What’s Brewing? Podcast Episode 10: Going Beyond Compost Tea

What’s Brewing is a podcast all about compost tea hosted by Troy Hinke.

Troy Hinke served as Rodale’s Compost Research Specialist alongside the founder of Soil Foodweb Inc., Dr. Elaine Ingham. Troy now runs Living Roots Compost Tea, where he offers several services including consultations, compost sprays, and compost brewing, among others.

Episode ten, the final episode of a 10-episode series on compost teas, host Troy Hinke goes beyond compost tea, talking about how we can keep all the good, beneficial microbes alive and thriving once we get them to the soil.

How Can We Maintain and Promote Life in the Soil? (01:00)

All relationships are all about give-and-take.

When we take into consideration the relationship between conventional agriculture and the soil, conventional agriculture only takes and takes and takes from the soil without ever giving back—except for the occasional chemical cocktail.

That’s not exactly the ideal kind of relationship.

When we want to start building relationships, the first thing most people would think about is to do that with food and sharing conversations over food. Given this, what do we do if we want to build a good relationship with soil and the microbes within? We offer them food. And that’s what we do with compost tea.

The crops we grow pull nutrients from the soil. And if that plant takes up all the nutrients and minerals from the soil, and we’re taking that plant when we harvest it, that means the soil has lost out on all those things, and it wasn’t returned. So, we need to be returning what we take out back to the soil. When we use compost tea, we’re giving back to the soil what it gave to the plant.

Providing Food and Shelter (06:06)

If we consider soil as a habitat for microorganisms, we’ll need to make that habitat conducive for those microorganisms to thrive. So how can we provide a good habitat for them?

Compost. One way to provide shelter for microbes is by using compost. When we’re first preparing a bed, it’s good to use a heavy layer of compost to provide the necessary organic matter and beneficial biology to help feed plants and create soil structure underneath.

The compost and beneficial biology will then attract worms, which will help move the organic material from the compost into the soil and help create structure as well.

Plants. Along with compost, probably the best way to feed soil biology is through plants, especially through cover cropping and intercropping. Having plants fill in all of the bare soil will provide root exudates to feed soil biology, which will help create a living soil.

Cover cropping and intercropping are also beneficial in the way they act as mulch by shading the soil, which keeps the soil moist. Because the microorganisms in the soil live in tiny microdroplets of water, the soil needs to be kept moist to prevent it from drying out and to keep those microorganisms thriving.

This mulch effect will keep all of the beneficial biology active and repopulating, as well as keep weeds at bay and reduce soil loss from erosion. And even after termination or death of cover crops, they’ll still be feeding those microbes by providing organic matter to the soil.

Mulches. Another way to provide food for microorganisms is by using mulches, which function the same way cover crops do. They provide organic matter for both habitat and foods for different kinds of microorganisms and keep the soil moist, which will help the soil biology remain active. The mulch will also suppress weeds and soil loss by keeping the soil covered.

Better Soil Management Practices (10:20)

Treating the soil well with better soil management practices sets us up for a sustainable kind of agriculture that benefits not just the biology in the soil but everyone from Mother Earth up to all the succeeding generations of humans. So, how can we improve how we manage our soils?

Start Going No-Till and Leave the Soil Alone. Tilling does several things, but one of the two major ones are its damage and destruction of soil biology, especially when ripping through the fungi in the soil. Remember that taking away the fungi in the soil will set the soil back in succession, making it more bacteria dominant, which then sets up the land for more weeds.

Another thing that tilling does is it releases carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as opposed to composting and cover cropping, which pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and sequesters and stores it into the ground.

Better soil management practices also reduce the need for irrigation because of the improved soil structure and its accompanying improved water holding capacity. This basically raises the water table and makes water available to plants as they need them.

In addition, by having more organic matter and plenty of beneficial biology in the soil to break down that organic matter, we’re helping cycle nutrients throughout the soil, which means more nutrients for plant growth, which also means increased yield. Wouldn’t everyone like to get more produce per plant?

Lastly, it’s more economical to go towards better soil management practices because an excellent soil biology will provide almost everything your plants need, which will lower the need for any outside inputs, which, in turn, saves growers time, labor, and money.

“We just need to remember to treat our soil microbiology like pets—we need to give them a habitat, we need to provide them with food, and we need to provide them with water.”

Troy Hinke

Learn More

Learn more about Troy Hinke and his work on compost teas over at Living Roots Compost Tea, Instagram, and Facebook!

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