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What are the Benefits of Aerated Compost Teas vs. Classic Teas?
Aerated compost teas are the latest in scientific organic research today. In many ways, aerated teas offer greater immediate benefits than classic compost, manure, or other homemade foliar teas. Just by applying a cheap aquarium air pump to a 5 gallon bucket of tea, you can get amazing results. (Cheap, inexpensive aquarium airstones are also recommended to be applied to the hose in the water. This produces a better distribution of smaller air bubbles to make the aerobic soil/comosting microbes breed better.) Instead of just brewing teas for quick valuable water soluble nutrients from the compost or manure, you can breed a larger population of beneficial aerobic bacteria and fungi in the tea. It is the microherd in our soil, compost, and teas, that is really more important in soil development and disease control than just the soluble nutrients. Aerobic microherd populations reduce offensive smells in compost piles, the compost teas, and the soil. Aerobic microherd also break down bad poisons and pathogens into safe nutrients in hot compost piles and aerated compost teas. Diluted anaerobic compost or manure teas are great liquid fertilizers and disease controllers also. Many people prefer the anaerobic teas better because they are simpler and easier to design and apply. However, recent research has proven that the aerobic microherd populations fight diseases and bad soil and plant pathogens better and supply more power to your soil's total health and texture. Keep in mind that all types of organic and natural foliar teas are designed to complement and enhance, not replace, basic composting, green manuring, and organic mulching techinques in your garden. The soil microherd continue over months and years to eat up insoluble OM in the existing soil and the extra soil amendments and break them down into more available soluble nutrients for plants later in the year.
Technically even in un-aerated teas there is still some aerobic action taking place for several days. All fungi is aerobic. Some bacteria are totally aerobic, some bacteria are totally anaerobic, and some bacteria can act both aerobic or anerobic based on the soil or tea environment. Un-aerated teas can continue to keep alive some aerobic or aerobic/anaerobic microbes, for up to 10 days in a watery solution. After 10 days, the whole un-aerated tea will contain only anerobic microbes.
You can expect different microbial population levels in your tea based on weather, climate, temperature, seasons, etc. In the summertime you can expect your teas to brew faster and get to your optimal microbial levels faster than in cooler fall weather. Also tea odors, color, and foaminess on top of the tea, will vary based on temperatures too.
There are several different levels of teas as well as different recipes and styles. Here is the simple steps as outlined by one of our own GardwenWeb members who is an expert on teas and compost. This is a brief description of the different strength levels of tea making as outlined by "BILL_G" :
Level 1: Put a shovel full of good compost in a 5 gallon bucket of water, wait one week, and apply to garden or lawn either full strength or up to a 1:4 water ratio. This is an excellent source of ready available soluble nutrients. NOTE: If you stir your brew daily or every other day, it helps get more oxygen to the mix for better decomposition and better aerobic microbial population growth.
Level 2 : Do same as above, but now add to the recipe a few cups of alfalfa pellets or some other cattle feed. Now you have extra nitrogen and trace elements from the bacterial foods.
Level 3: Do all above plus now add the air pump bubbler. Now you have more aerobic microbes to add to your soluble nutrients in the tea.
Level 4 : Do all the above and now add a few tblsp of molasses or other simple sugar products. Now you really maximize the aerobic microbes in the tea, which in turn produce even more extra soluble nutrients from the bacterial foods.
Here is my suggestions also. You can add more high nitrogen foods in the tea. Remember the only main ingredients that are necessary to make a good bacterial and soluble nutrients tea are: aerobic compost and sugar products. Everything else is optional. Your teas can be as creative as you are. Let's assume a 5 gallon tea recipe for our example:
1. Add 1/2 bucket of finished hot compost. This supplies most of the beneficial aerobic microbes and soluble nutrients. Some people use slightly immature aerobic compost because it has more fresh nitrogen in it, but less microbes than finished hot compost.
2. Use 2-3 tblsp molasses, brown sugar, or corn syrup. This feeds and breeds the aerobic bacteria. Sugar products are mostly carbon which is what the microherd eat quickly. Add about 1-2 more tblsp of molasses for every 3 days of aerobic brewing to make sure the sugar is digested before touching the soil at application time, and to guarantee that the aerobic bacteria population stays strong throughout the brewing process. Molasses also contains sulfur which is a mild natural fungicide. Molasses is also a great natural deodorizer for fishy teas. For a more fungal tea don't add too much simple sugar or molasses to your aerobic teas. Use more complex sugars, starches and carbohydrates like in seaweed, rotten fruit, soy sauce, or other fungal foods.
3. Add 1-2 cans of mackerel, sardines, or other canned fish. Supplied extra NPK, fish oil for beneficial fungi, calcium from fish bones. Most commercial fish emulsions contain no fish oils and little to no aerobic bacteria. Fresh fish parts can be used, but because of offensive odors, it should composted separately with browns like sawdust first before adding to the tea brew. NOTE: For those organic gardeners who prefer vegetarian soil amendments, you can skip the fishy ingredients, it's not necessary. There is plenty of NPK in alfalfa meal and other grains that you can use.
(NOTE: If you use canned fish products, you may want to let it decompose mixed with some finished compost, good garden soil, etc. in a separate closeable container for a few days before using. Since most canned meat products contain preservatives, this will guarantee that the good microbes in the tea will not be killed off or harmed in brew making.)
4. Add 1 pack fresh seaweed. Supplies all extra trace elements. Seaweed can contain about 60 trace elements and lots of plant growth hormones. Seaweed is a beneficial fungal food source for soil microbes. Liquifying the seaweed makes it dissolve even faster.
5. Add 1-2 cups of alfalfa meal, corn meal, cattle feed, horse feed, catfish or pond fish feed. Supplies extra proteins and bacteria. Corn meal is a natural fungicide and supplies food for beneficial fungi in the soil.
6. Add rotten fruit for extra fungal foods. Add green weeds to supply extra bacterial foods to the tea.
7. Good ole garden soil is an excellent free biostimulant. Garden soil is full of beneficial aerobic bacteria, fungi, and other great microbes. Some people make a great microbial tea just out of soil. Forest soil is usually higher in beneficial fungi than rich garden soil.
8. Fill the rest of the container with rainwater, compost tea, or plain de-chlorinated water to almost the top of bucket. You can make good "rain water" from tap water by adding a little Tang (citrus acid) to the water mix before brewing. Urine water is also an excellent organic nitrogen source for teas (up to 45% N).
9. Some people like to add 1-2 tblsp of apple cider vinegar to add about 30 extra trace minerals and to add the little acidicity that is present in commercial fish emulsions. Many fish emulsions contain up to 5% sulfuric acid to help it preserve on the shelf and add needed sulfur to the soil. You can add extra magnesium and sulfur by adding 1-2 tblsp of Epsom salt to the tea.
10. Apply the air pump to the tea. NOTE: Some organic tea brewers prefer not to use the air pump method. You can get some extra oxygen in the tea by stirring it daily or every other day. The air pump just makes the oxygen levels in the tea happen faster than by hand, thus greatly increasing the rate of aerobic microbial growth in the tea. If you prefer to use the air pump, let it bubble and brew for at least 1-3 days. (NOTE: The 3 days limit is just a good guideline. The real test of brewing time is by your own sight and smell test, because everybody's tea is different due to the various microbial species and breeding activity that takes place during the brewing process.) The aerobic tea is ready to use when it has either an earthy or "yeasty" smell or a foamy layer on top of the tea. If not satisfied with the look or the smell of the tea, go up to a week of brewing. The extra brewing time will help the microbes digest more of the insoluble bacterial and fungal foods in the tea and make it more available for your plant's or your soil's nutritional needs.
Apply this tea full strength to get full nutrient levels per plant, or dilute it from a 1:1 down to a 1:5 water ratio to spread the beneficial microbes over a 1-acre garden area (mix 5 gallons of tea per 25 gallons of rainwater).
To reduce straining, you can place all your ingredients in a closed panty hose or laundry bag during the brewing cycle (don't use a too fine mesh bag or the beneficial fungi can't flow properly through the bag).
Here's another method to avoid straining and to maximize the amount of microbes in application: Simply turn off the air pump, stir the entire mixture real hard, and then let the mixture sit still for about 30 minutes. Scoop off the top juice straight into a watering can for application.
You can apply with a watering can, or simple cup, or in a sprinkling system. All compost teas can be used as a foliar feed or soil drench around plants. They also make great compost pile nitrogen and bacterial activators to heat up the pile for faster finished composting. Always take the remains for teas and recycle them back into your compost piles.
As stated, you can use your homemade tea as a foliar feed or as a soil drench or both. Soil drenches are best for building up the soil microbial activities and supplying lots of beneficial soluble NPK to the plant's root system and the topsoil texture. Foliar feeds are best for quick fixes of trace elements and small portions of other soluble nutrients into the plant through its leaves. Foliar feeds are also good for plant disease control. Foliar feeds work best when used with soil drenches or with lots of organic mulches around plants. You can poke holes in the soil around crop roots with your spade fork, to get more oxygen in the soil to further increase organic matter decomposition and increase microbial activity in the soil.
Aerated teas can also be used to greatly speed up the decomposition process of hot compost piles. The extra aerobic microbes in the tea will breed and cooperate with the aerobic microbes in the organic matter in the compost pile.
You should not use any liquid soaps as a spreader-sticker agent in a fertilizing/biostimulant tea like this. It can hinder or harm your aerobic microbes that you just grew in the tea. You need to use better products in your tea like liquid molasses, dry molasses powder, fish oil, or yucca extract as a spreader-sticker.
A good aerated tea is very economical. 5 gallons can be diluted to biostimulate an entire acre of garden via foliar spraying only. If you soil drench only, it takes at least 15 gallons of tea, before diluting, to cover an acre of garden soil. Also there is enough aerobic bacteria and fungi in a good 5 gallon batch of aerated tea, that is the equivalent of about 10 tons or 40 cubic yards of regular compost!
These homemade aerated compost teas are just as powerful, maybe more powerful, than any commercial natural or organic fertilizer or soil amendment on the market today. And they are a lot cheaper too! So have fun, be creative, and keep on composting!