2013 NCSU Vermiculture Conference topic: Bring Life Back to the Soil: Vermicompost Tea Application

Final speaker of the conference: Dane Terrill, Flowerfield Enterprises.

Here are my notes on the topic as added to this live blog of the weekend:

Flowerfield Enterprises history, was overviewed (it was the late Mary Appelhof’s company — Mary was known as the “worm woman” and wrote the classic book Worms Eat My Garbage about composting with red wiggler worms): They’ve offered many different worm compost related products and have now expanded into spraying with vermicompost teas. Uses include application on lawns, landscapes, athletic fields, gardens, CSA’s, orchards, vineyards, greenhouses, golf courses.

Also compost tea and compost extracts were defined at the start, as a continuation of discussions with other speakers at the conference.

The soil is alive — a slide of the soil food web and illustration of how plants grow was shown. Microorganisms stay by roots to get fed in by sugars and starches produced by the plant. In return, the microbes feed and protect the plant.

Compost tea basics (aerated teas): He thinks that it is important that the food source for the red wiggler worms has been through a thermophilic cycle.

Plant needs: A slide was shown with information on the fungal/bacterial balance required by plants. His philosophy is to select against weeds by increasing fungal content of soil. (weeds thrive with more bacteria in soil, garden plants need a balance of fungi and bacteria, forest species thrive in even more fungi). Another point: tillage wrecks the fungi in the soil, so to increase presence of fungi, reduce tillage.

Making Vermicompost Tea:

Compost Pre-activation at Flowerfield – they add rolled oats, oat flower and kelp later in the process to encourage fungal growth. This is mixed with the thermi/vermi wood chip mix, calcium and fish.
Tea is brewed in a 250 gallon cubic tote. His goal is to get fungi active in tea. He routinely cleans out the mixing tote right after use so no bioslime with anaerobic microbes grow. Aeration: minimum of .05 cubic feet per minute per gallon of water with this size tote — it is roiling! To make tea in this size tote, use 3.5 gallons of compost in a mesh bag submerged in a tube. Using mesh keeps clogging issues in sprayer to a minimum. Dissolved oxygen 9.17 ppm. 75 degrees. Amount of water: 225 gallons of dechlorinated water. They’ve been doing this for 8 years. They also do extracting on site and have a 500 gallon transport extractor.

A video of compost tea in action is at microorganics.com

They aerate the tea in the transport truck so it is aerated until it gets to the customer. They apply 20 gallons per acre on soil, turf – (during application it is diluted in more water) 4 times per year (along with plug aeration, top dresssing with a cubic yard of worm compost per 10,000 square feet. For application on foliage, the rate is 5 gallons per acre. the goal in applying microbe-rich compost is to innoculate the soil: so if one cup is good, only use one cup!

Customers whose soils were treated with vermicompost tea have experienced a reduced need for inorganic fertilizers and chemicals, increased yields and healthier plants.

They look at soil samples under a microscope and measure bacteria, fungi, hyphal diameter, protozoa, nematodes — a chart was shown showing improvements when a lawn is treated year after year. He noted that organic lawn care is particularly valuable when kids are playing on the field or lawn.

Raised bed gardening in community or in schools — he showed sites where they are applying tea 4 times a year, compost and vermicompost. Soil analysis showed dramatic improvements. Gypsum and calcium added instead of lime.

About medical marijuana — it is legal in Michigan and many places, and vermicompost is used by these growers since they’re serious about their medicine. They don’t want to use chemical fungicides or insecticides.

We need to take this information back to our communities to put this knowledge about vermiculture to work. He thanked Rhonda Sherman for organizing these conferences.

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