Field trial data from compost tea applications

Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by phasthound, Dec 15, 2013.

  1. phasthound

    phasthound LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,158

    I recently received an update from James Sottilo of Ecological Landscape Management on the results they have documented from compost tea applications in NYC Parks, The Phipps Conservancy in Pittsburgh and the St.Louis Gateway Arch Park.

    In St. Louis, they compared 3 trials:
    All three were core aerated, the first section then had a 1/2 inch of compost top dressed and an application of compost tea at the rate of 10 gallons per 1000 square feet applied. The second section had just a top dressing of a 1/2 inch of compost and the third part just 10 gallons of compost tea per 1000 square feet.

    This was interesting because this is a 48 year-old landscape that is heavily used but the results were even more interesting. What we noticed over the first 3 months was the area that had just the compost top dressing actually created a self compaction zone and with the fines in the compost dropping in the soil. This was noted by a radical increase in ciliates (a protozoa that survive in anaerobic conditions) and at the same time, a severe decrease in fungi (they do not survive in anaerobic conditions). When six inch soil profiles were taken, the 3 inch top soil was clearly separated from 16 inches of sand creating a very delineated line between the two.

    Where the compost tea was used in both the top dress and compost tea only, the fungi increased, protozoa increased and nutrient cycling increased. When soil profiles were taken the topsoil had then homogenized with the sand creating a consistent soil through the 6 inch profile with roots growing all the way through it.

    For some reason I am unable to attach the newsletter. PM me if you would like a copy.
  2. greendoctor

    greendoctor LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 10,124

    I am not surprised of the effects of compost topdressing given that a common renovation practice on fine turf involves stripping off organic matter to relieve compaction and anaerobic conditions in the turf. Why put on more organic matter when you just raked up and hauled off yards of it?
  3. phasthound

    phasthound LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,158

  4. Skipster

    Skipster LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,086

    Self compaction zone? What is that?

    I think Mr. Sottilo needs to do some reading about how soils function, then design a controlled experiment to test his hypothesis.

    Adding a layer of compost over top of a sand-based rootzone certainly could create a layer of textural discontinuity at the interface of the sand and the compost. But, this is not compaction. Remember, compaction is the result of an increase in soil bulk density. Were bulk density measurements taken? if not, he can't say anything about compaction.

    I would also challenge his assertion that merely applying compost tea over top of the compost topdressing application caused the existing rootzone and the topdressing to intermix below the soil surface. One of the first things we learn in Intro to Soil Science is the difference between soil physical properties and soil chemical properties. This seems to be lost on Mr. Sottilo.

    If there is some scientific study that has been conducted, I would be interested in reading it. But, I have no use for anecdotes and a poor use of terminology.
  5. phasthound

    phasthound LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,158

    While James may have a different interpretation of certain terms than you
    do, his results are very impressive. As you can see, some of the sites using his techniques are highly visible and iconic American locations. In spite of being subject to heavy pollution and heavy foot traffic, the plants are thriving without fertilizer or pesticide applications.
  6. Skipster

    Skipster LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,086

    I understand your excitement at the possibility of good results using Sottilo's methods. But, if we don't follow the specific terminology with specific definitions, the message gets lost and the work isn't repeatable. If we create our own terminology for anything we want to do, we can't expect others to get the same results we're seeing. Similarly, if Sottilo chooses to ignore (or even mock) the terminology of the industry, he will have no way to compare his methods to conventional methods, no way to determine if his methods can consistently provide the results he claims, and he will not be taken seriously (and rightfully so) by the industry. There is nothing to gain from improper use of the terminology.

    You and Sottilo can claim on this board and in newsletters that these methods produce excellent results, but how can we know for sure that your treatments are causing your results? The scientific method gives us a way to do that. It also requires communicating your materials, methods, analysis, and findings in a specific and detailed manner such that others can replicate the work you're doing.

    Do you have the scientific write-up that you could pass along, either by posting here or by PM?
  7. phasthound

    phasthound LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,158

    I'll do my best to get you the information you ask for. As you are aware, there is very little funding going to Universities for these kind of studies. I was at a meeting at Rutgers today and this subject was brought up. Everyone is scrambling for grants.

    What makes it even more difficult is the fact that these treatments have protocols designed to treat individual sites based on soil conditions (structural, chemical, biological, etc), plant type, environmental conditions. Without following the strict procedures, the applications will not work in all conditions.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2013
  8. Skipster

    Skipster LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,086

    I understand that funding is scarce, but you made it sound like this was already a scientific trial. Several claims were made and I would like to see the methodology and the statistical analysis behind the claims. How was the trial laid out? What was the experimental design? How was the data collected? How was the data analyzed? Without this analysis, we can't say if the treatments caused any of the things he saw or if it was random variation.

    How was the determination made that topdressing + compost tea homogenized the topdressing/soil interface? Has this phenomenon been reported anywhere else?

    To get the initial data on something like this doesn't require funding and university help. You can do this yourself -- but it needs to be done properly. You could probably ask someone like Jim Murphy to design a trial for you and it would cost little more than taking him to lunch. Then, after a couple of years of data and fund raising, this could be taken to a university for additional work.

    Do you see what I'm trying to get at here? Sottilo is asking us to take him at his word that all these good things are happening. If he follows the scientific method, it puts a lot more power and rigor behind the assertion. At that point, its not a matter of taking his word. Then, its a matter of numbers.
  9. phasthound

    phasthound LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,158

    All valid concerns. I've spoken with Dr. Murphy in the past about donating products for trials at Rutgers, but obviously more funds are required. I do like your idea of asking him to design some trial for others to perform. I'll see what he has to say about that.
  10. phasthound

    phasthound LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,158

    Just a quick note on the work James has done in the real world outside the lab;
    About one billion dollars of new landscapes where this work was performed on throughout the East Coast at public locations with a plant loss less the 0.7 percent where industry is 7-8 percent. These jobs range from 1 million to 500 million dollars in value.

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