In the final weeks of 2018, chemical contamination continues to turn up in the cannabis industry. Sequoia Analytical Labs, located in Sacramento, California, is only the most recent example. It was forced to forfeit its state license after admitting to falsifying hundreds of lab tests for pesticide usage. This isn’t the first instance of a contamination scandal in the industry, and it surely won’t be the last. The risk of toxic lab results and a tarnished reputation are why many producers are jumping headfirst into organic, natural pesticides, and soil supplements.
Compost for cannabis is an advanced industry, with many producers relying heavily on compost tea to balance and replenish soil nutrients; fight disease and pests; and improve total yields. Through the addition of a carefully crafted 'tea,' cannabis farms can replenish the soil with the natural bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, micro-arthropods and other organisms it needs to thrive. All without the need for toxic chemicals, and synthetic chemicals commonly found in today’s fertilizers and pesticides. A healthy soil ultimately means a more robust, more productive crop.
What is a Compost Tea?
Compost tea is the extracted essence of compost. Called tea, because the extraction process is similar to a brew, the liquid gold contains the very same beneficial fungi, protozoa, nematodes, and bacteria found in healthy, living soil; only highly concentrated. While a worm compost or the compost bucket under your sink, may produce a concentration of these valuable microorganisms, a compost tea exponentially increases the living value of the soil supplement. According to Jeff Lowenfels, the author of Teaming With Microbes, an aerated compost tea, with the right facilitation, can go from one to four billion living organisms in only a single teaspoon.
Composting tea facilitates nutrient uptake and boosts the health of the crop. A healthier crop naturally fights off disease and pest infestation. Beyond the crop itself, compost tea recharges spent and old soil and also improves the water-holding capacity of the land.
Cannabis cultivators can also reduce their reliance on other fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides, which not only improves the final product but lowers production costs. Some sources indicate a 30 to 50 percent reduction in other nutrients with the right soil management program using composting teas.
Composting Tea in the Cannabis Industry
As highlighted in a recent episode of Canna Cribs, composting tea formulations are not just a supplement for fringe farmers and artisan micro-growers. High-end cannabis companies, of the likes of Honeydew Farms in Humboldt County California, are relying on customized composting tea amendments for their outdoor grow operations.
Compost tea producers, such as the TeaLAB and Greater Earth Organics sell aeration kits for the cannabis farmer to tackle the brewing process themselves, but they also create their own aerated, specially-formulated teas which take the onus off the cannabis farmer.
While other types of tea exist aerated varieties are by far the most prevalent within the cannabis industry. Aeration is crucial to a living compost, as the concentration of microorganisms needs a constant injection of oxygen or else the mixture will quickly run through the available supply. Aeration of the mixture improves the environment for the living organisms, which will then enhance the growing environment of the soil.
After submitting a soil sample, typically on a per crop or seasonal basis, the nutrient and microorganism analysis goes into the development of a customized mix specifically designed for the growing environment. Depending on the crop, and the depletion of the soil, the mix is adjusted with different natural additives and microorganisms to promote a healthy balanced living soil.
Composting teas have a much broader application than solely as a soil amendment. Foliar sprays, sprayed directly onto the leaf surface of the adult plants play a crucial role as a natural fungicide and pesticide. The beneficial organisms of the compost tea foliar spray consume the compounds exuded by the plant which would otherwise attract the attention of unwanted pests. Pathogens also have a hard time competing with the living barrier sprayed onto the surface of the leaves, which improves the plant's natural disease-fighting ability.
In an industry facing what seems like a neverending news cycle of contamination issues, the value-added of a compost tea additive goes far beyond soil structure. A company that relies on the sophisticated, all-natural, technology of a compost tea amendment improves its brand image, and value for the end consumer.