Compost tea to cure poor soil?

Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by Victorsaur, Mar 23, 2014.

  1. Victorsaur

    Victorsaur LawnSite Member
    Messages: 81

    Hello all,

    I am new to compost tea and have come across a decent brewer. I'm going to start offering applications but I want to offer my clientele something practical. According to what I have read compost tea will aerate and transform poor and compacted soil. Most every lawn in this area has poor soil with maybe 50% of actual grass. Most all soil here has a high clay percentage, is compacted, and is quite acidic. Phosphorous is also naturally deficient.

    My question is this:

    At what point is completely renovating the lawn more practical than a mixture of over seeding, selective weed control, and compost / compost tea applications? This is an art and a science so I know that the best I can get are tips / guidelines. I can surely post pictures and describe in more detail.

    Thank you for your consideration,

  2. Hi Vic;

    Welcome to compost tea....:clapping:

    My suggestion would to begin with a soil test so you can determine the organic matter % of the soil and at least some of the basics of your pH and nutrients.

    From there, you can formulate a basic plan of action. It sounds like what you have going on there may be beyond what compost tea can offer. First, CT will help to build organic matter, but this is a very slow process (your clients may not have the patience to wait for this).

    Good soil structure can only be achieved and maintained by addressing fundamentals such as adding organic matter (5%+ is widely accepted). Without this, you'll be constantly seeding, aggressively adding soil amendments and turning up weed seeds every time you aerate (which will be often).

    Chances are, your soils contain sufficient Phosphorous; It's very likely that you don't have the biology (beneficial fungi) to mineralize it into a plant available form. Remember that most soil tests only quantify available nutrients in soils.

    No doubt that we can help you with your compost tea operation in many ways. If it's done correctly (having the right knowledge, equipment and substrates), the results can be quite dramatic. CT is not a silver bullet. Think of it as a tool in the tool box. There's a time and place to use every tool.

    Others here can do a better job at answering your second series of questions.
  3. RigglePLC

    RigglePLC LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 13,808

    If its acidic, you need lime--old fashioned--but still true. If you have low cation exchange capacity (CEC), you need more organic matter--a reading of about 10 or above is ideal.

    You may wish to add compost amendments as topdressing.

    You may wish to add clover seed--as clover supplies natural nitrogen, and builds better soil. Black medic does the same, but it is an annual legume; flowers are tiny; not so visible.

    Be sure to take advantage of the newer seed types as an overseed. Look for premium disease resistant seed that is drought hardy, dense and dark green.

    Do not try to grow quality turfgrass without watering it. Do not tell the customer that you can grow grass in heavy shade.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2014
  4. Victorsaur

    Victorsaur LawnSite Member
    Messages: 81

    Yes, you are correct. The phosphorous exists, there is just not enough mycorrhizal fungi. What I want to know is how viable it is to use CT to transform soil and improve aeration, for without good soil grass seed won't establish well. Are there any books on this subject or resources that you can recommend?
  5. Skipster

    Skipster LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,086

    I’m intrigued by this statement:

    1) Are you saying that the soil test reports sufficient P, but it may not all be plant available?

    2) In your view, what are the main factors that drive P mineralization?
  6. Skipster, you are correct. The P may be tied up on microbes with no biology in place to cycle it.

    This is a complex question. I'll do what I can to be brief.

    The answer depends who you speak to. For me, any mineralization is very dependent upon plant exudates. Plants will put compounds into the soil through their roots (proteins, carbs, sugars) in order to feed the biology which is responsible for mineralizing specific nutrients at the right place at the right time. I really like the fundamentals of this paper.

    There's a difference between inorganic (absorbed) and organic (microbial) P. The conversion of organic P to H2PO4 or HPO4 is a biological process.

    Inorganic P is leachable and is quantified by soil tests

    Organic P is not leachable and is also not (normally) quantified by soil tests.

    Organic P is only available when the microbes die or are consumed by other microbes or arthropods through the biological nutrient cycle.

    This is why (rightfully so) regulations are in place to restrict P. We have (in some areas) enormous leachable loads of P in soils but little biology to sequester (hold onto) it so it's available to plants when they ask for it. We've also done a great job at destroying the biology that will cycle P when it's needed by plants.

    The problems lie at both the sequestration and cycling ends. We've done a good job at screwing up what took many millions of years to evolve.

    Victorsaur, IMHO, mycorrhizae would be very useful to cycle P that's in place, however without organic matter you'll have anaerobic compaction which will NOT support a mycorrhizal system. It would be easy to tell you to buy mycorrhizae from us and make a few bucks, but it will not work very well without the right habitat in place. The diversity of a mycorrhizal system would not be supported with conditions you've described above, at least for not very long.

    I hope this helps!
  7. phasthound

    phasthound LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,161

    Peter, thanks for posting that research paper.
  8. Victorsaur

    Victorsaur LawnSite Member
    Messages: 81

    Thank you all for the thoughtful discussion and advice. If the soil is really poor then perhaps completely starting over is the only option. By poor I mean compacted anaerobic clay. I guess aeration plus compost and bacterial compost tea might work but I could only imagine that it is a long and slow process. It is not uncommon that soils are so acidic moss grows alongside the grass in lawns. At any rate thank you for the responses. I guess that it can't be helped. Is there any process by which I can reasonably guess the viability of the aforementioned tools to cure poor soil? I don't want to waste the client's time or money.
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  9. redmax fan

    redmax fan LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,528

    as a long term gardner ive come to like adding straw to my compost , and also spreading it whole over entire garden . as it works its way into soil it loosens it / un does compaction making it easier for root growth . plus adds minerals . so my question is what if he spreads straw over lawn then mulches it , and leaves it lay . mulch it again the next week , and so on til straws chewed up into tiny bits . whats the long term results ?

    and what if you spread the straw , then mulch it . then aerate it . let it lay and continue to mulch it every week , while at some point seeding ?
  10. turfmd101

    turfmd101 LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,376

    Best piece on P I've read. Great info.
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