History of Compost Tea

Far back as I can tell, Pliny the Elder - back in times of Roman rule - was the first to write about humans intentionally making and using compost for agricultural purposes.

Compost tea has been around since the first compost pile got rained on. Probably before Pliny was born.

But it was LONG after Pliny's time before somebody wrote about using the liquid from a pile separate from using the solids in the pile.

The liquid is called "tea" today. I'm sure it's been called lots of things through the ages.

I tea drinkable? Well, I tried some of my brew. With witnesses. Didn't taste very good, but didn't get diahhrea and I'm still here and kickin'. Probability is, that most all of the microbes in a quality tea are probably already in your gut, since the microbes that make compost 'happen' were on the plant parts before they became the compost used to make the tea. Expecially probable for those folks who raise animals and/or poultry.

Probably better for you than eating dirt - which some civilizations still do in this world. That's how they obtain minerals for their bodies to function. If they take the dirt with water - then they also imbibe 'tea'.

While yes, compost tea can cure existing plant diseases, it is usually thought of as a preventative of plant diseases, and some studies say that compost tea reduces plant pests and therefore plant stress from pests.

But this topic of history is not the place to discuss those things in depth.

It seems the first teas were manure teas. Manure from animals kept by humans such as horses, oxen, cattle, camels, sheep/goats - work animals and livestock.

Somebody noticed that plants grew better around manure or on manured ground. But solid manure is hard to work with. So it went into a container of water to let it steep for awhile and we can be sure that it got stirred. When used as a drench, plant growth improved.

Piles of organic refuse became separated from pile of other human wastes - for the purpose of returning those organic materials to the ground, to improve plant growth.

We can be fairly certain that some such piles were on an easy slope and somebody noticed that plants grew really well on the down-slope side of the pile - ostensibly from rain runoff.

Plant and animal parts that were not consumed at meals, cooked or not, were dispersed within early human communities to a common place for disposal. Sometimes with containers that were no longer usable. Archeologists find such places regularly, particularly in native Indian areas of habitation.

Fish was one of the American Indian plant fertilizers that was taught to early European settlers who farmed. Fish would be buried in rows, for later seed plantings. Corn was one of the main crops planted that way.

Fish carcasses were steeped in water - a bit smelly - but when plants were watered with the concoction, they responded with increased growth and harvests.

We know now that it was microbes and enzymes that worked on reducing the fish remains to a form that plants could take up.

Many different cultures developed their own methods and means of combining organic wastes and water to make a 'brew' to enhance plant growth.

But it was not until the late 1990's that forced air was used to accelerate the tea-making process, utilizing an electric motor to create air pressure through air stones.

A natural and eventual use of air pressure, which was found to increase microbial reproductive activity, and therefore the potency of the brew for uptake by plants through their root systems.

Foliar feeding was popular, so it was a natural extension to apply microbes to leaves - which was found to have a positive affect on plant health.

A new industry was born, and fueled by the work of Dr. Elaine Ingham.

In the last 5 years, the industry has grown quickly, since devices have been contrived to accommodate the high-use methods of commercial agriculture and horticulture.

These devices are generally termed "brwers" although this is a cold process without the use of any heat other than the warmth of the sun. Temperature of the water is a factor.

SoilFoodWeb was the first to establish a commercial laboratory to test the results of tea-making and quantify and qualify industry standards - which have seen multiple expansions that continue today.

What was graded as "excellent" tea 5 years ago is now considered to be "poor" quality compost tea.

The current scale ranges from Bad to 3 grades above Excellent. The grading scale needs to be revised again - a process that will continue - as long as higher quality tea is being developed.

Development of tea-making machines has increased dramatically in the last 5 years, and manufacturers are having to re-think, re-design and re-tool to keep up with advances.

My company Recycling Organics, International LLC (ROI) is designing a new brewing machine that is expected to set a new standard in home and small-industry (nursery, gardening and small farming operations).

While there are brewing machines that product quanties of 5,000 gallons of tea at a time, the emphasis of ROI is on brews in the 25 gallon to 50 gallon range.

Because it has been proven that one of the most important aspects of brewing high-quality tea is CLEANLINESS of the equipment. "Bad" microbes generally live in biofilm.

Biofilm is the substance that builds up in, and remains in a brewing machine if it is not THOROUGHLY cleaned after EACH brew. So if the machine is not clean for subsequent brews, then the 'bad' microbes that remain in the biofilm that builds up more and more - reproduce exponentially right along with the 'good' microbes - which negatively affects the quality of the tea produced.

So making a machine that is easy to use and easy to clean, and that is economical and simple to operate is the focus of designs in ROI machines.

ROI has designed several innovations into their new line of tea brewers branded the "Air*Force" Tea Brewer.

The A*F-45 utilizes a 55-gallon tank in which a 45-gallon brew is recommended as capacity. It will certainly make a quality 55-gallon brew, but without using a $3 seal (that must be replaced after each brew), some dripping from under the top will occur.

The A*F-25 uses a 30-gallon tank and is designed to brew 25 gallons of tea at each brew.

Both machines use a patent-pending metal stand with a strong tilt mechanism that permits the easiest cleaning of any machine on the market today.

The two existing A*F brewer designs are intended to be the low-price leaders in the marketplace, and soon ROI will offer the plans for sale to the Do-it-yourself (DIY) market since ROI's machines are made with parts and equipment that is readily available. The plans will identify every piece and part, along with the information of where to purchase them and how much they should cost.

And certainly ROI will need to remain innovative, since the history of compost tea brewing is still being written today. Staying on the leading-edge of the industry is essential to remaining "on top" in the marketplace.

If you have questions about compost tea brewing, send me a message via the Contact link and I'll try my best to help.

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