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Re: compost tea makers
Hi Mike -
Yes, really good soil would be fine to put in a compost tea maker. If soil contains a good food web of all the organisms needed, soil can serve to make compost tea (hum, that would be soil tea then, right?).
Or use a compost made without manure. Use nitrogen-fixing leguminous plant material in the compost instead of manure.
Which is why the USDA Compost Task Force recommendations were so silly. Since we objected to not being able to use sugar, molasses or soluble carbon materials because - oh fear! - these materials might result in E. coli growth (which is silly, high energy carbon materials don't cause E. coli to grow, the presence of E. coli, and the right conditions, specifically lack of adequate oxygen - allow E. coli to win in competition for the foods), then the Compost Task Force leader threatened to make a recommendation that no compost tea could be used at all.
Luckily, that wasn't the actual recommendation made to the NOSB. The actual recommendation was that compost tea could not be used on foodstuffs because of the fear of E. coli.
But composts not made from manure aren't likely to have E. coli.
Manure-based compost can also be pathogen free, so why limit even manure-based compost if it can be documented to be pathogen-free?
Some soils could contain E. coli, so, if unsure, test to make sure.
But, the upshot of all this right now is that perhaps the NOSB will ignore the recommendation from the Compost Task Force. Maybe they'll use the wisdom we all hope they have.
They received another recommendation, from OMRI, that basically said, if the materials going into the product are OMRI approved, then the product is certified organic.
Compost tea is OMRI approved. All the starting materials in compost tea used on an organic farm should certified organic.
This is the recommendation I heard about late last fall - gosh, almost a year ago! A year ago, I figured the NOP would not be a problem, because OMRI had it under control.
Part of the reason for this being the correct ruling is the tradition of using compost tea since the Roman days. Cato discusses making a liquid that sounds very much like compost tea (ok, they used slave's blood as a food resource, but we can leave out that part).
Might we want to work out the exact conditions that prevent E. coli from growing in tea? Yes. And we'll publish that data when we get the testing done.
No one wants to be in danger of growing human pathogens. But we need to be less insanely afraid. E. coli doesn't survive the aerobic world, unless something is very not-normal.
Why did we go down this track of insanity? Because a few people at the USDA are nuts about the danger of E. coli. They seem to feel that anything ever touched by E. coli may re-grow E. coli.
If that were true, none of us could drink any water that ever passed through a sewage treatment plant. Everything you eat probably came in contact with something that had E. coli once upon a time.
But E. coli doesn't survive in the normal aerobic world. Human pathogens die when they get eaten. They will be out-competed or inhibited in the fully aerobic world.
Thank goodness that by setting up the right conditions, human pathogens can't survive.
Make sure you set up those conditions that select against E. coli in your compost and your compost tea machines. Just PLEASE be aware of so-called compost tea machines that don't make compost tea.
Beware of those machines that don't maintain aerobic conditions. If the air bubbles can't get into the basket, the inside of the basket goes anaerobic, and guess what can grow? Not sure? Measure it with a dissolved oxygen probe.
That's what standards are for. The Compost Tea Manual has the standards necessary to assure that human pathogens, most plant pathogens, root-feeding nematodes
and weeds (in heated compost) are not problems in compost tea, or compost.
Fear is not necessary. Sane, logical, thoughtful, science-based information is necessary.
Good science, not studies based on someone wanting to show there can be a problem, are needed. All the tea makers need to be tested, not just one that can't maintain oxygen in the machine and allows E. coli to grow.
If you mess around with the conditions enough, and ignore the basic parameters of how the product is actually made, you can always demonstrate a problem.
I can take a coffee maker and use it to make a brown liquid that looks like coffee, but will kill you. Should we take coffee makers off the market because someone can do stupid, inappropriate things with them?
That's what the Compost Task Force decided, based on poorly done studies where the people involved clearly have no idea how to calibrate an oxygen probe.
Let's hope the people on the NOSB are bright enough to see through the, ah, manure.