Thursday, May 27, 2004

Brew.


Made my first batch of Soil Soup compost tea this morning. You know the tea is ready when it forms a foamy head, kind of like the head on a beer, and when "bioslime" builds up around the bucket and the air pump. ("Bioslime" is their term, not mine.) The whole process was quite easy--because I'm using city water, which contains chlorine, I set up the brewer and let it run with plain water for a few hours to let the chlorine evaporate, and then I added the tea bag filled with worm castings (castings provided, but I added some of my own, of course) and poured in a little of the nutrient solution, which consists of molasses--a sugar source for the bacteria--as well as other ingredients like kelp that are found in organic liquid fertilizers.

Because it is chilly here right now, with temps rarely reaching 70 degrees, it took about 36 hours for my brew to reach this completed stage. I confess that I found myself wondering whether the electricity consumption outweighed the environmental benefits that I might gain by brewing my own tea, but I'll reserve judgement on that issue.

I mixed the tea with water--ideally, I would use water from which the chlorine had evaporated, but I didn't have the patience for that--and poured it on all of my plants that needed a little boost. This included new, struggling transplants, roses with blackspot, berries and apple trees that are prone to disease, etc. I don't have a lawn, but I thought grass would be a good testing ground, so I sprayed some on a section of my neighbor's lawn, too. Oh, and I poured some into the large compost pile of dead weeds that I'd created over the last week, to see how it might work as a compost activator.

One observation so far: a near-dead clematis is putting out a few green shoots. Now if only I can keep the snails away.

The product information that comes with the Soil Soup brewer says that it can take the place of compost by adding to plants & soil all the microbes that compost provides, and that the tea can even help improve soil structure. There are plenty of spots in my garden with hard, unimproved clay soil, so I'll give it a try and let you know how it goes.

This brewer retails for $300. That's an expensive toy--far more than I would normally spend on something for the garden. You can buy more worm castings and nutrient solution from them, but over time I intend to use my own worm castings and I wonder if I can create an acceptable substitute for the nutrient solution with a combination of molasses and liquid organic fertilizer.
I figure I probably spend around $100/year or less on fertilizer, and another $100/year on bagged compost, manure, etc. Compost tea might not replace all of those purchases, but if I can, in fact, stop buying MOST of those products, it might pay for itself over 2 years.

I've invited the folks at Soil Soup to follow along and post comments, insights, information, etc. about the brewer as I test it. I plan to make another batch this weekend to use on other parts of the garden. I might try to brew most weekends this summer, alternating where I use the tea so that most sections of the garden are getting two applications a month.

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