The ABC’s of Compost Tea and the Soil Food Web Part 1

The ABC’s of Compost Tea and the Soil Food Web Part 1

Compost Tea or Actively Aerated Compost Tea (AACT) as it should be known, is gaining popularity amongst organic practitioners and home gardeners, but finds itself in the midst of controversy over its efficacy. It’s time to take a closer look at this very effective tool in the organic arsenal.

Any discussion of compost, AACT, and organic gardening, should begin with The Soil Food Web. Similar to the food pyramid used for nutritional guidelines for humans, the Soil Food Web is a mapping of the life and interaction of the organisms in healthy biologically active soil. Here organisms eat, live and excrete, and in turn are eaten and excreted by other organisms, producing nutrients for other organisms in the Foodweb and for the plants growing amongst them. So what keeps the Foodweb cycling? Compost. Compost, as most everyone knows, is produced by the decay or breaking down of organic matter by microscopic organisms. It is the foundation of Organic Gardening. Everything necessary for a plant to survive can be found in well made compost. At the basal level, composting really is the process of growing the microorganisms of the Soil Food Web, and organic gardening is the process of reintroducing these organisms back into the soil of our gardens. All compost, however, should not be considered equal. Nature has created very specific regenerative cycles for each of its plant communities, and by following these examples we can effectively create and maintain healthy, biologically diverse soils. I’ll have more on that in upcoming posts.

Ok, so up until now, whether you’ve knew of the Soil Food Web or not, if you use compost to amend your planting beds or topdress your soils, you have been growing and applying the microorganisms necessary to promote plant health. Bravo! You are doing your part to help nature succeed, contributing to the health of our planet and reducing our dependency on chemicals. There is an easier way however, and it’s here that Actively Aerated Compost Tea (AACT) can be a very effective and efficient tool for you.

It’s important to note here, the different techniques using compost and water to apply nutrients to the soil. They are; Compost Leachate, Liquid Compost Extract (LCE), and AACT. To produce Compost Leachate, one simply adds compost to water and lets it sit for a period of time. The resulting liquid is then strained and applied to one’s soils. To produce LCE, one uses the same process as Leachate, but agitates the slurry, either by creating a vortex or aerating (bubbling) the solution to extract the microorganisms and nutrients from the compost. The resulting liquid is then strained and applied.

250 Gallon GeoTea Brewer Photo courtesy Greater Earth Organics LLC

The process of making Actively Aerated Compost Tea (AACT) uses a small amount of compost in water, and blasts the microorganisms (through aeration) from the organic matter. Foods are then added to the tank, and consumed by the microorganisms. This is the beauty of AACT. When brewed with well made compost, the correct amount of foods and adequate levels of dissolved oxygen, the microorganisms multiply exponentially, and safely, producing a solution rich in microbial activity, that when applied, infuses the soil with the biology necessary to sustain plant life.

In part II, we’ll discuss the some of the organisms of the Soil Food Web, and the process of growing them by brewing AACT.


Read part II Here!



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23 thoughts on “The ABC’s of Compost Tea and the Soil Food Web Part 1

  1. Great explanation, Scott. I can’t wait to read ‘Part 2’…and would love to add the links to one of my previous ‘compost’ posts, as your explanation is so much better than what I could provide..(taking full credit for myself, of course – KIDDING)…

    1. Thanks Rebecca. Feel free to link away, It would be an honor. Now about this “you taking credit stuff”, that just might cost you a cookie! 😉

  2. Wow! that picture makes the whole process of making compost tea look why too scientific for me. I just put some compost in a bucket, add water, give it a stir, let it brew awhile then water my plants with it. I’ve used manure as well to do the same thing.

    1. Hi Melanie, It does look overwhelming, especially when the photo is in the lab like that, but it really isn’t too overwhelming. There’s nothing wrong with the way your doing it BTW, you just don’t get the large quantities of organisms that you would by brewing. Also, when using your method, please refrain from adding any microbial foods (something I’ll cover in an upcoming post), as it can cause your bucket to turn anaerobic without aeration. A situation which can breed bad bacterium such E. coli. Thanks for commenting, Scott

  3. For a home gardener like myself, how is the best way to create ‘compost tea’ simply and inexpensively in layman’s terms?

    1. Reno, there are designs for smaller brewers (5 gal pal) as well as pre-packaged AACT available. I will be covering them in an upcoming post. If you need some info quicker than that, shoot me an email and I’ll point you in the right direction.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Scott

  4. Thanks for covering this so quickly. Like everyone else, I’m excited to see your future posts on AACT. We just covered compost/worm bin/compost tea in my Master Gardener class but she really had a passion for worm bins so didn’t really spend much time talking about compost tea. I plan to build my own compost tea system this spring and would love to see what you recommend.

    1. Your welcome Angela. If I’d known there was some interest, I would have posted a lot sooner. It has been a passion of mine for a few years. Worm castings are a great media for making tea, as the castings contain high levels of beneficial bacteria, and have been “cleansed” of any bad guys, so too speak. If you have a good vermiculture system set up your well on your way. I will be covering the brewing process, and will add some links for people to further research the process. I hope what I have to offer helps you out. Scott

    1. Kerry, thanks for checking in. The guys at Safelawns have done a lot to bring Org Lawn care into the mainstream. In upcoming posts I will address testing, brewing and applying systems. Hope it helps. Scott

  5. Very well-written post Scott. I’m a big fan of living soils and practices like this. It’s really an easy and inexpensive practice that can make a HUGE difference in your yard or garden (but you already know that). Lookin’ forward to the next installment.

    1. Thanks Matt! I agree, HUGE difference. Awareness of healthy soils increases every year and it won’t be long before the tables are turned and its the norm. BTW, wish I could afford the 3000 mile delivery charge, your Terra Vida product looks very interesting. Scott

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