When you think of compost, you probably imagine shovels of rich, dark humus teeming with nutrients and earthworms. But did you know that our orchard team also uses compost in a “tea” that they spray in the orchard? We start with a 5-pound “teabag” of compost and a 300-gallon vat of water. And it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Let’s start with the weather
When the air and soil are damp, fungal disease can spread through the orchards and cause irreparable harm to crops. Farmer Al does his best to prepare the trees for these conditions, and compost tea is an effective way to combat disease in blossoms, fruit, and leaves.
“When you spray compost tea, you change the ecosystem of the tree by inoculating it with beneficial bacteria and microorganisms, Farmer Al says. These beneficial bacteria and microorganisms fight fungal microorganisms, creating a healthy environment that is less vulnerable to fungal disease.
What’s in the brew?
We start with a 5-pound bag of compost that they suspend in 300 gallons of water. This compost culture is a living thing – it needs food, just like we do. We add fish emulsion for protein, seaweed powder for nutrients, and molasses for sugar. And we add humic acid for carbon. Humic acid provides the molecular building blocks for a lively microbial tea.
Once all the ingredients are in the vat, we aerate it, giving it oxygen so it can grow.
Timing is everything
Farmer Al uses compost tea on an as-needed basis. The mix takes three days to brew, then we have about eight hours to spray it on the trees before it goes bad.
Compost tea is very effective, but its brief shelf life makes it difficult to use.
“You can brew the tea and have it ready, but if it’s too muddy in the orchard, you can’t get to the trees to spray them,” Farmer Al says. “Or maybe the weather is rainy or windy and not really conducive to spraying.”
Farmer Al measures the efficacy of the compost tea by examining the trees that farm crews have sprayed. He looks for signs of disease. If he doesn’t see any disease, the tea worked.
Drink it up
We spray the orchards with compost tea during the winter months. But during the summer, the Ground Team adds it to the irrigation system that covers all 260 acres of the orchard. They use it on a regular schedule, inoculating the orchard with amplified microbial activity, protecting the trees from fungal disease, and enhancing the soil’s fertility and resilience.
Compost tea is one of the many ways we create a healthy environment for our trees.
“We’re following a natural pathway provided by Mother Nature,” Farmer Al says.