerea. World J. Microbiol. Biotechnol. 10: 20-26. Nakasone, A.K., Bettiol, W., and Souza, R.M. 1999. The effect of water extracts of organic matter on plant pathogens. Summa Phytopathologica 25:330-35.

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Pittaway, Pam. (Year Unknown) Review of Dr E Ingham seminar: Soil Foodweb for Turf Pacific Golf Club Carindale. Plotkin, J.M. (nknown). Response of Alternaria spp. Blight and Septoria spp. Leaf Spot to biological disease control agents in tomatoes. Internet publication available on http://www.ofrf.org/scoar/plotkin.PDF Recycled Organics Unit, 2003a. Recycled Organics Dictionary and Thesaurus: Standard terminology for the recycled organics sector. Recycled Organics Unit, internet publication: www.recycledorganics.com Recycled Organics Unit, 2003b. Buyers’s guide for recycled organics products. Information sheet 6-5. Recycled organics product categories and standards. Recycled Organics Unit, internet publication: www.recycledorganics.com Scheuerell, S.J. and Mahaffee, W.F. 2004. Compost tea as a container medium drench for suppressing seedling damping-off caused by Pythium ultimum. Phytopathology 94:1156-1163. Scheuerell, S. 2003. Understanding how compost tea can control disease. BioCycle 44 (2) pp 20-25. Scheuerell, S.J. and Mahaffee, W.F. 2002. Principles and prospects for plant disease control. Compost Science & Utilization10:4, 313-338. Touart, A.P. 2000. Time for (compost) tea in the northwest. BioCycle 41(10) pp 74-77. Vossen, P. and Gubler, D. North Coast apple scab trials 1993/1994, organic and conventional materials comparison. Adapted from Plant Protection Quarterly 1995:5 (2), 17 available on http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/newsltr/v7n4/sa-8.htm Yohalem, D.S., Harris, R.F., and Andrews, J.H. 1994. Aqueous extracts of spent mushroom sunstrate for foliar disease control. Compost Sci. Util. 2:67-74.

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Section 4
Appendix 1


All terms defined in this glossary are given in the Recycled Organics Industry Dictionary and Thesaurus, 2nd Edition (Recycled Organics Unit, 2003). Term Actinomycete Aerobic Agriculture Amendment Anaerobic Antagonism Antagonists Definition A group of microorganisms, intermediate between bacteria and true fungi, that usually produces a characteristic branched mycelium. The organisms are responsible for earthy smell of compost. Process occurring in the presence of oxygen. The science of cultivating soil, producing crops, and raising livestock; farming. When a material (such as compost) is added to a substrate (e.g. soil or potting mix). Process occurring in the absence of oxygen. Opposition in action between structures, agents, diseases, or physiological processes or interference in or inhibition of the physiological action of a chemical substance by another having a similar structure. Microorganisms that exhibit antagonistic properties towards plant and soil borne pathogens. A group of microorganisms having single-celled or non-cellular bodies. Bacteria usually appear as spheroid, rod-like, or curved entities but occasionally appear as sheets, chains, or branched filaments. Bacteria mostly break down organic materials in composting systems. It is bacteria that generate the heat associated with thermophilic composting systems. Bacteria have different temperature optima and are grouped accordingly: psychrophiles (<20°C); mesophiles (20-45°C), and thermophiles (>45°C). Control of pests and diseases by disrupting their ecological status, through the use of organisms that are natural predators, parasites or pathogens. Also called biocontrol. Total weight, volume or energy equivalent of organisms in a given area. The biotic factors that have to do with microorganisms such as microbial biomass and microbial activity. To extract something by boiling, steeping, or mixing various ingredients: brew tea. Establish a microbial colony in a new ecosystem An organic product that has undergone controlled aerobic and thermophilic biological transformation to achieve pasteurisation and a specified level of maturity. Compost is suitable for the use as soil conditioner or mulch and can improve soil structure, water retention, aeration, erosion control, and other soil properties. Establish a microbial colony in a new ecosystem An organic product that has undergone controlled aerobic and thermophilic biological transformation to achieve pasteurisation and a specified level of maturity. Compost is suitable for the use as soil conditioner or mulch and can improve soil structure, water retention, aeration, erosion control, and other soil properties.


Biological control Biomass Biotic factors Brewing Colonize




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Definition The process whereby organic materials are pasteurised and microbially transformed under aerobic and thermophilic conditions for a period not less than 6 weeks. By definition, it is a process that must be carried out under controlled conditions yielding mature products that do not contain any weed seeds or pathogens. An organic product that has undergone controlled aerobic and thermophilic biological transformation to achieve pasteurisation and a specified level of maturity. The portion of a substance that is not comprised of water. The dry matter content (%) is equal to 100% minus the moisture content (%). Something obtained by extracting Capable of functioning under varying environmental conditions. Used for certain organisms, such as bacteria that can live with or without oxygen. Organic materials used for composting or related biological treatment systems. Different feedstocks have different nutrient concentrations, moisture, structure and contamination levels (physical, chemical and biological). A group of chemical reactions induced by living or nonliving ferments that split complex organic compounds into relatively simple substances. Fulvic acids - the fraction of humic substances that is soluble in water under all pH conditions A group of simple microorganisms that lack a photosynthetic pigment. The individual cells have a nucleus surrounded by a membrane, and they may be linked together in long filaments called hypae. The individual hypae can grow together to form a visible body. The garden organics material definition is defined by its component materials including: Putrescible garden organics (grass clippings); non-woody garden organics; woody garden organics; trees and limbs; stumps and rootballs. Such materials may be derived from domestic, commercial and industrial and commercial and demolition sources. Garden organics is one of the primary components of the compostable organics stream. An organism that cannot synthesize its own food and is dependent on complex organic substances for nutrition The dark or black carbon-rich relatively stable residue resulting from the decomposition of organic matter. The chemical or biological compounds composed of dark organic substances that are precipitated upon acidification of a basic extract from soil or compost. Substances relating to, or derived from humus. Living organisms or material containing living organisms (such as bacteria or other microorganisms) which are added to initiate or accelerate a biological process. Refers to all faecal and urinary excretion of livestock and poultry that are appropriate for collection and use as feedstock materials for composting or in related biological treatment systems. This material may also contain bedding, spilled feed, water or soil. Final stage of composting where temperatures remain steady below 45ºC, and the compost becomes safe to use with plants due to the absence of toxins. Is related to the level of composting feedstock material receives. A mature product is stable and does not cause toxicity to plants. See also Maturation and Stability. A substance produced by metabolism.


Composted products Dry matter Extraction Facultative Feedstock Fermentation Fulvic acids

Fungus (plural Fungi)

Garden organics

Heterotrophic, fungi Humus Humic acids Humic substances Inoculum (plural inocula)


Maturation Maturity of compost Metabolite

Recycled Organics Unit 2nd Edition

Overview of compost tea use in NSW

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Term Microbiology Microfauna Microflora Micronutrients Microorganisms Mycorrhizal fungi Nematodes Organic matter Parasite

Definition The branch of biology that deals with microorganisms and their effects on other living organisms. Animals that cannot be seen with naked eye. The plants and algae that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Elements that are essential for plant growth but that are needed in very small quantities. Also called trace elements. These are iron, manganese, boron, copper, zinc, and molybdenum, etc. An organism of microscopic or submicroscopic size, especially a bacterium or protozoan. The symbiotic association of the mycelium of a fungus with the roots of certain plants, such as conifers, beeches, or orchids. Any of several worms of the phylum Nematoda, having unsegmented, cylindrical bodies, often narrowing at each end, and including parasitic forms. Chemical substances of animal or vegetable origin, consisting of hydrocarbons and their derivates. An organism that grows, feeds, and is sheltered on or in a different organism while contributing nothing to the survival of its host. A relationship in which one species, the parasite, benefits at the expense of the other, the host or the relation between two different kinds of organisms in which one receives benefits from the other by causing damage to it (usually not fatal damage) Microorganisms capable of producing disease or infection in plants or animals. Pathogens can be killed by heat produced during thermophilic composting Organism that causes disease; as, a pathogenic organism; a pathogenic bacterium. An organic product that has undergone controlled aerobic and thermophilic biological transformation to achieve pasteurisation but is relatively immature and lacking in stability compared to compost. Toxic to plants. Partially decomposed organic materials or immature composts are often phytotoxic, but this usually decreases with time. Such products may be phytotoxic due to a number of factors, including low nutrient content; high oxygen consumption; presence of fatty acid or alcohol metabolites formed by microorganisms under anaerobic conditions; or due to excessive concentrations of salts, heavy metals and other organic compounds. The act of preying by a predator who kills and eats the prey An organism that lives by preying on other organisms. A large group of single-celled, usually microscopic, eukaryotic organisms, such as amoebas, ciliates, flagellates, and sporozoans. A group of gram-negative, rod-shaped, mostly aerobic flagellated bacteria; have been identified colonize compost and can suppress plant pathogens. A property expressed by the total amount of soluble salts present in a soil or water. An organism, especially a fungus or bacterium that grows on and derives its nourishment from dead or decaying organic matter. A small, usually single-celled reproductive body that is highly resistant to desiccation and heat and is capable of growing into a new organism, produced especially by certain bacteria, fungi, algae, and non-flowering plants. The potential or ability of a material to cause adverse effects in an organism.


Pathogen Pathogenic Pasteurisation

Phytotoxic or phytoxicity

Predation Predator Protozoa Pseudomonas Salinity Saprophyte Spore Toxicity

Recycled Organics Unit 2nd Edition

Overview of compost tea use in NSW

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Term Vermicast Vermicompost

Definition Solid organic material resulting from the biological transformation of compostable organic materials in a controlled vermiculture process. Vermicomposting is the composting process, which turns organic waste into a black, sweet-smelling, nutrient-rich product using worms.

Recycled Organics Unit 2nd Edition

Overview of compost tea use in NSW

Page 32 2007