By: Travis Lesser
If you have been paying attention to our social media and emails, you have seen a lot about compost tea over the past few weeks. But what exactly is compost tea and why should you care?
Basically, compost tea is a solution of compost, ideally vermicompost, non-chlorinated water, and a feedstock such as molasses. But don’t be confused by the name, you don’t want to drink this stuff. It should only be used on your plants. The main idea is to apply tea as part of a regular regiment to make your soil and your plants healthier and less susceptible to disease.
While tea can be produced in a few different ways, generally speaking, it involves steeping compost into water along with molasses. Other ingredients can be added, such as kelp meal, but the main idea is to aerate and agitate the water to allow the molasses to spread evenly across the solution. This allows beneficial microbes that exist in the compost to multiply rapidly by providing ample oxygen and complex sugars. Giving the process approximately 24 hours allows for optimal microbial activity, essentially making your rich vermicompost go farther.
People have been using compost tea for ages. You may recall your grandmother using a bucket with an aquarium air stone to make her tea, and spraying the solution onto her plants. Academically speaking, the ultimate goal for applying compost tea is to inoculate the soil with a strong microbial population.
While Grandma’s method is effective, one drawback is that anaerobic, or lacking in free oxygen, pockets can be created in the bucket, which can ultimately result in carrying pathogens into your soil. A better method is called the vortex method. This is the process used by Cityscape Farm Supply on Compost Tea Tuesdays by using our Cityscape 5-gallon Brewer at The Barn at Lemont.
The vortex method ultimately introduces a larger amount of oxygen than the air stone method, agitating the water to a greater degree and therefore creating more movement for the microbes. Another term for this method is active aeration, and a good term for the end product is Actively Aerated Compost Tea (AACT). By keeping the water moving in this manner, it allows the beneficial bacteria to spread out and multiply at a rapid rate. A bacterial-rich brew will have a bit of a froth at the top, and will smell earthy and sweet. If it stinks, it has gone anaerobic and you should not use it at that point.
Another key thing to understand about AACT is that it has very little shelf-life. Once the oxygen source is taken away, the beneficial microbes begin to die off. Therefore, it is best to apply the tea via a foliar spray immediately, or at least with a few hours. Additionally, benefits from AACT are generally not seen immediately. A weekly regiment during growing season is best, as you are consistently introducing new and beneficial bacteria into the soil, ultimately creating healthy and resilient plants.
I have personally been using compost tea on my garden beds for three years, and can attest to its effectiveness. As advertised my soil is rich in organic material, producing healthy and prolific plants year after year. I have never applied a pesticide and have only used a small amount of fish fertilizer (mixed in with the tea) once this year.
Do you have a compost tea success story? If so, tell us about it in the comments!
Pruning the bottoms of your tomato plants like this helps to keep the plant's leaves from touching the soil. This helps reduce the chances of disease while also improving air flow.
By: Woody Wilson, co-Founder
Have you seen that bumper sticker? It is a nice phrase that organic farmers and gardeners like to throw out at a dinner party to start conversations about their vegetables. But for gardeners in post-industrial cities, the phrase is more of a warning than a battle cry.
Gardeners in the city have to think about the safety of their soil before planting into it. Lets face it, before environmental regulations were a thing, what is now your backyard may have been a convenient place to dump leather tanning chemicals one hundred years ago. Also, like the houses of that day and age, many of those chemicals were built to last.
When planting a garden directly in the soil in the city, it is very important to know the history of your lot. Has it always been residential? If so you may be safe. Was your row home formerly a dry cleaner? Probably not the safest place to plant. Live near a railroad? Definitely do not eat what you plant.
The EPA and the Philadelphia Food Policy Advisory Council both suggest using “above soil growing” i.e. raised beds, when growing in soil that has not been tested for contaminants. Basic soil testing is relatively cheap, but tests for metals and chemical compounds get expensive quick. If you are a temporary renter, without time to check the property records of your block at City Hall, then a patio garden with elevated beds is the right choice for you.
By: Woody Wilson
A full sun garden spot is the envy of many a gardener. As photosynthetic beings, plants require sunlight to create energy, though the amount of sunlight needed to grow differs from plant to plant. Plants that produce fruits are often ruled out of a shady garden first. Tomatoes, Peppers, Cucumbers and Eggplants require long amounts of light to produce their high energy using fruits.
Many of the plants that grow well under low light conditions are greens, a large majority of them being cold hardy as well. Cold hardy greens not only grow when the temperature is low, but in low light conditions. Some great green options for a low light garden are: Spinach, Arugula, Kale, Lettuces, Maché, Claytonia, Chard, Endive, Escarole, and Mustard greens.
Root vegetables are also suited for low light gardens, Beets, Carrots, Potatoes, Radishes, Rutabagas, and Turnips will all grow, but the days for them to mature may be longer than if they had full sun. Herbs also do well under low light conditions, the perennials, such as Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Catnip, Chives, Lemon Balm, and Mint, are designed to survive adverse conditions, Basil and Parsley, annual herbs, also do moderately well.
All of these low light greens and herbs grow well in a Simple Cityscape Raised Bed. Most of these vegetables are shallow rooted and do not require excessive fertilization, making the simple bed perfect to grow your shade tolerant garden. Potatoes however, would grow best in a Cityscape Deep Bed.