We held our Soil Fertility: Compost, Compost Tea, and the Soil Food Web workshop at UAHuntsville on April 9-10, with a really great group of students who all wanted to better understand how to create more fertile soil naturally and without chemical fertilizers or biocides. The class included a discussion of soil life and microbiology, along with a hands-on demonstration of brewing compost tea, creating a compost pile, and analyzing soil samples with the microscope.
Having good soil fertility is the foundation of a healthy garden or productive land. Modern agricultural practices are resulting in the lose of topsoil at an alarming rate. Our goal for this class was to help students learn how to actually create healthy topsoil, a fundamental practice in regenerative Permaculture design.
The theme of the class was how to use biological cultivation, using the microbial processes that builds soil fertility in natural ecosystems, instead of chemical cultivation. Composting is one of the cornerstones of biological cultivation, so we spent time building a hot compost pile (known as thermophilic compost), one of the fastest ways to turn organic matter into high-quality biological fertilizer. We then took some of our compost and used it to make an aerated compost tea, which is used to help inoculate the soil with beneficial soil microbes. We also looked at a vermicomposting system (composting by worms) and how to harvest the worm castings, which many gardeners call “black gold.” Finally, we took some soil samples from the compost tea brewer and garden to look at under the microscope to see how well our soil microbiology was doing. Using an inexpensive microscope to look at your soil turns out to be surprisingly easy and is one of the best ways to assess the health of your farm or garden.
We really enjoyed getting to know this group of students and hear about their plans to use all the information they learned. We are planning on teaching this class again next Spring, so keep an eye on our event listings if you missed this year’s class.