Compost Tea Production, Application, and Benefits
Compost is the best overall soil amendment growers can use to increase the quality and health of soil. Good compost provides soil with nutrients, organic matter, and beneficial microorganisms, which can improve crop health, growth, quality, and yields. Compost also improves a soil’s structure and long-term nutrient availability, which helps plants better tolerate drought and suppress disease. However, the time, space, and equipment needed to make and apply compost can make it prohibitive for some farmers.
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Compost tea offers some of the benefits of compost in a more manageable package. For centuries, farmers have soaked “tea bags” full of compost in tubs of water, and then used the resulting liquid (compost tea) to fertilize and improve the health of their crops. This type of compost tea, commonly referred to as “passive compost tea”, typically uses a ratio of one part compost to five parts water and steeps for about two weeks before it is applied to crops as a soluble nutrient solution.
Over the past ten years, compost tea has developed into a booming industry, producing commercial compost tea makers that brew thousands of gallons of tea a day, and fostering two major industry organizations that represent just about everyone in the business. Producers can even find laboratories throughout the world that analyze compost tea for microorganism concentrations and diversity. Most of this industry is devoted to aerated compost tea, which is made by mechanically aerating the steeping process to maintain aerobic levels of dissolved oxygen in the tea solution.
Aerated compost tea is different from passive compost tea in a couple of ways. First, aerated tea “recipes” usually include added nutrients such as kelp, fish hydrolysate, and humic acid to promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the highly oxygenated solution. These ingredients are not recommended for passive compost tea production because the additional nutrients can make the passive, less oxygenated tea solution anaerobic. Secondly, with added nutrients and increased microbial growth, aerated compost tea is ready for application after only 24 hours, whereas passive compost tea often takes several weeks to steep. Use of passive compost tea is popular in Europe, while aerated compost tea is used more commonly in North America.
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