Training and Research on Compost and Compost Teas to Increase Soil Health and Microbiology on Southwest Missouri Farms

Project Overview

FNC18-1147
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2018: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2020
Grant Recipient: Ozark Mountain Permaculture
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Ben Tegeler
Ozark Mountain Permaculture

Information Products

Life in the Soils Presentation (Conference/Presentation Material)

Commodities

  • Miscellaneous: Compost, Actively aerated compost tea, and compost extract

Practices

  • Crop Production: agroforestry, biological inoculants, foliar feeding, no-till, nutrient cycling, nutrient management, water management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, mentoring, technical assistance, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: compost extracts, weed ecology, Compost Teas- Foliage Sprays
  • Production Systems: permaculture
  • Soil Management: composting, organic matter, soil analysis, soil microbiology, Soil Food Web
  • Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, leadership development, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, quality of life, urban agriculture

    Summary:

    Living compost and compost teas are integral parts of organic farming. The large populations of beneficial bacteria, nematodes, fungi, and protozoa found in compost can correct deficiencies in the soil food web, create healthy and fertile soil, and act as an organic/natural pesticide. Compost is a sustainable method for erosion control, plant health, land and stream reclamation, and environmental remediation.

    Living compost containing beneficial microbiology is not commercially available in Southwest Missouri and represents a large gap in our community’s ability to create healthy soil, regenerate our ecosystems, and engage in sustainable, organic agriculture best practices. Composting best practices require training to identify and create optimal soil microbe ratios for use in crops and permaculture systems. This project provided extensive training on the soil food web, thermophilic compost creation, actively aerated compost tea creation, and using the microscope on the farm. The education and training to Southwest Missouri farmers and at-risk youth was the most inspiring portion of this project. Many workshops and trainings were help to teach attendees to develop small scale replicable compost and actively aerated compost tea systems with measurable microbe health using demonstrated best practices. The farmers used the highly successful train-the-trainer model developed by Springfield Community Gardens through a National Association of Conservation Districts grant. The workshops included education on soil health and creation of thermophilic compost and actively aerated compost tea systems as well as utilizing the microscope on the farm. In conjunction with the project, an abandoned urban lot in an impoverished neighborhood was planting with a young food forest and urban orchard and will serve the community as an education hub for the soil food web for many years to come. 

    At the conclusion of this research program, the abandoned urban lot remediation is well underway, providing a food forest with trees and shrubs that are growing to benefit this neighborhood and it’s at-risk population. Actively Aerated Compost Tea was applied to the site to provide beneficial growth for the plants there and to teach the community the importance of soil health in growing conditions. Overall it seems that the actively aerated compost tea has been beneficial to the perennial plant species. The microscope assessment of the soil before and after shows us that the soil food web is improving and the trees sprayed trees seemed to be healthier than their unsprayed counterparts. More work needs to be done in increasing the diversity of soil food web organisms with other methods of soil regeneration including cover crops, native plantings, and building soil structure.

    Several workshops were conducted, allowing at-risk community members and community based farmers to learn the specifics regarding soil conditions, soil health, use of compost in planting, and use of a microscope to study soil health, among other things. The farmers taught the same workshop series 3 more times and the workshop were full. Over seventy gardeners, farmers, and community members were reached with the information and future workshops are being planned to reach further in the community. 

    Project objectives:

    1. Develop an economical and replicable small farm process for compost and compost tea recipes with optimal soil health for plant disease.
    2. Create positive environmental impacts and a strong foundation for a resilient inter-generational food system by increasing soil life and resiliency.
    3. Empower and educate the community with practical tools to positively transform the environment and local food production using soil science and regenerative agriculture.
    4. Build on previous collaborative efforts of individuals and organizations in the community who are skilled at implementing and teaching sustainable agriculture and conservation methods.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.