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 Post subject: Compost Tea Brewers
PostPosted: Sun Aug 24, 2003 9:39 am 
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I've noticed that their are numerous compost tea brewer machines available on the market. Could members on this forum share their experiences about the equipment they have both good or bad. Some machines claim to use fine bubble diffusion technology in their systems. Can these air pumps and fine bubble air stones be purchased seperately, and if so what is a good source.


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 24, 2003 10:27 am 
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Hi Stumpy. I cant answer your question but would like to ask you for a link to a tea brewer.


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 24, 2003 11:21 am 
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Fito, just go to a search engine like Goggle and type in compost tea brewer and you will get your info. Brewers range from $100 & up. I would like to build my own and purchase the finist pump and aeration equipment available. Just can't seem to find a source.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 25, 2003 1:05 pm 
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Do you really need to buy a commercial brewer?

Most gardeners only need a homemade brewer. A 5 gallon bucket plus a cheap aquarium air pump is all most folks need. Why spend more on fancy compost bins and brewers when you really don't need to?


A 5 gallon aerated tea recipe has enough aerobic bacteria and fungi living in it, to biostimulate an acre of plants and soil! Plus that same 5 gallons of tea can be diluted to a 1:1 to 1:5 ratio to cover all that area. Just 5 gallons of a good aerobic tea has as many aerobic bacteria and fungi, as about 10 tons or 40 cubic yards of good regular compost!

I have about an acre in no-till garden beds. I feed most of my heavy feeding plants bi-weekly, or sometimes more frequently if I need to. I have just recently upgraded to two cheap 20 gallon plastic tubs, hooked up to a set of 6' hoses from a single aquarium pump designed for a 60 gallon fish tank. My total cost of brewing equipment? Under $50.00! A cheap air pump from Wal-Mart may cost you about $5-10 or maybe a little more than that.

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 25, 2003 1:46 pm 
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...and if you don't want to invest the 5-10 dollars in an aquarium pump, a good stir with an old-fashioned egg beater a couple of times a day will also aerate your brew! I had a couple of brews started before i figured out the intricacies of hoses and air pumps ( I am NOT an engineer!), so until I could get all four hooked up to the aquarium pump, I just used an egg beater to give 'em a goodly stir every time I happened by!


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 25, 2003 2:13 pm 
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Drchelo is right, you can stir frequently an tea to get air in the liquid. However, for maximum aeration, no stirring can compare to the 24 hour constant aeration of a pump. After the first 2 hours of aeration, you actually double the aerobic bacterial and fungal populations growing in the tea every 20-30 minutes! You can produce a foamy, pleasant wine/yeast smelling tea in 1-3 days max. You can only get microbial population numbers about 1/2 that big in about 2-3 weeks of a stirred non-aerated tea. However, over 10 days of no aeration and no stirring, all the aerobic microbes die off, and you are stuck with a great liquid natural fertilizer, with 100% stinky anaerobic microbes and 0% pleasant smelling, disease fighting aerobic microbes.

It all depends on your gardening style and what you really want from a tea. I don't brew liquid natural fertilizers anymore. I only brew powerful aerobic biostimulants, that will handle mostly all my plant/soil fertilization needs, disease control, and even speed up decomposition of organic matter in my compost piles or organic mulches around my growing crops.

Biostimulant teas act just like a liquid version of a good aerobic compost pile microbially. The main difference is that you can't put compost on foliage. But teas can be used both on foliage and in the soil. Aerobic teas actually help compost and organic mulches or cover crops work harder and better in less time.

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 26, 2003 11:51 pm 
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Hey look - something I know about (shock and awe)

Their is a word for the whole 'tiny bubble' idea getting more oxygen into the mix and it is a great compost ingedient derived from bulls.

I am a composting newbie somewhat but aquatic ecosystems are my specialty from years of breeding tropical fish. To say that you get better gas exchange from little bubbles is bull - you get max aeation by keeping the surface moving around. If you really want max aeration get a cheap aquarium pump and tubing and then rather than using an airstone hotglue a rock to the bottom of the tube to keep it on the bottom. The upward motion of the bubbles will form a circular water movement in the bucket and the real gas exchange is created by bigger bubbles breaking the surface of the water - fine airstones have a purpose if you want foam fractionation and simply put - you do NOT in this case.

Nitrosomanas bacteria change ammonia into nitrite (poisonous to fish and inverts) and then Nitrobacter bacteria change the nitrite into nitrate - simply put, if ya pee in yer tea then there are two forms of bacteria that will yank the elements they want from the nitrogen compounds and leave you with root-ready fertilizer. If you were really bored and filled a clear 10 gallon container with tap water it gets realllly cloudy a day or two after filling - this is a bacteria bloom eating the organic stuff once the chlorine is gone.... the first wave, nitrosomanas species will multiply exponentially, then die en masse and then you'll get a secondary bloom and then with a little light you'll start getting algae.

Long story, simple point - get a container large enough for your needs, sink an airline to the bottom for circulation and oxygenation and let'r rip - this is a low tech project. I'd still give it a good stirring when ya think of it as anaerobic regions will form when the compost settles in piles on the bottom.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2003 12:03 am 
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Chuck I'm having trouble with the math. If I have a stone making bubbles that are 1/8 inch in diameter, those bubbles add about 4 million square feet of oxygenated surface area to the tea per day. How can you minimize the importance of that air to the water?

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2003 12:45 am 
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David - You are absolutely correct on the math, if the majority of the gas exchange happened between bubble and water. here's the thing - if you consider the surface area of the container (wider is better than deep) start with it completely stagnant - say a surface area of 4 sqft. now add a few ripples from bubbles.... much larger surface... Now add big violent bubbles that give it that 'perfect storm' level chop on top and you get a LOT more surface area.

In the environment of a compost tea with so many dissolved organic compounds (which you see from the foam) the surface tension around each bubble is not nearly as good for gas exchange as say a softwater environment without many dissolved proteins. By violently agitating the top you get a lot more oxygen into the mix - the amount of air going in through the air pump is tiny compared to the amount of air passing over the surface so keeping that tight foam (which small bubbles make) off the top and agitating the c*** out of it you get better gas exchange - i had the exact same problem the first time I heard this and I must have Missouri roots somewhere because i said 'SHOW ME!".

I found this one to be true one summer when it got to about 110 in my hatchery - had a few thousand dime-sized Angelfish in a 500 gallon vat and they were not doing well - the heat had lowered the dissolved O2 capacity drastically. So i took off the airstones (teeny bubbles) and pumped the air straight in, the dissolved O2 went right back up and ammonia down since there was more oxygen for the nitrifying bacteria to filter the excrement. I ran the math all afternoon scratching my head until i got around to modeling the surface disturbance on the 'puter.... yeah, I'm a geek, I admit it.

Second thing - airstones clog quite a bit over time and by yanking them off you get better airflow so while bubble surface area is down you go from fizzy surface on top to boiling water turbulence. You'll also get more circulation which helps eliminate deadspots that will go anaerobic.

If you can snag a dissolved O2 meter somewhere for an afternoon try it out - you'll want to buy me a beer afterward, actually - save the beer for my compost pile and we'll stick with Bourbon.

Interesting (to a geek) sidenote - there are wood airstones that produce a superfine bubble that you can use to seperate proteins from dissolved water in a foam which can then be discarded if you are running a heavy bioload in a closed aquatic system like a reef aquarium - by foam fractionation of those dissolved proteins I've run a closed reef for up to 18 months adding nothing but distilled water for evaporation and a little bit of microplankton for the filter feeders (whose excrete was broken from ammonia to nitrite to nitrate which fed the macroalgae which fed the fish and macroplankton which fed the bigger shrimps and fish....)

Oddly, composting got me back into all this stuff after 15 years of not thinking about it.... When I look at the crud I was using in my garden and asking 'would I throw that in a reef tank????' organic made a lot more sense. Duh, anything i throw on my lawn does reach a reef.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2003 8:17 am 
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So you're saying that by putting in an automatic stirring stick to keep the surface moving (but not churned) you would get better air absorption? Even in warm water? I thought there was a physical limitation to how much air could be held in water at every temperature with warmer waters holding less air.

Some of the best compost tea machines inject air at high pressure at an angle at the bottom of the tank to create a tornado effect inside the brewer. I suppose the benefit of the air injection could be being overshadowed by the increased apparent surface area of the actual surface due to the tornadic action.

Mind if I pass your thoughts around the community of compost tea brewers (many of whom have the dissolved oxygen testers)? I'm standing by to learn something here.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2003 8:29 am 
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Sure, please do pass it along since there may well be differences i am not thinking over.... bubbles are still good mind you, that tornadic setup I would like to see - that sounds like one step better. One advantage of bubbles is that it gets a bottom to top water flow going, that tornadic flow pattern you are describing would be better as it ought to eliminate dead spots and provide a lot of surface area.

One part of my thoughts on it is due to the fact that the airstones restrict the volume of air going in - they also clog from the inside if the pump is in a dusty place.

Would love to see what the guys you know come up with if they test a bucket both ways and see what happens on the test equipment.


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PostPosted: Sun Nov 02, 2003 2:15 am 
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Okay, I got an answer back from Dr Elaine Ingham on the question about aeration via bubbles or surface disturbance. The question sort of got split up so I'm going to try to rejoin it back together.

Basically, one difference in the fish example and the compost tea situation is that the microbes in good tea are using up oxygen much faster than fish do. In good tea with adequate or supersaturated levels of microbe food, the oxygen will be used up essentially instantaneously. If the fish were in this same water, they would have died a long time ago from lack of oxygen. The microbes are essentially on the hairy edge of massive die out.

The second difference depends on knowing the above information. Since the oxygen of the tea is essentially near absolute zero (no matter how much air you pump in), the coefficient of oxygen diffusion will be more influenced by the difference between oxygen inside the bubbles versus in the tea.

Regarding the size of the bubbles: Dr I says that teensy bubbles are a bad thing. She's talking about bubbles that are so small that they remain suspended in the water. These bubbles can actually kill the microbes when they pop at the surface or onto other bubbles in the tea. Smaller bubbles have greater forces on them when the pop than larger bubbles. Fish would not have to worry about the size of the bubbles with this consideration.

Dr I says to not buy compost tea machines from people who advertise the small bubbles.

Here's a quote..."The compost tea brewers that can show that the aerobic organisms stay alive and GROW in their tea brewers have done all [the testing] for you. Buy their machines. Don't buy machines, and don't buy tea from people using those machines, if they can't show you DATA about ACTIVE, living, growing bacteria and fungi and protozoa in their machines! The data should be on their web sites!"

She's on an almost vendetta against compost tea machine manufacturers who cannot produce adequate amounts of fungi in their brewers. She wants the tea to have the full component of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. All this comes from proper feeding and adequate aeration.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 03, 2003 9:00 am 
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Dave those are all great points. I did a personal experiment on my homemade aerated 20 gallon tub brewers this summer. I noiticed that if I used the same tea ingredients, same aerator with dual hoses, same relative temperature and weather, but used airstones on my hoses vs. just no airstones, and just hold the tubes under the water in the tubs with large rocks, I got drastic results.

The airstones make smaller bubbles than using without them. However, my tea recipes seems to have more foaming on top, and more of that carmel, coffee coloring when I didn't use the airstones for 1-2 days! With the airstones, the tea never smelled bad, but it had little foaming, and it stayed more dark black after 1-2 days of aeration.

There is probably a lot of extra aerobic and anaerobic microbes in my recipes fighting and devouring each other in the presence of constant oxygen, since I use a lot of aerobic horse manure/sawdust mature compost, and a lot of anaerobic rotten fish/sawdust paste and rotten cattle/horse feeds, and dry molasses powder, in my tea brews every 2-3 days.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 03, 2003 1:12 pm 
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I did think of one improvement perhaps....

It seems to me that a big part of keeping the microherd at the limit of carrying capacity would be to keep dead spots from going anaerobic. In fact I am 99.9% sure that would be important.

I will have to look for a way to do it with the larger area we are talking about but I am pretty sure the ideal tea brewer would be cone shaped on the bottom and have the air bubbles entering at that point. In the old days I had this problem when I was hatching roughly a kilogram of brine shrimp eggs every week to feed to baby fish - the eggs needed constant motion and oxygen to do well and 3 TBS of eggs in 3 litres of water is a LOT of breathing critters - hatch them in say an aquarium and they settle in areas away from the airstones and rot PDQ.

So my solution was to take 3-litre bottles, drill the caps and silicone the airtube into the hole, then fill and hang them in a rack so the bubbles are coming into the cap (bottom) and the shape of the vessel ensured that they could never settle....

Actually, 3 litres bottles of tea that were aerated in that manner might make good tea brewers for small batches - say if you kept 3 going and used one every other day???

One caveat - always make sure you have a loop in the airhose so that the hose goes well above the waterline and then down so a power outage doesn't result in siphoning - pumps don't enjoy that much.

Hmmmmm.... I just might try that as a test until i can figure out how to do it on a large scale. Betchya the resulting tea would be very, very active - get rid of anaerobic problems from dead spots and you'll see major growth.


We think wayyyyyy too much on this stuff. Compost is fascinating sh..tuff.


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 05, 2003 8:25 am 
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Do you know if she has a specific objection to running the tea in a thin, wide stream under moving air or to making the tea run as a fountain to move the tea through the air? That "should" produce a higher exchange rate than mere stirring, and it seems that it might address a number of issues IF it supplies enough of an O2 load. We don't have the mechanical constraints that live aquatic/marine life poses, and it would seem that the constant motion would maintain good mixing. I wonder if using a fountain and a bubbler together (and maybe even a magnetic stirrer) would maximize the aeration process. Of course, a fountain or stream track would have to be shaded; strong UV could have an adverse impact on the microbes in that sort of exposure.


Dchall_San_Antonio wrote:
Okay, I got an answer back from Dr Elaine Ingham on the question about aeration via bubbles or surface disturbance. The question sort of got split up so I'm going to try to rejoin it back together.

Basically, one difference in the fish example and the compost tea situation is that the microbes in good tea are using up oxygen much faster than fish do. In good tea with adequate or supersaturated levels of microbe food, the oxygen will be used up essentially instantaneously. If the fish were in this same water, they would have died a long time ago from lack of oxygen. The microbes are essentially on the hairy edge of massive die out.

The second difference depends on knowing the above information. Since the oxygen of the tea is essentially near absolute zero (no matter how much air you pump in), the coefficient of oxygen diffusion will be more influenced by the difference between oxygen inside the bubbles versus in the tea.

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