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Inoculating Worm Castings to make a fungal Compost Tea

Posted by Nick Segner 
Inoculating Worm Castings to make a fungal Compost Tea
July 11, 2014 06:49PM
As a newbie orchardist just taking over a 300-tree established but neglected dwarf orchard, I have a lot to learn. But, perhaps, you guys can help me in my understanding of "fungally dominated" compost. So I gather the compost used for tea making mentioned in H.O. consists of broken down ramial wood chips.

But here's what I've got: we ended up with a barn load of equipment when we bought this property and it contained some real cool things: a giant red-worm composter, a compost tumbler, and one of those spendy compost tea makers.

Now, I've gotten some red worms going with the idea of making compost tea for the orchard out of the castings.. From what I've gleaned out of "Holistic Orchard", compost tea should be fungal in nature to shift the microbiology in that direction for the trees. Where do worm castings stand in the bacteria-fungal spectrum (the worms are fed from kitchen compost, hay, mycelia-straw from mushroom kits, green stuff and soil).

Also, if these are too "bacterial" for the orchard- can I take EM and use them to either inoculate the castings or compost coming from the compost tumbler and brew it up as compost tea?

Nick Segner

Wildcat Valley Farm
Zone 8b
Olympic Peninsula Rainshadow
Port Angeles, Washington



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/23/2014 10:06AM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Inoculating Worm Castings With EM for Compost Tea: Yea or Nay?
July 13, 2014 05:28PM
Sounds like you came into some nice equipment.

I think using the worm castings, and brewing tea with them, for use as a foliar spray or mixed with a summer holistic herbal spray strategy will be valuable to your trees.

The advantage of EM is that the product is easy to use, and properly brewed, is a relatively standardized solution of known beneficial microbes in an offering to use in our competitive colonization strategies.

Compost teas can substitute for EM, but most folks do not always have a ready source of compost tea or a brewer at hand, as you do. So, you are in a great position to choose your path to microbial orchard enhancing bliss.

Combining EM with your Worm Casting Tea sounds like a great trial in the making. I say go for it. Worm Castings, by themselves are amazing, are highly biologically active and they also have trace minerals (that are in a form immediately available to plants), enzymes, humic acid, and organic matter within them too. Adding EM to that mix will increase the beneficial organism count in your sprays and (I believe) should only help in the competitive colonization holistic orcharding strategy employs to help trees fend off harmful fungi (scab, various rots) and bacteria (fireblight, bacterial blast) during periods or primary infection . . . at the very least, I do not believe it will hurt anything to combine these products in your spray tank. To the contrary, it will be a more diverse microbial mixture and their is a lot to be said for the biological diversity that will bring to your trees in your orcharding efforts

Worm Castings are adding nutrients along with their microbial boost they bring. The holistic spray strategy, within a commercial planting, withholds nitrogen spraying elements during the summer growth phase. Castings have some nitrogen within their structure. That said, you are trying to rehabilitate a neglected orchard and the added nitrogen will likely be appreciated by those trees, as you begin working with them. Keep in mind that castings may not be a year round additive to your orchard approach, once you get your orchard back to health.

I do like the castings idea though. They are a great soil inoculate and having some beneficial bacteria in the soil is important too.

Adding EM to your compost piles would be valuable as the materials to be composted will be a fine food source for those microbes. When your compost is ready to be added to the trees, it will be quite lively. The Castings are an already broken down and ready ready to use product though, so adding EM to that product is not going to change the castings into anything beyond the amazing product they already are. But, when it comes to spraying them together, as a complimentary mixture, the more the merrier with regards to biological reinforcements. Go for it.

Last point you asked about . . . Compost (bacterial concerns) . . . Compost for apple trees is created in a 'cold' (think temperate) process that does not involve tumblers, tractor turning, wind-rowing or high heat strategies. The fungi need to go to work on compost at a more leisurely pace and not be cooked to death during their efforts. Think 'slow and steady' wins the fungal dominated race. If you build a compost pile, with your apple trees in mind, it might sit for 6-12 months before it is ready to be tossed into place in your orchard. No turning, nothing extra needed from you, but patience and faith that you have created a fine mix of raw materials to help enhance the efforts of the fungi that are so valuable to the future holistic health of your orchard.

Ramial wood chips (a key holistic orcharding material) and the haphazard application of them to the trees within an orchard is a fine example of slow and steady fungal dominated soil building in place and in action.

Good luck

Gopher Hill Apples
Zone 8 in California
Re: Inoculating Worm Castings With EM for Compost Tea: Yea or Nay?
July 14, 2014 04:34PM
Paul-

Thanks for the encouragement! Likely, due to an aneorbic snag with the worm bin, I won't have castings available for the trees until at least a few more weeks, perhaps longer. Hope to include these in the fall and spring holistic sprays instead. I am also considering (after doing some August soil testing first of course) adding some minerals in the soil via Hendrikus Organics products and/or some Azomite.

For now, I do have comfrey, nettle and horsetail teas which I plan to spread tonight which'll help on the calcium front I hope. It's probably too late for this season, however, to help with our main issue: apple scab. Luckily most of these apples are for hard cider tho I do want to start breaking that fungal scab cycle.

Exciting to start helping out these neglected trees and I hope we can defy the life span of 20 years commonly given to dwarf trees. We hope to keep them going for decades to come via soil health!

We have an organic fert and compost tea shop in town that has a light microscope and are big into the Soil Foodweb stuff so I'm glad to have local help on the microbe front once we get some tea brewing smiling smiley

Nick Segner

Wildcat Valley Farm
Zone 8b
Olympic Peninsula Rainshadow
Port Angeles, Washington
Re: Inoculating Worm Castings to make a fungal Compost Tea
August 05, 2016 12:01AM
Nick,
So I am doing something similar to you. I have vermicompost as well as am making a more cold orchard compost. I am creating ACCT in 25gal batches and then learning to evaluate under the microscope.
In order to try and boost the fungal activity I am creating a "fungal starter" and placing both types of compost in a container with some oat flour and keeping it warm for 5-7 days which at the end you can see the spores on the surface of the soil.
I then follow the normal aerated compost tea process and in order to try and get the most of both compost tea and EM worlds I add the activated EM at the end of the process prior to spraying. Diversity is paramount right?
As far as viewing I found this grading criteria from coyote creek farms, gives a basic reference at least.


Observations – Qualitative Testing of Compost Tea

Bad — Zero to a few organisms observed – less than 25 bacteria observed in each field
Poor — More than 25 bacteria, but less than 500 bacteria seen in each field
Acceptable — In the first 10 fields, at least one fungal hypha should be seen, preferably a thick hyphal strand that goes across the full field of view. If only bits of hypha are seen, then the sample is still in the poor category. More than 500 bacteria per field should be observed. Protozoa should be observed skimming across the sample.
Good — In the first 5 fields, a fungal hypha should be seen and preferably more than one in that volume of liquid. Thousands of bacteria should be present in each field. Several protozoa should be seen, preferably more than one kind of protozoan – such as several species of flagellate or amoebae.
Excellent — Each field should contain a strand of fungal hypha. Thick strands are better than skinny ones. Just like “good” tea, the bacteria should be everywhere and too numerous to count easily. Protozoa should be dense with several individuals observable per field. In “Excellent” tea, nematodes will be found as well.

Adam
No fences Orchard
Spokane wa 5b
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