Composting is the biological decomposition of organic material under controlled conditions. The heat generated by decomposer microorganisms during composting can destroy most pathogens, weed seeds, and invertebrates. Beneficial microorganisms inhabiting some composts control diseases. For disease suppression compost must have a diversity of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes.
The greater the variety and size of materials the better the diversity of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes in your compost. Have a mix of particle sizes in the composting materials, from very small up to one square inch.
The amount of nitrogen determines the temperature of the pile. Turn while hot a minimum of three times. A temperature of 135°F for three days will kill the pathogenic bacteria, Escherichia coli, Shigella, and Salmonella. Root feeding nematodes will also be killed at 135°F. Beneficial nematodes are not as heat sensitive and will live through the 135°F temperatures.
Add water to the 50% level while making the pile. At the 50% level the surface of the material shines (glistens). To determine the 50% level reach two feet into the pile at different locations, remove a hand full of material at give it the hardest squeeze possible. IF:
A. water runs out, too wet, turn and leave the surface open to dry; do this several times;
B. if only a drop of water comes out, Goldilocks, just right;
C. if no water comes out and compost keeps the squeezed shape, it’s OK;
D. if no water comes out and compost does not keep the squeezed shape, the compost is too dry, open the pile and add water.
Bacteria dominated compost is used for foliar compost tea and/or a soil drench for annuals, row crops, and most vegetables.
A. 35% high N: legumes; manure (know diet of animals, if pellet fed, high potassium salt [KCl] that will kill microorganisms and plants); most soils have an abundance of potassium;
B. 35% green stuff (bacteria food): greens & coffee grounds are classified as green stuff
C. 30% woody stuff (fungi food): shredded paper is ok, but not too small.
Fungal dominated compost can be used as a soil drench for perennials, berries, conifers, Rhododendrons, azalea, tomatoes, strawberries, and deciduous trees.
Monitor the temperature with a long stemmed thermometer. Three days at 135°F will kill pathogens. If temperature goes to 155-165°F this will start to kill the beneficials. Turn pile to cool.
Increase the N content.
Still not heating? Check moisture.
Still not heating? Maybe you have pesticides or heavy metals that may be killing the microorganisms. Add an inoculate of microorganisms and bacterial food (molasses). Added food is required because it takes added energy to detoxify pesticides and heavy metals.
Up to 6 months old, the compost has more diversity of organisms. Two-year-old compost is not different than topsoil.
Let this brew for 24-48 hours, stirring occasionally. The brew should smell good, like molasses. As time passes the molasses smell will disappear, as the bacteria have consumed it. If the brew begins to stink, it is because is has gone anaerobic, lack of oxygen. Get more air to your brew
At the end of the brew cycle, turn the air bubblers off at the gang distributor. Let the brew settle for 15-30 minutes. Strain the tea through a tea sieve, cheesecloth or tea towel. This is your compost tea for spraying and it MUST BE USED RIGHT AWAY.
All the tea produced will vary in composition but if the compost was “good” and the tea brewer functioned properly, about 5 gallons of teas will cover one acre (43,560 square feet). For most of us this translates to about 1 pint per 1000 square feet.
To this approximation, realize that for foliar disease control you must cover a minimum of 70% of the leaf and stem surface, upper and lower.