by Audra Howerton
“Once we create a soil environment that is healthy and sustainable, we start to see plant life that is also much healthier and much more sustainable.” -Randy Ritchie, founder of Malibu Compost
What is biodynamic compost tea? How do you use it? And why use it when there’s already fertilizers, composts and other amendments on the market?
To answer your fascination in biodynamic compost tea for your garden, founder Randy Ritchie of Malibu Compost answers a Q&A on the definition, application and benefits of using this biodynamic product!
For residents of Skagit or Whatcom County, our Compost Tea Party is this Saturday on July 11th at 11am here at the Garden Spot Nursery. Randy will be discussing Malibu Compost Bu’s Brew™ Biodynamic® Compost Tea in depth while we snack on scones and tea (the kind for us and not our plants)!
AH: What is compost tea?
RR: Compost Tea is liquified extraction of compost. The quality of the compost will depend on the level of microbial diversity, nutrient density and organic purity. Our biodynamic compost is the perfect base component for a really beneficial compost tea that will revitalize soil and feed your plants at the same time.
AH: Has it been in the horticulture industry for long?
RR: Compost tea has been around for a long time in a variety of forms, nature being the first. Compost tea is really a form of bio-mimicry. For example, it rains in a forest, the water pools up around the base of a tree, the water filters through the leaf mold into the soil below, taking with it billions of microbes along with beautiful decomposed organic matter. I first learned about it from my grandmother in New Jersey who used finished, composted dairy cow manure in a sock that sat overnight in water. She fed her tomatoes with it. She called it “tomato juice.” That was in the 60’s. I used to water her Jersey tomatoes with it, so I guess, I’ve been using it personally for a loooonnngg time!
AH: How does it work?
RR: Compost and other items like castings, powdered fish hydosolate or kelp meal are put into a micron filter extractor bag, or organic muslin tea bag in our case. The bag is soaked in water between eight to twelve hours and extraction for twenty-four hours if it is aerated with a pump. I’m focusing on extractions, although I use a lot of aerated teas on our farm and landscape projects. The microbes come alive in the water and the “good stuff,” the major and minor nutrients and trace minerals are extracted into the “brew” which becomes a bock, beer-colored liquid through the process.
AH: How does a home gardener apply it?
RR: The compost tea extraction can be used as a drench straight out of the bucket, in a watering can or a foliar feed or spray through a half-gallon or larger pump sprayer.
AH: When is the best time to use it?
RR: I usually feed the teas in the morning, especially if I am spraying fruit trees or the garden plot because I don’t want the moisture to create stress on the leaf structure of the plants when the sun gets too hot. It could possibly cause leaf burn as it evaporates the liquid. The teas will not cause burn, but the sun and water certainly can.
AH: Where is it mostly used?
RR: I use it everywhere. We have a massive rose garden that we do in the city of Oakland with teas. I help manage several organic orchards and organic food grows. We use the tea in conjunction with our beautiful compost, as well as the on-site compost we make on many urban farms and landscape sites. It and the compost have all of the nutrients and minerals necessary to grow really healthy soil and plants.
AH: Why is compost tea useful for gardeners?
RR: It is an essential component of a truly organic protocol in the garden. Again, depending on the source of the compost that is used in the tea as well as any other ingredients that might be added, it is safe, non-toxic, easy-to-use and the best organic amendment for helping to build good organic soil, grow healthy plants and a facilitate a more peaceful, yet vital environment at the home, garden or farm.
AH: Is it an alternative to other soil products or fertilizers?
RR: We ease a lot of people off of their chemical and synthetic gardening practices by starting with compost teas. It has a very quick affect on the plants because it gets a readily available nutrient source right to the root level for uptake. We have seen plants turn-around overnight with a nice compost tea application. We don’t believe in the NPK myth, or turning our plants into fertilizer addicts. Compost tea is nature’s way of feeding the microbes and the plants for a healthier, more vital garden.
AH: What are the advantages and disadvantages to using compost tea?
RR: The advantages are clear, improved soil vitality and soil structure, a great food source for the microbes in the soil, healthier plants—which in turn are more disease and pest resistant—as well as the teas bring a great aid ion for dealing with fungal issues like powdery mildew and rust. The only disadvantage I see is people making teas out of inferior compost, or unfinished composts, which can be highly anaerobic and potentially toxic.
AH: How does Malibu Compost Tea compare to other compost teas on the market, especially with biodynamic practices?
RR: Malibu Compost Teas have the highest food-grade purity level on the market because we test for GMO’s, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, as well as do biological screening that test for microbial diversity and AG analysis that shows that there are no pathogens, heavy metals or pH issues happening in our products. The biodynamic preparations are the secret to creating vitality and soil health with our teas.
AH: What are the short and long term effects of using compost tea?
RR: The short-term effect is immediate uptake of whatever the plants might be needing in terms of nutrition. The long-term effect is overall soil and garden health. One of the things that I love about compost teas is when using a really good compost like ours you cannot overdo it. You’re not going to burn your plants as you can with many other fertilizers. You’re not going to stress your garden out or stress the microbes out who are working hard to create food and balance in your garden.
AH: How does this benefit the soil and plant material?
RR: Traditional chemical and synthetic fertilizers kill off large numbers of microbes in the soil, and create environments that are in a highly weakened state. The use of good, truly organic compost teas keeps growing the numbers of beneficial microbes in the soil, both bacteria and fungi, which attract the the larger protozoa who will eat the smaller microorganisms and in-turn poop out beautiful plant available nitrogen. Once we create a soil environment that is healthy and sustainable, we start to see plant life that is also much healthier and much more sustainable.
Malibu Compost is a Demeter Association certified, biodynamic company based out of Malibu, CA. For more information on Malibu Compost, their practices and their products, visit their website here.