Mar 31, 2012

DIY Compost Tea Maker - YouTube

Compost Tea Maker

This is a very basic but very functional compost tea maker. In fact, Malcolm Beck founder of Garden-ville. calls it "the best compost tea maker at any price for the small gardener." The purpose if spraying compost tea is to restore beneficial microbes to your soil and plants. The benefits of these microbes include protecting plants, improving nutrient uptake, retaining nutrients in the soil, improving soil tilth, increasing root depth and improving all aspects of the soil.

The benefits of a tea maker is its ability to start with a good compost that contains aerobic beneficial microbes and growing and multiplying them by a factor of 1,000 times or more simply by feeding and protecting them for 12 to 24 hours while giving them enough oxygen to keep the whole mix aerobic.

The design looks common but there are a few clever differences in the design and the way the tea is brewed that make this one perform as well as tea brewers costing hundreds of times more. When Malcolm and I tested tea made with this exact set-up, we found bacteria, fungal biomass, protozoa andflagellates in good number and even some beneficial Nematodes. A very difficult microbe to maintain in compost tea. We found this little tea maker to compare favourably with tea makers that sell for many times its modest cost.

Where this tea maker really shines is in its ability to generate large amounts of beneficial fungi. Research has shown that our typical garden soils are weakest in fungal species and could use much more. If you follow the directions for constructing this tea maker, follow the recipe, and especially follow the instructions for brewing the tea, you should have a great fungal compost tea for just pennies per batch. Everything needed to make this tea maker is available at Wal-Mart as well as many other large store outlets that carry fish and aquarium supply.

Figure 1 shows a typical 5 gallon bucket with lid

A pump with two outlets is best to use as it allows you to put one set of air stones inside the “tea bag” and still have a couple of air stones at the bottom of the bucket. Try to find a pump rated for about a fifty-gallon aquarium. The one I mentioned at Wal-Mart states it is intended for a 30 to 60 gallon aquarium and does a fine job in the 5-gallon bucket. The main point to remember is that enough oxygen must always be present to prevent your tea from going anaerobic (running out of Oxygen). I am sure you could do just as well with a couple of smaller pumps if you already own them. Just be sure you are pumping lots of oxygen through your tea maker. It is probably impossible to have to much oxygen in your tea although I suppose you could overdo the movement of the tea and beat your fungus to death. No chance of that with this tea maker.

While in the “fish department” you will need to purchase some air stones. Air stones are used in the aquarium to make lots of bubbles. The tiny bubbles bring lots of oxygen to the water and promote all the beneficial microbes in the aquarium. The air stones bubble air and provide oxygen in the tea maker, too. I use 4 stones, 2 one inch stones inside the tea bag and 2 five inch stones on the bottom of the tea maker. Figure 4 shows how the air stones areconnected to the clear air tubing.

These air stones are blue porous synthetic stones. Some are gray, white or even black but all should work fine. Your nearest Wal-Mart should have stones just like these but other stones have worked fine for me in the past. The stones in figure 4 have been used several times and have become stained from the tea, but I clean them between each batch of tea by soaking them in Hydrogen Peroxide(3 % solution bought at your local drug store or from Wal-mart is more than adequate). If you do not thoroughly clean the equipmentbetween batches, a slimy coating of anaerobic bacteria will form on the stones and in the tea maker which can be detrimental to the well-being of the beneficial bacteria in future batches of tea.

Cleaning the tea maker between every tea batch is VERY important.

You will also need several feet of aquarium tubing like the tubes shown here in the pictures. The cost is another $2.00 or $3.00 dollars at Wal-Mart.Also, you will need two t-valves to split the air line between the air stones. The valves shown here are inexpensive plastic and work well but there are better valves made of brass if you see fit to spend a little more.

Now that you have purchased your necessary hardware, there is one more item that is very useful. Back to the paint department. Buy a paint strainer bag. It is a nylon bag use to strain junk out of paint normally but is a perfect tea bag to hold compost.

Now lets put this thing together:

First I drill a couple of ¼ inch holes in the side of the bucket a few inches from the top. If you decide not to use the top, the tubes can just run over the edge of the bucket but I prefer using the top.

I also drill a hole in the top of the lid to run a string through for holding the tea bag off the bottom of the bucket. This may not be necessary because the air stones inside the tea bag usually keeps it floating and bobbing around but it can’t hurt! Remember, this exact design has been tested and works well.

First cut the necessary tubing to get all of the stones connected to the pump housing You will need 2 t-valves. One to split the line to the larger stones (5 inch stones)

The other to split the smaller air stones to be put into the tea bag

Now attach one set of stones to one side of the pump and the other line to the other valve.

Now you need to make a decision as to what kind of compost is best for your garden or lawn. Worm castings are one of the best composts to base your tea on but there is still much to be learned about what types of compost are best for what crops so keep well read on the subject . You only need a small amount of compost so get the best brand named compost you can find. Bags marked, “composted manure,” usually are not adequate for a really great tea. Good brand names for compost in Central Texas are Garden-Ville, Dr. Gobbler, Living Earth Technology, and Lady Bug to name a few. I use about a pound or pound and a half of compost. Put it in your tea bag and place the smallest set of air stones in the bag and tie it off to keep the compost in the bag.

Fill your bucket with water. Note that a 5-gallon bucket holds exactly 5 gallons when filled up to the very top. This “5-gallon” tea maker will make about 4 gallons of tea. I add 1/2 ounce of molasses per gallon (shown in Figure 13) to help feed the microbes, but don’t overdo it. At tea temperatures above 80 degrees, a little molasses goes a long way and can even destroy your microbes if you aren’t careful. If you question whether to add molasses, leave it out.

Put your larger air stones on the bottom of the bucket and add the tea bag containing your compost and the other 2 air stones.

Plug in your pump and take a look at the movement of the water to make sure you have plenty of air and water movement

The string is now run through the hole in the lid and will later be tied to the handle on the outside of the bucket so it does not settle on the bottom of the bucket.

Now set the pump on the closed lid and let her brew for about 6 or 8 hours. You should expect to see your tea bubbling as if it were boiling. If you used molasses in the tea it will have a sweet smell, faintly like rum, for several hours. When the molasses is used up, the aroma of the tea will change to a more yeasty smell. You should also expect to see a brown foam form on top of thetea. Whether you have foam or not, either is normal depending on the nature of your ingredients. After 6-8 hours remove the tea bag and attach the tube that was running the tea bag air stones to one of the long air stones and use the other tube to run the other air stone

Continue to brew the tea with the air pump running for another 16 to 20 hours and then use the tea as soon as possible after that. The tea will start to deteriorate immediately after the air pump is turned off. You can prolong the life of the tea for a day by leaving the air on, but all the food has been used up in the tea, so it is deteriorating even with the air on.

CONTAINER. If you made your tea well, a closed container will develop pressure inside and burst open.

Using your tea

As a foliar spray, five gallons of tea will cover a full acre of lawn or garden. As a soil
drench five gallons will cover about 10,000 square feet of lawn or garden. It doesn’t really matter how much water you use to dilute and spread the tea. The water is only a carrier. Just remember to stay in the area to be covered until you run out of tea. I have never heard of any time when too much tea was used so don’t worry about over doing it. You can spray tea every day, every week, or monthly.This is a quick run down on how I make my tea bucket. Feel free to email me if you have more questions. Some of the important concepts that make this tea brewer work are as follows.
Use a pump with two outlets and four air stones.
Put two air stones inside the tea bag to keep the fungus in the compost agitated.
Don’t over do the molasses.
Never turn off the air pump or remove the air stones once you have started brewing.
Remove the tea bag after 8 hours.
Brew no longer than 36 hours or you can lose the benefit of the tea.
Use all the tea right away. This tea cannot be stored under any circumstances.
Clean and disinfect your equipment after each batch. Scrub the slime off of everything with a stiff brush and a hydrogen peroxide wash.

Related Links:

Mar 30, 2012

We just need to remember Woody Guthrie | Hightower | Colorado Springs Independent

by Jim Hightower

Where's Woody when we need him?

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie, and in these hard times of tinkle-down economics, we sure could use some of his hard-hitting musical stories and inspired lyrical populism.

He wouldn't need to write any new material. Just as in his day, our Wall Street banksters are getting rich, even as the victims of their narcissistic greed get pink slips and eviction notices. He wrote about this outrage in his great old song. "Pretty Boy Floyd," including this verse:

"Yes, as through this world I've wandered,

I've seen lots of funny men.

Some will rob you with a six-gun,

And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life you travel,

Yes, as through your life you roam,

You won't never see an outlaw

Drive a family from their home."

Guthrie unabashedly celebrated America's working class, seeing a strong commitment to the common good that lifts America up. This drove The Powers That Be crazy (a pretty short ride for many of them back then, just as it is today). So they branded him a unionist, a communist and all sorts of other "ists" — but he withered them with humor that got people laughing at them: "I ain't a communist necessarily, but I have been in the red all my life."

Going down those "ribbons of highway" that he extolled in "This Land Is Your Land," Guthrie found that the only real hope of fairness and justice was in the people themselves. Guthrie preached of "just one way to save yourself, and that's to get together and work and fight for everybody." Indeed, that's exactly what grassroots Americans are doing across our country today. From Occupy Wall Street to the ongoing Wisconsin uprising, people are adding their own verses to Woody's musical refrain: "I ain't a-gonna be treated this a-way."

Where's Woody when we need him? He's right there, inside each of us. To save ourselves and our country, we must all be Woody.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit

Springsteen's keynote address honors Woody Guthrie |

Danny Clinch
Bruce Springsteen delivered the keynote address at SXSW.

AUSTIN -- In a deeply personal keynote address to the South By Southwest Conference, Bruce Springsteen spoke passionately about the music that had had a profound impact on his own writing. The Boss rhapsodized about Elvis, James Brown, the Animals, and the Beatles, and the anecdotes he told about his encounters with each were revealing, mesmerizing, and sometimes hilarious. But it was the story of his awakening to Woody Guthrie's work that tells the most about how Springsteen's writing has changed over the last twenty years, and where he's likely to going next.

Springsteen conceded that he had no interest in becoming a resurrection of Woody Guthrie, who never had a hit record or a platinum disc. "I liked the luxuries and comforts of being a star," he told the capacity crowd in the Convention Center ballroom. But after reading Joe Klein's "Woody Guthrie: A Life" in his early 30s, the Boss felt he'd obtained a strategy for shaping the form he loved -- pop music -- into something that could address grown-up problems.

According to Springsteen, he'd first fallen for the stories -- and the hard stoicism -- of country music. But even as he was attracted to the fatalism of country artists like Hank Williams and Jerry Lee Lewis, he found something toxic about those singers' resignation to cruel fate. The Boss wanted an answer to the implicit question posed in Williams' "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It": why, he wondered, were hard times permanent for working men and women? In Guthrie's work, he found a way forward: "fatalism tempered by a practical idealism," and a conviction that "speaking truth to power wasn't futile."

Guthrie, who would have been 100 this year, has been a touchstone for many SXSW artists. At St. David's Bethel Hall, the Grammy museum will soon present an entire evening's worth of fifteen minute tribute sets to the folksinger; Garland Jeffries, David Garza, and Woody's son Arlo are among the artists participating. A panel discussion on Guthrie's persistent significance followed on the heels of Springsteen's keynote. And just before the Boss spoke, Jimmy LaFave, Eliza Gilkyson, and Colombian pop star Juanes performed an impassioned set of Guthrie covers and music inspired by his vision. The speech was effectively framed by singalong versions of "This Land Is Your Land," including a striking rendition by Springsteen himself.

But even if it hadn't been, LaFave and Gilkyson's warm-up would have put Springsteen's recent writing in context. On albums like "Devils and Dust," "The Ghost of Tom Joad," and especially the recent "Wrecking Ball," the Boss' Guthrie influence is profoundly felt. Springsteen echoes Guthrie's cadences, finishes many of his arguments, and returns, often, to his favorite themes: predatory bankers ("Death to My Hometown"), the plight of migrant workers ("The New Timer"), the cruelty of deportation and immigration policy ("Matamoros Banks"), and our shared and interconnected humanity (just about the entire "Rising" album). Springsteen has even adopted Guthrie's fascination with the desert.

At the Apollo Theater, Springsteen spoke often about the costs of the recession and the growing divide between the richest and the poorest. He sounded very much like Guthrie. With little left to prove and loads of money in the bank, the Boss no longer has any incentive to hold his tongue. The confrontational, politicized lyrics on "Wrecking Ball" do not seem to have hampered his selling power, anyway: on Wednesday, the new set made its debut atop the Billboard charts. Expect Guthrie's influence on Springsteen's artistry to wax powerfully over the next few months.

Celebrating Woody Guthrie: Chatting With Arlo Guthrie & Colin Gilmore, Plus a New Multitudes Video Exclusive and More - Mike Ragogna:

Celebrating Woody Guthrie's Centennial

Under the invitation of Nora Guthrie, Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker, and Yim Yames were able to tour the Guthrie archives. Each of the four songwriters were offered the chance to mine the plethora of notebooks, scratch pads, napkins, etc., for anything that might inspire them to lend their voices and give Woody's words new life. Presented here is a HuffPost exclusive video of the track "Careless Reckless Love," one of the results of their labor of love.

New Multitudes, released February 28, 2012, was set to coincide with the centennial celebration of Woody Guthrie's birth year. It is a 12-track release with a 23-track deluxe, limited edition variant. The latter features original Guthrie lyric sheets, an additional 12-tracks, and 11 additional compositions recorded by Farrar and Parker.

1. Hoping Machine
2. Fly High
3. My Revolutionary Mind
4. V.D. City
5. Old L.A.
6. Talking Empty Bed Blues
7. Chorine My Sheba Queen
8. Careless Reckless Love
9. Angel's Blues
10. No Fear
11. Changing World
12. New Multitudes

A Conversation With Arlo Guthrie

Mike Ragogna: Arlo, what are your thoughts about your father Woody Guthrie's legacy?

Arlo Guthrie: Well it's interesting because over the last fifty years, the way that we think about him has changed dramatically because of the new material that's been coming out that he wrote the lyrics for. But my dad was not a trained musician, he couldn't read or write music and so whatever tunes he had in his head for the way that these songs ought to sound went with him when he passed away in '67. He recorded about 200 songs, but there's 3,000 of them sitting there. So, my sister, Nora, has been getting these lyrics out to young musicians all over the world.

MR: And we're celebrating his centennial this year.

AG: When you start thinking about the hundred years or so that's gone by, it seems like every decade, there's a different Woody Guthrie. I think we're finally getting to the point where we're getting an image of him for the next hundred years that is very different from how they saw him in any one of the last five decades.

MR: Bruce Springsteen, the keynote speaker at SXSW, had beautiful words to say about Woody.

AG: It was a great speech, it was very good, I was impressed.

MR: Was there anything from that speech that particularly touched you?

AG: I think it was the first time that I had ever seen somebody of that stature be that candid about the songs that impressed him personally and the songs that changed his life. And to conclude it with the idea that the ones that changed his personal life meant one thing, but the ones that inspired him to want to change everybody's life, that change happened as a result of being made familiar with or hearing some of Woody Guthrie's work. That's true for a lot of young musicians, not just him, but to hear somebody of that stature say it meant a lot, personally, to me.

MR: I think for everyone in the audience, thought it was a very special moment. Now, although you are Woody's son, you have your own impressive catalog, and your own legacy as well. I still play your Amigo album to this day, and it's wonderful that "Massachusetts" has even become that state's anthem. My point is that through your music and the opening of the vaults for writers to complete or continue Woody's work, to me, it seems as a kind of cultural and musical torch is being passed along through your bloodline.

AG: I don't know if it's that. If any family believes that royalty was just not an American thing, it would be ours. We kicked out the royals of a couple of hundred years ago for good reason. My father believed that nobody is born with more rights than anybody else and more responsibilities than anybody else. That is the antithesis of the system that allows for royals to exist in the world. Some people believe that they have obligations and they have this and that, that they're born different. Nobody in America is born different and my dad believed that. So the only way that we think of ourselves is as links in a long chain that goes back long before my dad and that will continue long after us. That includes people that are not in the family, and most notably Pete Seeger, who is the one really responsible for us knowing who Woody Guthrie is. It's not so much my dad, it was guys like Pete who kept those songs going throughout the people investigating him for having ideas that were just as American as anybody else's, and for keeping the spirit alive through that generation my father couldn't live through.

MR: Speaking of Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen, do you see the spark of what your dad ignited in others' works, or maybe at least in certain genres like folk or singer-songwriter?

AG: Well, I think what's happened is at some point in time, back when everybody started getting electricity and we started getting record players and radios, there arose out of that the opportunity for people to sell music on a national and international scale. So we began to lose the domestic local music that music had been making for years that contained their histories and their stories and what had happened to them, their communities, and their families. Those had been passed down for countless generations and added to a collection that we don't even know who wrote them. Out of that comes this new world, where all of a sudden, the music that's being made has to be dumbed down so that it doesn't offend anybody, anywhere, at any time. That was unlike the old cowboy songs that offended everybody, unlike the old spirituals that were patently protest songs long before we gave it a name.

When we begin to have popular music, you begin to have middle ground, and it took us to change that around. It took individual people, individual companies and individual writers to try to say something that had the same kind of value, because all of a sudden, we're seeing ourselves as a nation that we didn't before. We saw ourselves as this part of the world or that part of the world. You could tell where people were from by the way they spoke, by the way they talked. All of a sudden, we started getting this "oneness" feeling, which is, in some ways, nice but in other ways, very upsetting. So in the different genres that you mentioned, there is still local music. There is still music that doesn't have to talk to everybody, it talks to a certain group of people who understand it, but it doesn't need to be dumbed down enough so that it's not offensive anymore. Those are the kinds of influences that Bruce Springsteen was talking about, that people who were unafraid, those were the ones who impressed him the most. He talked about that. He said he certainly heard the working man song in a popular group and it made him come alive. Like, "Woh, these guys are saying something."

MR: I think he was referring to The Animals' "We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place."

AG: Yeah, The Animals. And it wasn't a slap in the face to The Beatles or something like that, who may have been musically more inventive, but it was a wake-up call that said you could do that. That's happened in hip-hop, that's happened in all kinds of music that is currently going on, because we've lost interest in the national charts, nobody reads them anymore. They are totally irrelevant. That's a great thing. So we've seen it come full circle, we've seen the historic evidence of who we were as individual groups, local groups, southern groups, western groups, mountain groups, and became fairly stupid for a while, fairly innocuous, fairly uneventful. We're back to a time now, where on a larger scale, people can say something again.

MR: Arlo, what advice do you have for new artists?

AG: I don't have any advice that anybody would want to take, but if I had to distill my father's advice, it would be that it's better to fail at being yourself than to succeed at being somebody else.

A Conversation With Colin Gilmore

Mike Ragogna: Colin, what does Woody Guthrie mean to you?

Colin Gilmore: To me, Woody Gutherie was the voice that made having a conscience seem fun. I guess becoming our nation's musical folk hero just came along with the territory. No one could have opened our country's eyes like he did.

MR: What kind of a mark do you think he's left on the culture?

CG: He really set the tone for our musical heritage. If you think about our nation as having a sound track for the last 100 years, it's hard to imagine what it would be like had he not been around. Music could have been all warm fuzzy feelings, or it could have been all boring protest songs, and he made sure we understood that these two views were different limbs of the same body.

MR: Which Woody Guthrie songs do you think have the most resonance these days?

CG: "A Picture From Life's Other Side," "Jesus Christ," "Deportees," "This Land Is Your Land." These are songs about justice and the human spirit. These topics aren't going out of style any time soon.

MR: What's Colin Gilmore doing these days?

CG: Recording, writing, traveling, working, searching for inspiration. Just filmed a video for my upcoming album. Trying to play out as much as possible, make new fans and impress the old fans.

MR: So there's a new album coming soon?

CG: There is. This upcoming album will be my third, shooting to have it out later this year. Recording in Chicago and in Austin taking advantage of the digital age, but finding good old-fashioned chemistry with the people I'm recording with.

MR: Colin, what advice do you have for new artists?

CG: Always remember that the love of the music is ultimately what keeps the whole thing going. It's a hard thing to remember because there are times when it feels like promotion and hype are the whole game. If you're truly making music from the heart, you're helping to make it an industry worth saving.

A Family Affair Record Store Day Release from Guthrie Family vs. The Rondos

Sarah -- of Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion -- is part of the famous Guthrie family lineage, daughter of Arlo, granddaughter of Woody. She and Johnny have been touring and writing together for years as a couple and as part of "The Guthrie Family Rides Again." The Rondo Brothers, a production team based in San Francisco, are best known for their work with Head Automatica, Dan the Automator and remix projects for the likes of Common, Schwayze, and MC Lars, so hence the uniqueness of this folk meets beats project. Interestingly, Jim Greer -- one half of the Rondo Brothers production team -- grew up surrounded by folk music. His parents were actors on theHootenanny variety show, so working with folk royalty, Sarah Lee & Johnny, was a dream come true. The result of this collaboration is a sound that has been coined as "beat folk," and the gathering of talent "U.S. Elevator."

The group is releasing a series of EP's throughout the year, mostly covers mixed with some "remixed" versions of Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion tracks. The first EP, titled, Valentine(released coincidentally on Valentine's Day) consists of two covers: The Jules Shear-penned "All Through the Night" made famous by Cyndi Lauper and Liz Phair's "Never Said," along with a remixed version of "Looking for You," an outtake from Sarah Lee & Johnny's early 2011 releaseBright Examples.

Related Links:

Conversation: Woody Guthrie at 100 - YouTube

Uploaded by PBSNewsHour on Mar 30, 2012

For more arts coverage, visit Art Beat:

Woody Guthrie was born a hundred years ago this July. He died in 1967 at the age of 55, but he left behind a legacy as one of this nation's greatest songwriters and troubadours. That legacy is being celebrated this year around the country. Guthrie's daughter Nora talked to Jeffrey Brown earlier this week about her father and the celebrations.

Related Links & Video:

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band - "This Land Is Your Land" (Woody Guthrie cover) from Consequence of Sound on Vimeo.

Urban Garden Magazine | Breeding Microbes with Compost Tea

“We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than we do about the soil underfoot.”
~Leonardo da Vinci

Commercial grape growers in Sonoma and Napa pay big bucks for beneficial biology consultants to come to their vineyards. And for good reason—the right blend of microbiology in their soils can significantly increase the market value of their wine by promoting more sophisticated flavors and bouquets in their grapes. When it comes to actually selling the end product, it can be the difference between producing a bottle that sells for, say, ten bucks and one that sets you back fifty or more. Just think what an understanding of beneficial biology could do for the fruit and veggies in your garden?

Organic waste decomposing at a composting facility in sacramento, California.

So what exactly is this beneficial biology? How do we ‘capture it’ and put it to work in our gardens? It turns out that the answer’s been right beneath our noses all this time. Literally! Microbes form an integral component of all living systems. In fact, if microbes didn’t exist then you wouldn’t be worrying about them, because you wouldn’t be around either! While you ponder that fact, consider one more. There are more microbial cells in and on a human (or at least one not taking antibiotics) than there are human cells in your body!

We’re going to find out how to breed microbes (it’s easy!) and deploy them in our gardens. To this end we’ve pulled in beneficial biology expert, Evan Folds from Progress Earth, to give us a practical introduction to brewing your own compost tea–and using it to grow the most delicious, chi-filled produce imaginable!

Salivating? Then you’d best read on!

Give it up for microorganisms! They perform relatively Herculean acts for their size. Microbes are responsible for aiding limitless plant processes, including helping plants feed and protecting them from disease. They even help to create the very soil that serves to support the entirety of life on Earth. Meanwhile, many of us have become conditioned by modern marketing to foster a disdain and disrespect for microbial creatures (think hand sanitizers and antibiotics.) Healthy soil is alive with microbes. They form incredibly important mutualistic relationships with the plants we depend on for food. They break down organic matter (which is inaccessible to plants) into a form that plants can use. Think of them as little ‘compost conversion’ factories. Now start to imagine the potential for increasing the life force in your garden by learning how to breed these microbes at home! We’re talking about something called “actively aerated compost tea” or AACT for short. It’s “life juice” for your plants—a brown soup that’s full of beneficial microbiology, the essential components of any organic growing situation.

Compost Tea and Soil Food Web

Bubbling air through compost tea is essential to create a healthy, earthy-smelling brew

Brewing compost tea is easy and can be done in many different ways. You take some compost and other humus sources as a source for microorganisms and grow them to extremely high concentrations in an aerated water solution comprised of food sources and catalysts. The result? The soil food web unleashed in all its glory! Microbes and plants are natural teammates, so compost tea is simply the best way to replenish and enhance this wonderful relationship.

However, our current understanding of how to best take advantage of compost tea when growing plants can be called “rule of thumb,” at best. We know a lot about microbes, but relatively little about what they do or how to use them while growing plants.

Adding compost tea to rain water

There are potentially billions of microorganisms and thousands of feet of fungal hyphae in a mere teaspoon of quality compost. The fact is, microbes are so abundant, so pervasive in everything we do, that it’s no issue to promote astronomical numbers when discussing and marketing them in compost, or compost tea products. It’s easy to get bamboozled with all the hype surrounding compost and compost tea. Consider this: microbes are so small that up to 500,000 bacteria can fit in the period at the end of this sentence. When it comes to brewing your own microbes, high numbers are the easy part, but the number of microbes present in a biological sample is nowhere near as important as the diversity and strength of those organisms. Total numbers can be relevant when evaluating the balance of biological products or whether a humus product is stable, but it does not address the most important aspect of all—how well the product works in a real-life growing situation.
Biological Diversity and Microbe Strength

Many biological products available at your local grow store are created by microbes raised by humans in a laboratory. This biosynthetic approach is necessary for the cost effective distribution of certain microbes and has its merits, especially with mycorrhizae fungi, which cannot express their abilities without a plant and are not benefitted by brewing in compost teas. However, I believe that a biosynthetic approach cannot represent the full potential of an intact biological network. There’s no synergy amongst the different microbes as they didn’t grow up together. Remember, microbes aren’t robots, they’re unique dynamic living breathing life forms with varying abilities, even within a given species.

A key concept to grasp is that no living organism operates autonomously. In other words, there is a symbiosis, or “give and take,” found in the natural world that we humans take for granted, and therefore restrict. Think you grow your plants? Sorry but it’s far more likely that you merely get in the way and mess with the magic! All microbes operate by way of teammates. They play off of each other, with one teammate unlocking the ability of the next. The big man cannot dunk without the assistance from the point guard. When 52 different organisms (ones that were individually grown by a human in a Petri dish) are brought together as an end product intended for use in a gardening situation, the optimal result is surely compromised. Remaining with our basketball analogy for a moment longer, the team’s overall ability is hindered if all the players are not on the court and, even if they’re all present, what happens if the coach puts the players in the wrong positions?

Sure, microbes don’t play basketball (as far as we know) so you may be forgiven for thinking that it’s not feasible to identify ability in microbes. But first, check out some Bt products. Bt is a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis. It’s commonly used in gardening because it’s gentle with plants, but very capable of parasitizing the larval stage of common pest insects. The Bt organisms geared towards fighting larvae such as caterpillars are called the kurstaki strain and the Bt aimed at fighting mosquito larvae in water is named the israelensis strain. These organisms are of the same species and illustrate differing abilities depending on the application.

Microbes can react and adapt…by design. Did you hear about the “new” proteobacteria discovered by scientists in the wake of the recent oil spill? Look it up. BP must have been stoked!
Making and Using Actively Aerated Compost Tea

So, you want to brew your own compost tea. Where do you start? The answer is humus! Microorganisms are found dormant in quality humus sources like compost or worm castings, but can be awakened and stimulated to grow under the right conditions. There are several different methods for creating compost tea (AACT). It’s simply a matter of adding your humus source to water and using air pumps to increase the amount of air in the water solution in order to grow microbes. The final part of the jigsaw is to add some sort of food and catalysts for the microbes to grow, such as molasses, kelp, rock dust, fish, humate, sea minerals, etc.

Brewing your own AACT is similar to running an aquarium. You aerate water for fish the same way you do for microbes, or for roots in a deep-water-culture hydroponics system.

The porous bag allows microbes to escape and enter the solution while keeping the tea free from debris.
DIY Compost Tea Shopping List

You can purchase ready-to-go brewers if you want to make your life nice and easy. Alternatively you can make one yourself. To brew compost tea, you’ll need a pump, some air tubing, a gang valve, and three bubblers.
An aquarium pump large enough to run three bubblers or air stones
Several feet of tubing
A gang valve
Three bubblers
A porous bag for the compost, like a nylon stocking OR Something to strain the final tea, like an old pillowcase or tea towel.
A bucket

All the components of your own compost tea brewer can be obtained at your local garden store for around $60. Without sophisticated equipment it’s hard to determine technical aspects like dissolved oxygen, so it’s best to keep it simple. A small aquarium air pump is sufficient for up to 10 gallons. More air will not be harmful; it’s simply that water can only hold so much of it. If you want to use higher volumes of water, you may want to consider getting a larger air pump.

As your compost tea brews (it usually takes about 12––24 hours) you will notice a layer of foam forming on the surface. This is nothing to worry about and is actually a result of the proteins produced by biological growth. This foam is a good sign that your compost tea (or rather the microbial life within) is flourishing.

Deliberate overuse of bat guano.

Some foods sources such as bat guano create more of it, but a good fish oil (or the active ingredient in comfrey called allantoin) will keep things in motion and keep the foam down if need be. Foam is generally not a concern, especially when using suggested recipes from reputable compost tea companies.

When brewing AACT keep in mind that the higher the water temperature the greater the biological growth, but the lower the dissolved oxygen. It’s a matter of physics that the warmer the water temperature, the less oxygen can be dissolved. It is also true that the colder the water temperature the slower the biological growth. Dissolved oxygen levels above 6 parts per million (ppm) will provide sufficient biological growth, and levels around 8 ppm are attainable at room temperature. An accepted approach among compost tea enthusiasts is to brew AACT at a similar temperature to where it’s being used, for example; if your root zone temperature is 68°F (20°C), brew the AACT around this temperature.

The food source utilized when brewing compost tea can determine the microbe grown. This idea follows the concept of succession. An acre of land left fallow will begin to regenerate using annual plants (weeds), and then progress into more perennial species (grass, vegetables) until it culminates into a forest (perennial hardwoods). Over the course of this natural process, fungi become gradually more dominant than bacteria. This is not black and white, but is evident in the fungal dominance of old growth forests.

So what does this knowledge mean? Well, you can use it to brew compost teas that make more sense to what you are growing. For instance, a sugar source like molasses fed to a balanced stable compost inoculant will encourage more bacterial growth, whereas kelp or fish fed to the same inoculant will encourage more fungal growth. The same is true for other inputs, like Equisetum (horsetail), which encourages the growth of beneficial nematodes. To be clear, molasses does not discourage fungi from growing, it simply encourages bacteria more. Similarly, using a fungal dominant tea on an annual plant will not harm it in any way; it’s a better/best scenario. There is so much more to be discovered as da Vinci reminds us—we know more about the stars.
Using AACT

Microbes given a proper environment can grow to extraordinarily high concentrations. The book Secrets of the Soil states that a single microbe reaching maturity and dividing within less than half an hour can, in the course of a single day, grow into 300 million more, and in another day to more than the number of human beings that have ever lived. Further, according to the book Microcosmos, bacteria, in four days of unlimited growth, could outnumber all the protons and even all the quarks estimated to exist within the universe. This reality allows growers to use as little as five gallons on an entire acre of land, roughly equivalent to about a one cup per gallon dilution.

Compost tea can be used in unlimited ways and really cannot be used incorrectly unless you are overwatering your plants. Some growers choose to use compost tea on every watering, but weekly applications or on reservoir changes would be sufficient. It is even possible to experience benefits from compost tea with just one application. After all, you’re dealing with living organisms that can populate and reproduce by themselves if given proper conditions.

It is a common supposition that synthetic products (i.e. mineral based nutrients) kill microbes. While this is certainly true on some level, using compost tea with synthetic nutrient regiments can produce good results. The image inset illustrates the use of a leading compost tea brew used at one cup per gallon on weekly reservoir changes in a mineral-based hydroponic situation growing jalapenos.

Again, it’s a better/best scenario; you’re better off using compost tea and mitigating the potential harshness of your mineral-based nutrients than worrying about the microbes dying.

It is always advisable to check nutrient concentrations with a meter before using a tea on sensitive or special plants, but by keeping inputs at or near recommended amounts there should be no fear of burning. “Burning” a plant is actually a water stress based on total ion concentration. Having too many ions around a root system sucks water out of the plant via osmosis, causing the plant to respond by sending its available water into the middle of the leaf and leaving the edge to burn. Because compost tea is created at relatively low concentrations (600-800 ppm) burning is a non-issue when used at recommended levels.

As if to underline the previous point, compost tea can be used with seedlings and cuttings with great success. The sooner and more microbes used the better, even in hydroponics. Use a gallon of compost tea to 20-50 gallons of water in hydro reservoirs; some growers even use compost tea concentrate as their primary reservoir solutions. Consider using organic and organic-based nutrients as food sources for biological inoculants. It is not necessary to feed microbes after you have implemented them into a garden, but it can certainly have a positive influence. After all, natural farming is about feeding microbes, not the plant.
Compost Tea as a Foliar Application

You can even use compost tea as a foliar spray. Some growers spray their plants every day, but once a week will do the trick for measureable results. When using compost tea you are harnessing a synergy of living microbes for general benefit, however, this is one of the occasions when a targeted biological product can be effective. Many times the microbes used in human designed microbial products are found naturally in compost, but not in high enough concentrations to make them applicable once pests or disease have struck. In the end, a pest or disease is simply a biological imbalance of some sort, so when one trophic level gets out of whack a higher concentration of a certain microbe can work effectively.

The active ingredient in many biological fungicides is the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, which is found naturally in compost. This concentrated organism will work better on a disease outbreak, but if used consistently, compost tea can work preventatively to allow the disease to express itself in the first place. The more consistent you are in delivering microbes to the leaves and root zone of your plants, the more benefits you will receive.

Compost tea can even help control pests if used consistently, many bacteria found in compost seek protein, which is what comprises the exoskeleton of many target pest species. As with any new endeavor in the garden, isolate a test plot and experiment before implementing it into the entire growing situation.

There is no real precedent for using Actively Aerated Microbial Extracts (AAME) in compost tea brews, but it’s certainly a good idea for experimentation. Some grow stores set up multiple compost tea units for grow/bloom or bacterial/fungal purposes. I anticipate that we will start seeing them for pest and disease control too in the near future.
AACT Brewers

There are varied compost tea units available on the market, everything from a five gallon bucket to large commercial units. For the most part, the unit you choose will be based on volume size and convenience, not biological performance.

There is a healthy debate regarding the importance of the size of the air bubble produced by air diffusers and another on whether they need to be used at all. While it is certainly true that the smaller the bubble the more surface area exposed to the solution, it is unclear whether this really makes a difference based on maximum dissolved oxygen levels considering water holds a finite amount of oxygen relative to its temperature.

Filter bags to hold compost are also a point of difference between respective models. They are used strictly for convenience so that the compost tea brew does not clog up sprayers after creation. This can save time, but must be balanced with what is not extracted from the physical compost when brewing. As mentioned above, microbes hold on really tight. A quality humus is colloidal and most inputs used are soluble, so a filter bag is not absolutely necessary. You can always filter it after you are done brewing.

It is vital to use quality water when brewing compost tea, and in your garden in general. If you are unsure of your water source, use a filter. There are quality reverse osmosis (RO) filters and de-chlorinators on the market for reasonable prices. Most nutrient solutions are not designed to account for what comes through the tap, so if possible start from zero ppm. Remember, chlorine kills microbes and it’s added to just about every public water supply in some form for this very reason. Bubbling your water will remove chlorine in a couple of hours, but not chloramines, its more persistent cousins—also used in many municipal water supplies. At the very least, let your water sit out for 24 hours before using it to brew tea. Ideally, invest in a reverse osmosis water purification system.
Composts, Inoculants and Food Sources for Compost Tea

When brewing compost tea, starting with a quality microbial product is essential. This is a major problem with people who compost in their back yards. Organic matter doesn’t melt; it’s biologically digested. It’s not advisable to use manure to make compost tea because manure is not yet plant food. This is why black cow “compost” at the hardware store costs $1 a bag. It’s aged manure. It’s mulch, not plant food. Remember, trees in a forest don’t eat leaves; they eat what the microbes make of them.

Some growers use worm casings as the sole basis for their compost teas. While this is certainly a viable option to brew tea, worms are predominately a bacterial organism, and do not contain some of the trophic levels of beneficial organisms, such as fungi, nematodes, protozoa, ciliates, etc. that provide vital benefits to plants and gardens. Worms sequester bacteria in their gut in order to work their magic, like termites use fungi to digest the wood they eat. To brew a better tea, consider using worm castings along with a balanced humus product.

Food sources for compost tea include molasses, kelp, fish, bat guano, and generally anything that was once alive that is soluble enough to be put into solution, even fruit pulp. It is important to note that recipes and preferences vary widely, for instance, some may recommend up to 16 tablespoons of molasses per 5 gallons of water, others only 1 tablespoon. Be sure to experiment based on these general recommendations, but here are a couple of simple recipes:

Use the formulating company’s recommendations for humus and catalyst per gallon, then for a bacterial dominant tea, use 4-6 tablespoons of molasses and 2-4 tablespoons of kelp to five gallons of aerated water. Reverse the ratio for a more fungal dominant tea.
Three Simple AACT Recipes (All for 5 Gallon (19L) brewers)
Bacterial Dominant Tea

1.5 pounds (700g) bacterial compost or vermicompost
3-4 tablespoons (45-60ml) liquid black strap molasses
4 teaspoons (23g) dry soluble kelp or 2 tablespoons of liquid kelp
3-4 teaspoons (15-20ml) fish emulsion
Equal Ratio – Fungi : Bacteria Tea

1.5 pounds (700g) 1:1 fungi to bacteria compost
3-4 tablespoons (45-60ml) humic acids
4 teaspoons (23g) dry soluble kelp or 2 tablespoons of liquid kelp
3-4 teaspoons (15-20ml) fish hydrolysate
Fungal Dominant Tea

2 pounds (900g) fungal compost
3-4 tablespoons (50ml) humic acids
2 teaspoons (10ml) yucca extract
4 teaspoons (23g) dry soluble kelp or 2 tablespoons of liquid kelp
4-5 teaspoons (20-25ml) fish hydrolysate

Recipes from ‘The Compost Tea Brewing Manual’, 5th Edition by Dr Elaine Ingham.

Fish-based natural fertilizers are generally obtained in one of two forms, condensed fish solubles known as emulsions, or enzymatic digested fish known as hydrolysates. Fish hydrolysate is cold processed (minced, enzymatically digested and liquefied) to preserve proteins for quick turnover by microbes into nutrients for plants. Emulsions are created using extreme heat, and while they may be easier to work with because they are further refined, the processing removes valuable ingredients and denaturing nutrients. While both fertilizer forms can benefit a compost tea, hydrolysates retain the natural oils from the fish that are a very potent fungal food.
Mineral Catalysts

One thing that is not discussed enough in the compost tea community is the use of mineral catalysts. Catalysts, as we know, change the speed of a reaction. It’s important to understand that microbes work indirectly via chemical decomposition. In other words, bacteria don’t chew on a banana peel in a compost pile, they offer up an enzyme (biological catalyst) that works to chemically break it down. Enzymes are specialty proteins that work like keys to a lock for important biochemical reactions within living organisms, plants and people included. All enzymes incorporate a single molecule of a trace mineral—such as manganese, copper, iron or zinc—without which an enzyme cannot function. We all know the benefits of adding enzymes to our gardening systems, but not many growers know that you get free enzymes from microbes.

Microbes help plants eat and, in return, plants feed microbes. In fact, over half of the energy derived through photosynthesis by plants is fed to the soil as exudates. Think of an exudate as a meal for microbes. Plants actually know what they need, they just can’t tell us. This means that plants have the ability to attract specific trophic levels (imagine the balance of the big fish and the little fish in the ocean) of microbes by preparing food from its surrounding environment that attracts those capable of generating what is deficient in the plant. This biological/plant network, or intelligence, if you will, cannot be established overnight, but it can be tapped into if we are aware of it. This is especially true when growing indoors in artificial environments.

It’s important to provide everything for plants so they can be allowed to eat what they desire, but it’s even more important to allow microbes a complete tool kit. Not doing so is like hiring someone to build a house and only providing them half the tools. The pictures inset illustrates a side-by-side conducted with a broad-spectrum mineral product. The tea sample on the left was brewed in the presence of many more elements than the tea sample on the right. Note the enhanced foaming and darker color after only four hours.

Other catalysts to consider are rock dusts, yucca extract, or any broad-spectrum natural mineral. Remember, these materials are not “food” for microbes; they help microbes eat their food.
Buying AACT

Your grow store might be one of the many who offer up their own in-store brew from units operated inside the store. If you choose to purchase compost tea from a gardening store, be sure to use it as soon as possible. We have seen evidence of beneficial life for up to three days under a microscope with some systems, but it is always advisable to use it the day you get it from the shop. Make sure to ask your retailer about the components of the compost tea being brewed, including the biological source and whether mineral catalysts are being used. If they have a microscope set up, even better. Make a habit of reconciling the microbes you see under the scope before you take it home with the results you are getting in your garden.

Some models found in stores involve refrigerating brews and coordinating pickups on certain days, while others encourage running the units perpetually by adding food source, catalysts, and microbes daily based on the amount of water added to the unit.
Brew Times

The most commonly heard figure for brew times is 12-24 hours. If pressed for why, a common answer is because bacteria are most active in these stages. While bacteria are beneficial to plants, so are many other microorganisms. Take protozoa for example. It is well known that compost tea brewed for over 24 hours begins to develop protozoa and ciliate dominance. (The brew “matures.”) Protozoa are extremely efficient nitrogen (N) cyclers, so why would a grower looking for more nitrogen not brew their tea longer to populate more protozoa dominance? Further, they are also the shredders in the soil; they eat bacteria and fungi like a shark eats fish in the ocean. Humus is actually the guts of microbes. They have digested available organic matter to create stable dormant humus (plant food). The guts of microbes are actually fertilizer bags. Why wouldn’t we want protozoa in there creating nature’s plant food shredding up bacteria?

There is no “right” way to brew compost tea, only better and best. Before long we will have developed biological feeding schedules that direct growers on how long to brew their compost teas given humus, foods, and catalysts to accomplish the microbe spectrum that makes sense for the plant and stage of growth, like we do mineral products. If one wants bacteria to use as a foliar, use molasses and brew for 12 hours. For a higher fungal: bacteria ratio for hardwoods, brew 24 hours using fish hydrolosate and humates. Feed hay has shown promise in increasing protozoa counts, so brewers can use it and brew for 48 hours to sequester more for their gardens. The possibilities are endless.

Some growers are experimenting with aerating their microbes for a period of time before adding food sources. The idea is that some microbes wake up faster than others, so brewing without food lets all of them get their feet on the ground, so to speak. Makes sense, but much more research needs to be conducted. The new frontier in natural gardening will develop around these ideas. One thing is for sure, we’ve got a lot of work to do. But, hey, it could be worse, we could be sitting in a cubicle.

If we approach the biological situation of our soils and hydro systems humbly, we will be in a far greater position to benefit. We can get more out of our plants than we have come to expect. Growing plants is about much more than feeding a plant directly, it’s about taking stock of their total environment, including the biological (microbial) and energetic (biodynamic) aspects of the growing situation. Rather than listen to ourselves, let’s listen to our plants for a change.

If you’ve never used compost tea with your plants, you’re not maximizing the genetic potential of your garden. Consider this your clarion call. Stop by your local garden store and get started today.

“Nutrition as it is today does not supply the strength necessary for manifesting the spirit in physical life. A bridge can no longer be built from thinking to will and action. Food plants no longer contain the forces people need for this. So long as one feeds on food from unhealthy soil, the spirit will lack the stamina to free itself from the prison of the body.” — Rudolf Steiner • Creator of Biodynamics (1861-1925)

Growing BIG Vegetables using Compost Tea - YouTube

Uploaded by FoodAbundance on Mar 30, 2012

When you maximize the soil potential, you maximize the plant potential.

- 46 lb celery
- 18 lb carrots
- 35 lb cabbage
- 60 lb swiss chard
- 35 lb zucchini
- 40 potatoes from 1 plant

Healthy plants resists bugs and slugs from eating them. Plants that don't have to spend energy fighting off pests and diseases can focus all their resources on growing bigger. And if you maximize the soil's potential, it will maximize the plant's potential.

Feed the soil, not the plant. Using compost tea to deliver the nutritional equivalent of 500 lbs of compost. All the micro-organisms in the soil are stimulated to such a high point that they give the plant the maximum food for it's production. And more food for the soil means bigger, tastier, healthier veggies. In fact, they are ultra healthy, as measured by their brixx level, which is the amount of plant sugar they contain. In the grocery store, most plants have a Brixx level of between 6 and 10. These plants weigh in at a whopping 20, which means they taste more than twice as good, and are not stringy.

When the compost tea, it causes a bio-film that protects the plant from diseases and insects. Get the largest yield possible. To get their special formula, go to

Applying Compost Tea is a simple way to grow food in greater abundance. Anyone can do it, once you learn how.

Related Links:

A carbon-negative economy: A practical prospect or a pipe dream? |

By Marc Gunther
Published March 29, 2012

“Let’s not simply reduce the CO2 emissions going up into the atmosphere. Let’s draw them down.”

So says Robert Brown, a professor of engineering at Iowa State University and a leader of the university’s Initiative for a Carbon Negative Economy and its Bioeconomy Institute. Those are interdisciplinary campus efforts to develop ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by growing plants or algae, making them into fuels and burying their carbon residues in soil -- and make money doing it.

The notion that we can generate wealth and remove CO2 from the air is obviously appealing. As atmospheric concentrations of CO2 rise and climate risks grow, so does the need for carbon-negative technologies that pull CO2 from the air, as plants do, and then store it underground or deep in the ocean.

But is this practical or a pipe dream? That’s what Brown and his colleagues at Iowa State and its Bioeconomy Institute want to find out, as they explained this week at a two-day workshop on biochar -- that’s the term used for the charcoal created when biomass is decomposed at high heat, in a process calledpyrolysis. The workshop was part of the Carbon War Room‘s Creating Climate Wealth Summit in Washington, D.C..

The Carbon War Room, as you may know, is a nonprofit created by Richard Branson of Virgin fame to unlock gigaton-scale, market-driven solutions to climate change. Its new president will be Jose Maria Figueres, the former president of Costa Rica. The group is also tackling projects around energy efficiency, renewable jet fuel, low-carbon ocean shipping and sustainable livestock.

Biochar has been around for a long time, but it’s getting new attention from government and business. The Iowa State researchers last fall were awarded a $25 million research grant from USDA to see if they can find ways to use marginal farmlands to grow perennial grasses and turn them into biofuels and biochar. Local firms like ADM, the agribusiness giant, have expressed support.

This week’s biochar workshop attracted an interesting crowd. USDA was there, as were executives from Conoco Phillips (they are interested in biofuels), Tenaska Energy (also biofuels), Phycal (which makes fuels from cassava and algae), Cool Planet Biofuels (a California startup funded by Google that is working on negative-carbon fuels, using miscanthus, among other feedstocks) and Biochar Solutions (which makes machinery to make biochar.) It’s very, very small but a biochar industry seems to be taking root.

Biochar 101

Biochar, as I wrote last summer, can be traced back to Brazil, where dark soils in the Amazon region are known as “Terra Preta.” Some scientists believe they were created as long as 4,500 years ago, and that they helped support a complex, farm-based civilization in the Amazon, despite the region’s poor soil.

Biochar isn’t just one thing, as Brown explained. It can be made using different processes from cellulosic feedstocks including wood chips, switch grass or corn stover, or from lipid-rich biomass such as rapeseed, soybeans or micro-algae. Essentially, through, the idea is to speed up and optimize the natural process in which plants (carbohydrates) decompose into fuels (hydrocarbons).

Here’s how the Carbon War Room explains it:

High-yielding varieties of terrestrial plants or aquatic species are used to fix carbon in the form of biomass. The biomass is collected and through an oxygen-starved process known as pyrolysis, is converted to an energy-rich liquid called bio-oil and a carbon-rich solid called biochar.

The bio-oil is upgraded to transportation fuels or used to generate electric power, thus providing high-value products to the economy. The biochar is incorporated into farmland where it serves the triple purposes of sequestering carbon from the atmosphere for millenia, building soil carbon and recycling nutrients removed with harvested biomass.

Iowa State has a small processing unit that can process about 1/4 ton per day of biomass, Brown told me. The researchers are feeding it switchgrass, wood chips and corn stover (the non-edible parts of corn plants, which, needless to say, are plentiful in Iowa.)

Many obstacles remain to taking biochar to scale as a climate solution. For one thing, Iowa farmers aren’t particularly interested in biochar, at least not in paying for it -- perhaps because their soils are among the richest in the world. The agricultural benefits of biochar -- its ability to retain water or nutrients -- remain largely unproven.

David Laird, an Iowa State soil scientist who is working on the project, said that in a dry year, soil enriched with biochar “could have a significant positive impact on crop yields” by retaining water. “But in a wet year, that’s meaningless,” he noted. Biochar would probably have a far greater value if it could be used to enrich poor quality soil, where it could not only increase crop yields but drive up land values. In Africa, for instance, some people say biochar could have a big impact on agriculture.

The USDA grant and other funding will enable the Iowa State team to better understand both the science and economics of biochar and biofuels. They’ll have to wrestle with some tradeoffs: So-called fast pyrolysis processes biomass at high heat, which makes more fuel and less biochar; that’s good for the business model, not so good for climate impact. By contrast, slow pyrolysis generates more biochar to sequester but less fuel to take to market.

Meanwhile, Brown and Laird are experimenting with biochar in their own backyards. Brown says he grew six-foot-tall pepper plants, and Laird has been growing tomato plants.

How are the tomatoes doing, I asked him.”They’re great,” he replied. “But it has nothing to do with me, and a lot to do with my wife.”

Mar 29, 2012

why permaculture folks love comfrey - YouTube

Uploaded by paulwheaton12 on Mar 29, 2012
Comfrey may be the most talked about permaculture plant. It is commonly planted under fruit trees because it does not compete with tree roots, but it does compete with plants that do compete with tree roots.

Alexia Allen of Hawthorn Farm tell us how she like using it as a poultice. We get to see bees and ants racing for the nectar of the comfrey blossoms. She also feeds it to her animals.

Toby Hemenway is the author of "Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture." He calls comfrey "the queen of the multi function plants." He talks a little about how easily it can spread when you don't want it. And then he talks about how he is able to get rid of it through mulching - but why would you not want it? It's a beneficial insect attractor; it is able to heal wounds; a dynamic nutrient accumulator; good for under fruit trees; good for a comfrey tree for soils; a huge biomass accumulator.

Tulsey Latoski of Portland, Oregon tells us about how comfrey makes a great green manure and living mulch. Mostly due to the tap roots that will pull nutrients up from down deep. She also shows us two different types of comfrey.

Norris Thomlinson of Portland, Oregon shares some observations about how comfrey fares as chicken feed; edible plant for humans; medicinal plant for humans;

Michael Pilarski is a famous wildcrafter and permaculture consultant. He tells us about how comfrey sluff material off into the soil to make for a richer soil. Apparently earthworms love comfrey! Michael tells us how comfrey is sometimes called "knit-bone" because it proliferates cell division - a great healer. His spring salads are loaded with comfrey leaves and blossoms. Michael talks about Dr. James Duke says that one bottle of beer has the same level of dangerous alkaloids as 100 cups of comfrey tea.

Matt from Feral Farm shows an understory heavy with comfrey.

Brian Kerkvliet of Inspiration Farm in Bellingham, Washington, talks about the challenges of getting comfrey out of an area where you don't want it. He uses a hot compost pile on top of it. He also shares the idea that if you have comfrey, that's a great place to plant a fruit tree! Then he shows a permaculture guild that includes comfrey.

Samantha Lewis describes how to tell the difference between comfrey, foxglove, mullein and borage.

Toby Hemenway wraps up with who is the king of the permaculture multifunctional plants (spoiler: bamboo!)

Relevant threads at permies:

music by Jimmy Pardo

Trellises For Your Summer Food Crops Permaculture Research Institute

by Sunny Soleil March 29, 2012

If you are thinking of planting tomatoes, cucumbers, winter squash, peas, beans or any vining plant, it’s worth considering growing them vertically to save space in your annual garden area.

Permaculture principles urge us to create no waste and to find multiple functions for whatever we do.

Instead of rushing to your garden center to purchase ready made products, there are many innovative and ecological ways to help your plants grow to their best, and to save space while keeping your produce off the ground and more protected from predators and rot.

The Native Americans used the 3-sisters method, growing beans, corn and squash together. The beans climb up the corn and the squash spreads out to create ground cover. However, if you want to save space you might be advised to use alternative ground cover and help your viners trail upwards.

Four ideas for trellises

Watch this video for inspiration on how you can use different materials and designs to make your own climbing trellises for veggies:

Crape Myrtle or Snowberry branches

In this video we learn how to reuse crape myrtle branches — an idea which will work equally well with snowberry bush trimmings or bamboo:

Scrap Wood and Kite String

This cheap recycled tomato cage uses everyday materials and costs pennies to construct:

Bamboo and Fishing line

If you have access to free bamboo and some fishing line, you can create all kinds of great trellises for your veggies. This video shows how one family does just that:

Bent Wood Trellises

Finally, if you want to use something that looks gorgeous and is made from completely natural materials, check out how to bend wood by steaming and other methods. The best tree wood for bending are Oak, Ash, Walnut, Elm, Hickory, Sweet gum, Black Locust, Beech, Cherry, Magnolia and Pecan, all of which are fairly hard woods.

When you allow the creativity to flow and keep your mind open to being inspired you’ll be surprised how many discard materials in your local area that are just waiting to be innovatively recycled by you in this way.

The Permaculture Path to Sustainability Permaculture Research Institute

Urban Projects — by Emma Crameri March 29, 2012
by Emma Crameri

The Permaculture Path to Sustainability illustrates the steps we can take to transition to a life with a smaller footprint on the earth.

When I was completing my Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC), I wanted a simple way to plan the future of our house and garden. I was feeling a little overwhelmed by all the different ideas buzzing around in my head. I needed to capture these and create a clear plan of attack.

I started by writing down all of the elements found in a typical permaculture garden and divided them into different categories. The categories are food production, fauna, practices, flora, energy, water, and waste.

I then sorted the elements out into levels. Each level reflects an increase in the level of difficulty, commitment and/or expense.

Level 1 is what you may find in an average suburban backyard.

Level 2 are practices and elements found in a more sustainable household. Perhaps the owners have been influenced by a book or gardening show on TV, or have been involved in a PermaBlitz. Only a few of the categories are closed loops.

Level 3 are practices and elements which are found in households dedicated to resilience, self-sufficiency, and sustainability. The owners view their property as a system. These households may be completely off-the-grid.

 Where is your household on the “Permaculture Path to Sustainability”?

Are you doing well in one category and neglecting another?

Full Article:

Being Human: Individual + Society & Morals + Culture -

Being Human: Individual + Society & Morals + Culture from Being Human on


As we use the tools of science to explore the nature of humanity, we are learning more and more about how our brains function and what motivates our behavior, built-in biases and blind spots.

These fresh insights are interesting scientifically, but they also evoke significant questions about our lived experience. These perspectives challenge our basic assumptions of who we are, both as individuals and as a society.

Great presentations, especially noted psychologist Paul Ekman when he argues that humans are biased to see threats where they may not exist and have evolved to respond automatically to emotions without awareness... !!!  Monte

Learning to read nature's cues can help a gardener

DEAN FOSDICK For The Associated Press | Posted: Sunday, March 18, 2012

Iris blooms are shown in New Market, Va. Phenology is the science of appearances, or knowing which plants can tell you when to begin weeding, pruning or fighting insects. DEAN FOSDICK | Associated Press

Phenology is the science of appearances, or knowing which plants can tell you when to start weeding, planting, fighting insects or tackling any other gardening priority.

Once the forsythia begins to bloom, for instance, it's time to renew your war against crabgrass.

When to fertilize the lawn? Think apple blossoms falling. Time to set out tomatoes? Yes, if dogwood trees are in flower.

"Phenology makes us more aware of our environment," said Robert Polomski, a horticulturist and arborist at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C. "Associating gardening tasks with flowering times is a neat way to look at how nature really functions."

Forsythia grows most everywhere in zones 5 to 8. Its yellow blossoms are among the most recognizable signs of early spring, making this member of the olive family one of the best seasonal indicators for gardeners. Turf grass specialists often use the bloom time of forsythia as a bellwether for scattering pre-emergent herbicides on crabgrass-prone lawns.

"A garden weed preventer or pre-emergent kills the seeds before they can grow into seedlings," Polomski said.

Phenology blends science with legend. It charts plant and animal development, and how those are influenced by climate change over long periods of time. It also includes the observations of people who have worked the ground for generations.

Scientists know, for instance, that soil temperatures must reach at least 35 degrees before onion and lettuce seeds will germinate. But Felder Rushing, a former extension horticulturist, 10th-generation American gardener and folklorist from Jackson, Miss., puts it in a more homespun and equally correct way: "When fishermen are sitting on the riverbank instead of on their bait buckets, the soil is warm enough to plant."

Some other reliable natural markers compiled by University of Wisconsin-Extension:

  • Plant potatoes as the first dandelions bloom, and peas when the daffodils flower.
  • Transplant eggplant, melons and peppers when the irises bloom.
  • Start looking for trouble from squash vine borers when chicory flowers open.
  • Put seed corn in the ground when oak leaves are about the size of a squirrel's ear.
  • The time is right for planting tomatoes when lily-of-the-valley is in full bloom.
  • Seed morning glories as soon as the maple trees leaf out.
  • Grasshopper eggs hatch roughly at the same time that lilacs bloom.
  • Prune roses when crocuses begin to flower.

Gardeners aren't the only ones who read signs of the seasons for practical reasons. Bird watchers use them for timing migrations, fly fishermen for signaling the insect hatch and farmers as clues in weather forecasting.

Phenologists monitor one species as a reliable way to track changes in another. Birds head north, for instance, just as the insects begin to appear in their summer breeding grounds. Insect populations build when their host plants produce leaves.

Native tribes in British Columbia used the arrival of buds and blooms from certain berry-producing shrubs to signal when it was time to fish for halibut or spawning salmon. That gave them a competitive leg up over other animals consuming the same, often limited resource.

"People good at observing things can often predict when the purple martins start arriving," Rushing said. "It becomes part of the local lore."



For more about phenology as an aid to garden planning, see this University of Wisconsin-Extension fact sheet:

Read more:

Organic Lawn Care For the Cheap and Lazy

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2012 Illinois Football schedule poster has been unveiled by the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. The "Dawn of a New Era" poster features Illinois head coach Tim Beckman flanked on his left and right by returning starters Michael Buchanan, Glenn Foster, Terry Hawthorne, Steve Hull, Akeem Spence, Graham Pocic, Jonathan Brown, Nathan Scheelhaase, Hugh Thornton and Supo Sanni in all blue uniforms.

Poster - Full Size

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The 2012 Illinois Football schedule poster has been unveiled by the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. The "Dawn of a New Era" poster features Illinois head coach Tim Beckman flanked on his left and right by returning starters Michael Buchanan, Glenn Foster, Terry Hawthorne, Steve Hull, Akeem Spence, Graham Pocic, Jonathan Brown, Nathan Scheelhaase, Hugh Thornton and Supo Sanni in all blue uniforms.

Moyers Moment (2009): Howard Zinn on The Power of Ordinary People | Moyers Moments, Take Action |

Moyers Moment: Howard Zinn on The Power of Ordinary People from on Vimeo.
March 28, 2012

Howard Zinn‘s groundbreaking work, The People’s History Of The United States, turned history on its head — concentrating on the power of the people to effect change, not just the deeds of “great men” and those in political power. In this conversation from Bill Moyers Journal — filmed just weeks before Zinn’s death — the historian and activist encourages people to think for themselves, to push and prod their governments, and not to rely on leaders to “do what needs to be done.” Zinn tells Moyers, “Democracy is not the three branches of government.”

Mar 28, 2012

Historic Heat in North America Turns Winter to Summer

Historic Heat in North America Turns Winter to Summer

acquired March 8 - 15, 2012 download large image (3 MB, PNG, 1800x1800)
acquired March 8 - 15, 2012 download GeoTIFF file (3 MB, TIFF)

A huge, lingering ridge of high pressure over the eastern half of the United States brought summer-like temperatures to North America in March 2012. The warm weather shattered records across the central and eastern United States and much of Canada.

The unseasonable warmth broke temperature records in more than 1,054 locations between March 13–19, as well daily lows in 627 locations, according to Hamweather. Cities as geographically diverse as Chicago, Des Moines, Traverse City (Michigan), Myrtle Beach, Madison (Wisconsin), Atlantic City, New York City, and Duluth, (Minnesota) all broke records for high temperatures in recent days.

The intensity and scope of the heat wave is clearly visible in this map of land surface temperature anomalies. Based on data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on the Terra satellite,the map depicts temperatures compared to the average of the same eight day period of March from 2000-2011. Areas with warmer than average temperatures are shown in red; near-normal temperatures are white; and areas that were cooler than the 2000-2011 base period are blue.

Land surface temperatures are distinct from the air temperatures that meteorological stations typically measure. LSTs indicate how hot the surface of the Earth in a particular location would feel to the touch. From a satellite vantage point, the “surface” includes a number of materials that capture and retain heat, such as sand in the desert, the dark roof of a building, or the pavement of a road. As a result, daytime land surface temperatures are usually much higher than air temperatures—something that anyone who has walked barefoot across a parking lot on a summer afternoon knows from experience.

Records are not only being broken across the country, they're being broken in unusual ways. Chicago, for example, saw temperatures above 26.6°Celsius (80°Fahrenheit) every day between March 14-18, breaking records on all five days. For context, the National Weather Service noted that Chicago typically averages only one day in the eighties each in April. And only once in 140 years of weather observations has April produced as many 80°Fahrenheit days as this March. Meanwhile, Climate Central reported that in Rochester, Minnesota. the overnight low temperature on March 18 was 16.6°Celsius (62°Fahrenheit), a temperature so high it beat the record high of 15.5°Celsius (60°Fahrenheit) for the same date.

Climate Central. (2012) A Broken Record of Heat-Breaking Heat. Accessed March 20, 2012.
NOAA. (2012) Historic & Unprecedented March Warmth Continues. Accessed March 20, 2012.
Ham Weather. Records Events Map. Accessed March 20, 2012.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using data from the Level 1 and Atmospheres Active Distribution System (LAADS). Caption by Adam Voiland.Instrument: Terra - MODIS

Mar 25, 2012

Open Source Technology | International Biochar Initiative

International Biochar Initiative 
What is Open Source Technology, and how important is it to the emerging biochar industry?

These are questions that many IBI members are asking. This page will post links to resources on open source licensing and technology development. We will also showcase some examples of open source pyrolysis technology development.

According to Wikipedia: "The term open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product's source materials. Some consider open source a philosophy, others consider it a pragmatic methodology." Open source originated in the field of software engineering, but others are now bringing the philosophy to engineering and design of all kinds. Another term used is "Open Design". The Wikipedia entry on Open Design states: "Open design is the development of physical products, machines and systems through use of publicly shared design information. The process is generally facilitated by the Internet and often performed without monetary compensation."
Open Source Biochar Resources

Because charcoal-making is an ancient, low-tech process, there are many charcoal kiln designs in the public domain. In the 1800s, before petroleum came to dominate our energy supply, some fairly sophisticated technologies for pyrolysis and gasification were developed. Dr. Manuel Garcia-Perez of Washington State University, US, has published a useful catalog of these. Many of these designs are likely to be in the public domain.

Inventors and project developers who are not interested in pursuing patents for their technologies and who want to participate in Open Design processes may still want to retain some rights to the information they have developed. An alternative to copyright law they may want to consider is theCreative Commons License.

One company that is developing biochar technology through an open source process is All Power Labs in Berkeley, California.

Also, the community of stove designers who work on biomass stoves for developing countries often work in an open-source environment. You can take part in or just observe their discussions at the Bioenergy Stoves List.

If you would like to participate in open-source technology development in a workshop setting, check out the offerings from the Biomass Energy Foundation (BEF). BEF is launching around the world in 2011 its instructional five-day events called “BEF Camps”. Each BEF Camp is a structured learning experience, where the technical foundation, practical skills and fabrication methods of constructing biomass-fueled devices are taught and put into practice with hands-on efforts by the participants.

SeaChar (the Seattle, Washington biochar group) offers biochar stove workshops. Check the SeaChar website for more information.
Alternatives to Patents

The Nobel-winning economist, Joseph E. Stiglitz, has an interesting article titled Prizes, Not Patents, that poses an alternative to patents for medicines, especially for those medicines most needed by the poor. He says, "There is an alternative way of financing and incentivizing research that, at least in some instances, could do a far better job than patents, both in directing innovation and ensuring that the benefits of that knowledge are enjoyed as widely as possible: a medical prize fund that would reward those who discover cures and vaccines."

Perhaps a similar approach would be appropriate for the biochar technologies that are most useful to poor farmers. A biochar prize fund could compensate inventors, yet make the resulting technologies freely available. This would not be a substitute for patents that are still needed to protect the companies that want to engage in the biochar industry in a serious and sustained way. As Dr. Stiglitz says, "That said, the prize fund would not replace patents. It would be part of the portfolio of methods for encouraging and supporting research."
Open Source Ethics

Open source and open design have a lot to offer the community of biochar technology developers. For open source to be successful, it is vitally important for inventors and users to have a clear and consistent understanding of what technology rights are truly open and what rights are restricted or proprietary. IBI supports good business ethics and expects that all biochar project developers will respect patents, licenses and other rights to intellectual property at all times.

Project Rejuvenation - Bio-Char Workshop Mar 17 2012 - YouTube

Uploaded by weyounet on Mar 22, 2012
Project Rejuvenation family got together at Tim's place to make another bio-char furnace, this time with some improvements, and footage of different steps of the process.

Cooking better biochar: Study improves recipe for soil additive

Rice U. scientists: Cooking temperature determines whether ‘biochar’ is boon or bane to soil

David Ruth

Jade Boyd
Cooking better biochar: Study improves recipe for soil additive 

HOUSTON — (March 22, 2012) — Backyard gardeners who make their own charcoal soil additives, or biochar, should take care to heat their charcoal to at least 450 degrees Celsius to ensure that water and nutrients get to their plants, according to a new study by Rice University scientists.

The study, published this week in the Journal of Biomass and Bioenergy, is timely because biochar is attracting thousands of amateur and professional gardeners, and some companies are also scaling up industrial biochar production.

“When it’s done right, adding biochar to soil can improve hydrology and make more nutrients available to plants,” said Rice biogeochemist Caroline Masiello, the lead researcher on the new study.

Rice biogeochemist Caroline Masiello

The practice of adding biochar to topsoil to boost crop growth goes back centuries, but in recent years, international interest groups have begun touting biochar’s climate benefits as well. Biochar removes carbon from the atmosphere and locks it into the soil for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years.

With companies scaling up production and dozens of do-it-yourself videos online showing how to make biochar at home, Masiello said it is important for scientists to study examine how biochar is produced and learn which methods produce the best biochar.

In their study, Masiello’s team learned that when it comes to helping get water to plants, not all forms of biochar are the same. The researchers found charcoal produced at temperatures of 450 Celsius or higher was most likely to improve soil drainage and make more water available to plants, while charcoal produced at lower temperatures could sometimes repel water.

Rice’s award-winning biochar research group examined the hydrologic properties of biochar produced at various temperatures from three kinds of feedstock — tree leaves, corn stalks and wood chips. For all feedstocks, the researchers found that biochar produced at temperatures above 450 degrees Celsius (842 degrees Fahrenheit) had optimal properties for improving soil drainage and storing carbon.

The research team included Rice undergraduate Tim Kinney, Bellaire High School science teacher Michelle Dean and Rice faculty members, Brandon Dugan, assistant professor of Earth science, and Kyriacos Zygourakis, the A.J. Hartsook Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Other team members were William Hockaday, now an assistant professor of geology at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and Rebecca T. Barnes, now a visiting assistant professor at Bard College in Annandale-on-the-Hudson, New York.

Making charcoal may sound like a strange way to boost crop production, but the concept was proven more than 2,000 years ago in South America, where native farmers added charcoal to the poor soils of the Amazon rainforest to create a rich, fertile soil known by the Portuguese name “terra preta,” or black earth. These modified soils, which are still fertile today, contain as much as 35 percent of their organic carbon in the form of charcoal. Studies over the past decade have found that the charcoal-amended soil holds more water and nutrients and also makes the water and nutrients readily available to plants.

The charcoal, or biochar, that is used to create such soil can be made from wood or agricultural byproducts. The key is to heat the material to a high temperature in an oxygen-starved environment. Native Americans did that by burying the material in pits, where it burned for days. Today, industrial-scale biochar production is beginning to occur, and dozens of do-it-yourself videos online show how to make biochar in just a few hours using steel drums.

The agricultural benefits of biochar are just one reason there’s a groundswell of interest in biochar production. Some enthusiasts are drawn by a desire to fight global warming. That’s because about half of the carbon from wood chips, corn stalks and other biomass — carbon that typically gets recycled into the atmosphere — can be locked away inside biochar for thousands of years.

“When people mow their yards here in Houston, the carbon from the grass clippings returns to the atmosphere in about six weeks,” said Masiello, assistant professor of Earth science at Rice. “We call this carbon-cycling, and it’s a universal process. Making biochar is one way to remove carbon from the atmosphere and lock it away for a long time.”

Masiello, who specializes in studying the carbon cycle, said the microscopic properties of biochar can vary widely depending upon how it’s made. In the worst case, she said, improperly made biochar can harm soil rather than improve it.

“This is the first rigorous study of the hydrologic aspects of biochar,” Masiello said. “People often tout the benefits of biochar; it can help clay-rich soils drain better, and it can help sandy soils hold water better. But we are finding that these hydrologic benefits vary widely with biochar production conditions.”

She said the study found that biochar produced at temperatures lower than 450 degrees Celsius retained some organic compounds that can actually repel water rather than attract it. In addition, the study found that lower-temperature biochar was a less stable reservoir for carbon and could return significant amounts of carbon to the atmosphere within a few hundred years.

“We plan to study ways to optimize other beneficial properties of biochar, including its ability to remove heavy metals and other pollutants from soil,” Masiello said. “Ultimately, we’d like to publish a how-to guide that would show exactly what conditions are needed to produce the optimal biochar for a given situation.”

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.
The study is available at: