The Real Science Behind Compost Tea
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We all know the benefits of compost when it comes to cannabis cultivation.
But we’ve also come a long way from just dumping a pile of compost into your soil and mixing it in. With compost tea, we can now incorporate compost into our cultivation practices by simply feeding the plants through irrigation, just like hydroponic nutrients.
If there’s one man who has gone to extra mile to understand the science behind compost tea in order to create powerful, organic tea mixes, it’s John Picirrilli, Founder of Cutting Edge Solutions.
“So my grandma turned me on to compost tea, I think I’ve already told you this story. She made anaerobic tea. It was just like a jug, a five gallon bucket of manure that we’d fill with water and sit there forever. And then occasionally, she’d get a scoop of water out of it and dilute it and pour it onto her radishes and tomatoes, or whatever we were growing in the backyard, right?” – Chip Baker
Even since he was boy Chip Baker was learning about compost tea and its benefits from his Grandma. And John learned a similar way himself.
“You know, going back on some of my many mistakes, one of the early ones was doing something like that. And then you do it on a larger scale than a five gallon bucket. Because pretty soon, you see a little works pretty good, so you want more of it to use all at once.” – John Picirrilli
From a five gallon bucket to 50 gallon drums, John quickly expanded his research and development of his compost tea product. And that was 40 years ago. The science behind compost tea and growing with biologicals had limited research at the time, and John was at the forefront of looking at the microscopic details of the teas he was making.
Eventually he would start his own microbiology lab where could study compost tea and all of its components scientifically.
What John Learned
Through his decades of research, John’s findings are plain and simple.
“That’s when I realized better biology means better flower.” – John Picirrilli
While compost teas are nothing new, using them for cannabis cultivation is a relatively new practice, and that’s why John is focused on educating growers on its benefits. But explaining the complex science behind how good compost tea develops isn’t so simple, especially when cannabis cultivators come from a wide range of backgrounds, age and education.
The Real Science Behind Compost Tea
In the Season 5 premiere of The Real Dirt with Chip Baker, John and Chip dive into their history and experience with compost tea, from their first discoveries to developing their current regiment. John goes in depth about how he began and continues his studies into compost tea using his sophisticated methods to find which specific microbes and bacteria are the most beneficial for cannabis.
The two talk about the history of using compost tea, how it has evolved, and why every cannabis cultivator should be incorporating it into their regiment. And of course the two long time friends share some old school stories from the Northern California days.
‘A regulator told me a long time ago. “Don’t try to list too many things on the label. Just say it makes plants happy.”‘ – John Picirrili
Is it that simple? Find out in this episode of The Real Dirt with Chip Baker!
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Chip: Hello, my friends. It’s so good to be back here in another episode of The Real Dirt. Got an exciting season this year for you, The Real Dirt. Wow, last year was incredible. And this year, wow. It’s gonna show so much for the cannabis market and cannabis industry. You know, we’re gonna hold on by the, fly by the seat of our pants. It’s coming so fast and so strong. If you’re involved in the cannabis industry right now, you know what I’m talking about. Everybody sitting at home, unemployed, smoking more weed than they ever have, or you know, they maybe have a little stress or – hey, also, there’s medical cannabis in so many more states now. 2001 is gonna go up in smoke. And I mean that in the very, very best way. That is my prediction, is the cannabis industry is going to be one of the saviors of the country and of the planet. If we’d all just sit back and smoke a little bit of weed, then you know, it’ll be a better place. And those of you who consume cannabis, or who work in the cannabis industry know how good this plant is. And man, dude, it has been so good. Despite of what’s going on in the rest of the country, the cannabis industry just had a banner year last year. And we’re gonna repeat it again. So these next episodes of The Real Dirt man, we’ve got a new studio, it sounds great. You can hear it right now, you can hear the bass in my voice. And I’m stoked man, we’ve been running out of this bedroom in the back of my house. And it hasn’t been the best, and the best internet reception. But man, we’re here, we’re set up for a very socially distanced event. I have many, many guests both on Zoom and as well here in the studio. I have a huge eight foot table, we can all be across from each other. We’ve got great ventilation in here. We’ll socially distance and be as careful as we can. But man, we’ve got some great people from all over the world. They’re gonna chime in this year. And we’re gonna run things a little bit different this year, I hope you guys enjoy it. But I’m really, you know, in this quest for knowledge, and previously, I wanted to know people’s story and understand stuff about them. You know, and I still want that. But one of the goals that we’re gonna have this year at The Real Dirt is we’re gonna answer questions. So if you have any question, and we’re looking on the internet, we’re looking at our Instagram, we’re looking at Facebook every single day. If you have any questions about cannabis, the cannabis industry, you know, ask us at The Real Dirt and maybe we’ll make an episode about it. So currently, we have about 35 episodes planned for this year, we’ll see how it unfolds, we’ll probably get a little bit more, a little bit less. But man, it’s gonna be really informative. If you’ve ever, I apologize for all the bad quality recordings this past year. We’re gonna do far, far better this next year. But uh yeah, man. We’re just gonna grow right along. So yeah, if you haven’t already subscribed, please go to The Real Dirt on iTunes, and on Spotify, and on Amazon and all the other major places where you can listen to podcasts. And listen, all the other episodes you know, if you’re interested in anything, you can ask us at The Real Dirt. “Hey, I’m interested in this, do you have an episode suggestion?” And we’ll give you a suggestion but you know, some of the early episodes are great, great, great information, even though they might have been four or five years ago, three or four years ago. Man, some of that stuff is just great. You guys should all go back and listen to that if you haven’t. We got about 70, 80 episodes published right now and man, they all have some great tidbits of information. But this year it’s going to be super high quality, super informative. And yeah, man. Here we go, man. My first guest is John Piccirilli. Me and John have been friends for years. He introduced himself one day to me in Humboldt County right after I’d started a potting soil plant. He literally rolled by and heard that I’d started a plant, had kind of heard about, you know, what I was trying to do, royal gold coco fiber, this was in like, 2008. John stopped by, said hi. He had a company called Cutting Edge. And so has a company called cutting edge where he makes top quality fertilizers for cannabis. And John helped me over the years tremendously. Anytime I had a question, he was there for me. And you know, when I started selling retail product with Cultivate Colorado and then Cultivate OKC, you know, really supported John and all of his products and whether it’s his 3 Part or his Uncle John’s, or, you know, the Sonoma Gold, man, he’s just got some great, great, great products. He makes nutrition for plants simple. And we’re going to talk to john about of a couple of things. We’re definitely going to get into some compost tea, and we’ll have a few episodes here, where Uncle John kind of explains it all. If you’ve ever met John, you know how he can go on, and on, and on, and on, and on for hours. So, I’m going to try to consolidate all his knowledge into you know, some good, good, good information we can all digest. But what I want you to do now is sit back, roll the largest joint you can and enjoy this episode of The Real Dirt.
John: Hey guys. We got John Piccirilli here. He’s the founder of Cutting Edge Nutrient Solution and pretty much go-to source of all things cannabis cultivation and nutrition. There should be like, a Google section that’s just like, “John says, Uncle John says.” Welcome, John, thanks for coming.
Chip: Thanks Chip, and happy birthday.
John: Oh, yep. This is my birthday episode. For those of you who didn’t get me a gift, it’s okay. You still have all of next year to plan.
Chip: Right, I mean, I was caught off guard myself. And I’ve known Chip, you know, 15 or 20 years. So…
John: Yeah. Well, the reason you were caught off guard is because you’re eagerly waiting to tell me happy solstice in a few days from now. And you just forget that it’s my birthday a few days beforehand.
Chip: Yes. And then it gets brighter every day.
John: It does. It gets brighter every day.
Chip: So wow John, me and you have known each other for a long time. We met a decade or more ago, when I opened up my first humble soil plant, you walked in the door one day, and politely answered all my questions and told me how I was doing everything wrong. And now I’m successful today because of you.
John: Oh, I don’t know, Chip, that’s not true. You’ve been at it a long time, too. And, you know, for me, I’ve been at it for 40 years, you know. I was one of those punk kids that ran away from Berkeley at 14 and started growing in Mendocino County in 1978. So I’ve had a little bit more time to make more mistakes than you. So I’m just telling you the advice that you think I’m giving you, I’m just telling you the mistakes I made, and not to do this.
Chip: Now you are a world-renowned, known as the problem solver. I’ve made that mistake for before, you know, answer for many, many, many, many, many things. Right?
John: And if people don’t believe it, I tell them how much it costs to make that mistake and it scares them.
Chip: Yeah, absolutely.
John: So they back up and they look at what kind of solutions that I’ve come up with. And those are pretty much our products.
Chip: I sell Cutting Edge Solutions. It’s one of our biggest sellers here at Cultivate OKC, Cultivate Colorado throughout California. It has been called the Calif-or. It starts off as a basic three part nutrition formula, but then there’s several other additives, magnesium additive, calcium additive, cal mag. I mean, you’ve got numerous, numerous products. The thing that’s great about John’s products is one, the customer service. You guys got great customer service, t feedback that you get. But man, you and Kevin go to see more gardens than pretty much anybody I know. I mean, I see a lot of gardens. But you guys like. really are in the dirt, man. You know, the thing that fascinates me is that everybody has a like, this little magic or something they do. It’s not magic, what you’re doing.
John: No. Well, it’s kind of magic. I mean, it’s science. But science is just a small explanation for magic. And there’s more magic than science. So you don’t always use your head, sometimes you use your heart.
Chip: Yeah, I’ve seen you guys turn around more gardens, for sure, after visits and more happy customers. Is there like, one thing that, is there a common thing that people have problems with?
John: Yeah, I would say using pH up and that locks out calcium, and calcium is key. And so ais phosphorus. A lot of ways that we back people out of problems is by using home tea which is a compost tea.
Chip: And you know, it happens to be the topic of our episode today –
Chip: Is composting.
John: That’s great.
Chip: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So my grandma turned me on to compost tea, I think I’ve already told you this story. She anaerobic tea. It was just like a jug, a five gallon bucket of manure that we’d fill with water and sit there forever. And then occasionally, she’d get a scoop of water out of it and dilute it and pour it onto her radishes and tomatoes, or whatever we were growing in the backyard, right? As a little kid, but I didn’t know any different until kind of I met you, John. And you started talking about compost tea, and actively aerated compost tea. Wow, if you’re not compost tea-ing now, it’s definitely something you should think about. Mostly, I recommend it for soil growers, the indoor outdoor greenhouse, it doesn’t matter applying it to the soil foliar feeding. Should I make this statement that it is the most effective thing that you can do for your garden, compost tea?
John: It is. It’s true. You know, probably what your grandmother did, you know, she used manure, broke down, and she poured it on and the plants got boosted, right? They look better. You know, going back on some of my many mistakes, one of the early ones was doing something like that. And then you do it on a larger scale than a five gallon bucket. Because pretty soon, you see a little works pretty good, so you want more of it to use all at once. And then you use, make a 50 50 gallon drums. And then it really goes anaerobic. And then you get acids in it that just melt the roots, when you overapply it. So then, there’s an application amount that you should use too. But I mean, that’s how I started out was, like I said, like over 40 years ago, you know, one of the benefits of being back then was you got to see cultivation going from fields and planes flying over, to actual helicopter traffic coming in. And then we had to move back in the barrage, and then ultimately back near the tree line. And then there’s a lot more microbiology that interacts with the plant then. But about the same time –
Chip: So this is application. You saw this through application, you saw the biology change through application.
John: Right, through just trying to use the same amendments and in holes, or trenches, and grow plants and then you know, we had to march the plants back into the barrage, and then ultimately back into the tree line. And then at that time, I thought just fertilizers grew plants. But then I realized by that point that it was the microbiology that was making the chemistry available.
Chip: Yes, the roots, they grow the plants, don’t they? And they need that proper biology around the roots in the soil in order to digest the nutrients in order to feed the plants, right? People can argue that science all day long, but it’s pretty much how it works, right? Synthetic or organic like, you have to have that biological dynamic.
John: You do to have healthy plants. And otherwise you get diseases or bugs are attracted to them, which transfer diseases to other plants that are still somewhat healthy.
Chip: So let’s take this back, John. Let’s do a couple things. Let’s talk about like, what is compost tea, and then we’ll talk about some like, things we can do with it, and problems it creates, and problems it solves. So, how do you define compost tea? Because I know this, people say and do this all different types of ways.
John: Right. So you know, some people define compost tea as any compost, like we were saying before, put into drums of water and they make sun tea. And you know about the time we were being pushed back by the helicopters, I was making sun teas and taking horsetail which is high in silica, cutting those up, putting them in –
Chip: Wild, crafting horsetail.
John: Right. And stinging nettle, which is not easy to collect, as you think.
Chip: Got to pick it from the jungle.
John: Otherwise, your arms are thrashed. But you know, using different herbs and making sun teas, and that seemed to be okay. But I got more results out of it when there was bubbling going on. And then I used it before the bumbling stopped, before it got completely anaerobic. And you know, I got a microscope and I started looking at things closer. And then I got bacterial stain kits for Gram positive and Gram negative, started kind of identifying different bacteria, and started looking at fungi, and staining that with prussian blue, and that led to just building a microbiology lab. I was kind of a kid back then. That was the early realization that you can make liquids that help the amendments of the soil. But compost tea, you know, you asked me that question. And I started to aerate it, so that I could break it down further. And then about that time, you know, it was just sort of wide open. There was not a lot of research being done using biologicals. But I started to learn how to isolate them out of healthy agricultural systems, and scraping them off lichen in the forest, because I realized that some of the best plants were at the drip line were lichen were. They weren’t necessarily getting more sun, but they were growing healthier, and they yielded better, and the flavor of the –
Chip: Better biology.
John: Yeah, better biology. And that’s when I realized better biology means better flower.
Chip: I mean, compost tea is new to many people, but it’s a very old technology. I mean, I’m not sure how far back actively aerated compost tea goes. I mean, people have been bubbling compost in the liquid solution for a moment, right? But it’s new to many people. So what we mean by this is we’re actually injecting air of some sort, and people use all types of things. Are there things you should or shouldn’t use, pumps you should or shouldn’t use?
John: Yeah, some people build these elaborate brewers that’s spin the whole liquid inside of a cone tank. And that might be good to generate bacteria, aerobic bacteria, but not necessarily good for protozoa. And so you know, you’re looking for three things in a compost tea that’s aerated as you say, by at least putting in an air stone if not putting in lines that are perforated, and [inaudible 16:13]. it just depends on the size of the brewer that you’re working with.
Chip: Sure. I’ve made probably millions of gallons of compost tea through all my potting soil stuff and you know, royal gold, we used to apply it directly on the line and use compost tea within our products. You know, I’ve always liked the simple air bubblers, right? I always felt those made the best, you know, product, the best compost tea, even though we’ve kind of used everything. I’ve used, you know, these jet pumps that move water around, we’ve used [inaudible 16:52] pumps. Man we’ve used, you know, just like large air pumps with a bunch of lines going into it. But for some reason, the air stones, they they really do work the best.
John: They do, I mean, you put them in the bottom of a cone tank, a lot, you know, a line that runs from the pump into the tank, and then it’s at the bottom of a cone tank, and it has just the right amount of air.
Chip: Those with bubble size, I think what it has to do with it? Because you got all those little small bubbles, and as they’re turning over in the water, they’re mixing everything, right? And you know, if you think about it, a bubble is this real like, natural like, thing. You know, I just like the idea of that anyway. I don’t know if it’s reality or not, but millions of bubbles mix better than hundreds of bubbles.
John: Well, you know, it’s like champagne.
Chip: Yes, the champagne effect, right.
John: It’s the champagne of compost tea. You know? And the other ones are like the jacuzzi jet of compost tea.
Chip: Yeah, because you don’t really, you don’t want it really swirling. You don’t want it really bubbling, right? You just want it like, moving around. You wanna inject the right amount of air. Do you know if there’s any math involved with this?
John: Oh, yeah. You know, there’s a, you know, you look at, see I’ve used of different organisms that are in a spore state or in a cis state of it, which is like your egg state for a protozoa. Take a drop of compost tea, and put it on a hemocytometer, that’s what you use to look at blood. But it’s the same thing you use in microscopy to look at the population number in one drop, which is pretty much a measured amount. And on this hemocytometer, it’s got a graph and you can estimate, do a bacteria, fungi, protozoa count. Sometimes people are off on the on the fungi because of actinomycete, which is, you know, when you’re turning your compost, you get that white fuzz on it. –
Chip: Yeah, I know it. On the outside, and the inside –
John: Right. And then you dig through that and you see all the strands, that actinomycete is helping break down the compost, but it operates at a warmer temperature, which is just on the outside shell. But when you’re making compost tea, a lot of times you have that in there. People mistake that for actual beneficial fungi. It’s beneficial in the sense that it’s breaking things down and making enzymes, but it’s also, can throw you off if you’re actually reading it. So, you need a Gram stain and there’s a certain way to identify that.
Chip: And all this stuff is inexpensive now, right? Like, you know, digital microscopes and you know, all this equipment is readily available to people. When I started doing it 20 years ago, it was like, $5,000 for a microscope. But now you can get it for 100 bucks, right?
John: Yeah, yeah. There’s decent microscopes for 100 bucks. I mean, we pretty much use Olympus and Leica microscopes which are German lenses and those are –
Chip: Well, you guys are professionals. Of course you use Leica.
John: Well, because we look at, because we look at a lot of samples, right? And so you can get eyestrain. It’s like, the difference between getting reading glasses and real glasses, I guess.
Chip: Now me and you and other people were fascinated with it all. And we might break the microscope out and notice the balance of bacteria and fungi or protozoa over temperatures or, but most people aren’t going to nerd out quite like that. You don’t necessarily need a microscope, right?
Chip: No, I saw that look in your eyes. You’re like, “No, you gotta have a microscope.”
John: Well, you know, you were just saying it.
Chip: It’s not that expensive.
John: They’re not that expensive. And, you know –
Chip: It’s easy to use.
John: I mean, we used to have Maverick cameras that cost like$1400 that attached with a special adapter that went on the compound microscope. In the end, you’re like spending thousands of dollars –
Chip: Now you can almost do it on your phone.
John: Yeah, right. Exactly. And they have smaller digital microscopes and digital cameras that are maybe $100 or $200 that are great for taking photos, and sending to someone to identify something that you think is wrong with your plant. Or, you know, the cross section of a root, or you know, many different things. So it’s definitely worthwhile to get these. It adds to your digital library of things that are either going right or wrong.
Chip: It’s just another tool in the tool bucket. So basically, compost tea is any type of compost that’s dissolved in water. And then we’re aerating it.
John: That’s a good basic definition.
Chip: When doesn’t it have to be compost, then?
John: Yeah, I mean, to be compost tea, it should be compost. Usually, it’s vermicompost. Because that’s, you know, high in bacteria.
Chip: The earthworms are incredible creatures and get rid of all the E. coli. And you know, that’s the best thing about earthworms. You use a pure earth, pure black castings and you’re not gonna have any E. coli.
John: Right. That’s very true. Sometimes you could have coliform bacteria, but –
Chip: Still rare for earthworm castings, unless it’s like, unless it’s not been screened. If it’s just compost, and earthworm castings, that’s where you see the coliform bacteria.
John: Well, it depends what state you’re in. And it’s not you personally, but it’s you physically.
Chip: Yeah. Okay, okay.
John: And you know, because different states do different tests. And you know, for a while they were mixing up E. coli, which is a coliform bacteria with all other coliform bacteria. We have coliform bacteria in our hands.
Chip: It’s everywhere.
John: It’s everywhere. It’s ubiquitous, right? So but you know, it’s not something that is going to harm you.
Chip: Mostly compost tea is made from earthworm castings, water and maybe, you know, a couple of other things. I mean, there’s all types of recipes people use for all types of reasons. I know you guys sell a great, great product HumTea that is a completely formulated compost tea recipe or, what do you, how do you phrase it at?
John: Yeah, so that would be a compost tea.
Chip: HumTea, is it, do you call it an inoculant kit, or a starter kit, or..?
John: Yeah, you know, you could call it either thing. You know, I’m not very good at marketing as you know.
Chip: Right, yeah, yeah. You’re great at sales though.
John: Yeah. [inaudible 23:34] I could go in and say, you know, yeah, we have a spawn bag, which is a resealable plastic bag that’s impermeable by pretty much anything, except that it has a GoreTex window on it. So it allows gas exchange. And in there we have some woody material that we grow protozoa on. The actual let’s say, compost itself is a mixture of this woody material, and a mixture of earthworm castings. So the earthworm castings have really good background bacteria, fungi and some protozoa. But we enrich that and enhance that in our composting process and our finishing process. So we usually have a screen of 10 important bacteria, a few fungi, and about 22 different protozoa. So you would take this out of the bag, put it into, you know, we have brewers that have screens. And you can put it into the screen or a HumTea Brew Ball, and that’s actually floats in any container. It will even float in a reservoir. And then we have three different containers, three different say pint or quart bottles depending on the size that you buy of the HumTea inoculant. And those have certain bacteria and there are food sources in there. You know, ours is a little bit more sophisticated than just taking compost from your earthworm castings, and throwing it into some gauze or some sort of screen system, and then bubbling it in water, where a lot of people would add molasses.
Chip: Because you’ve done all the work for you with the HumTea. You don’t have to have a microscope. You can just drop your pre-made formulated compost tea inoculant in a barrel of water in the compost brewer. Any compost brewer, but specifically a Cultivate OKC or Cultivate Colorado compost brewer that you can get in Colorado, you can order it online. Go to cultivate colorad.com, cultivateokc.com, we’ve got great, great deals. Better deals, and you could ever get on 15, 30, 35, 45, 65 gallon brewers. All of that will make it easier for you than just using some random container or you know, maybe not like the easiest thing to clean. But you start with a good compost tea brewer. But any type will work, right? And use the – oh I see, they’re like ” Oh well maybe not any type,” because we already kind of went over that. The ones that move too much water don’t really work so well.
John: Well they work well for bacteria, to generate bacteria but –
Chip: So if you got a specific bacteria you’re trying to grow or wanted high in bacteria, then you would use that.
John: Yeah, you wanna use of those high volume mixing, spin it around, [inaudible 26:35].
Chip: I mean, anybody can go out and make their own. Anybody can go out and get a bag of earthworm castings. They can get some bat guano, some trace minerals, maybe a little, the smallest amount of some sort of sugar product. They can make their own but man, the HumTea product is really so much better. You know, when you first came out with this, this is how John sold this product. He first came out with it and he gave it away. And he taught us a lot about giving stuff away, all of us in the cannabis industry. And so he would give it away – where would that have been? I mean, you gave it away all –
John: North coast horticulture.
Chip: North coast horticulture, it would have been –
John: In Humboldt County.
Chip: Yeah, it would have been in Humboldt County. And people were like, “Oh, what do I do with this?” He was like, “Well just take a gallon home and when your cuttings are rooted, feed it to them.” Right? “Oh, I’m having problems with you know, my plant. Should I feed all my -” “Well, just start on your cuttings. Take this gallon and feed your cuttings.” And you sold so many people on compost tea and educated so many people on compost tea and Humboldt Tea that way. Off one single gallon. Change their, changed everything for them, right?
John: Yeah, yeah. It’s actually Humboldt Countea.
Chip: Humboldt Countea.
Chip: I see.
John: And then there’s just the t-e-a at the end.
Chip: And now, is there some special biology that you’ve put into the Humboldt Countea?
John: Well, yeah. You know, by just raising it and generating it, and then using it in a good agricultural system and then re-harvesting it. You know, some of the bacteria alone, you know, there’s Pseudomonas putida, and that can break down herbicides. So I mean, I was working with that a long time ago, back when they used the silvicultural practice in Mendocino County and Humboldt County, was to spray hardwoods with Agent Orange that was left over from the Vietnam War. So long ago, this was –
Chip: [inaudible 28:44] for you and me, right?
John: Yeah, that’s right.
Chip: Spraying all the weeds in the woods, they say it’s gonna make the world go good. Oh yeah, man.
Chip: Some protest songs there, protest songs from the 90’s.
John: Right. Born right out of NorCal, you know. There was fighting for their lives out there, literally.
Chip: We got pesticide danger. Oh, can decide, danger.
John: Nice. Oh, yes. Reggae on the river, I hope it comes back.
Chip: Oh, it will. Yeah, yeah, for sure. And it’ll be in memories forever. But…
John: Yeah, we still bring it to life. Yeah, you know, I was giving it out at first because not just to educate people, but just to give back to the community. I can see that here in Oklahoma again, where a lot of people just left because they saw corporations rising in their state, whether it was Colorado, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, California. And they wanted to be back in a community of people that share plant material. And you really see it here now. And it’s good.
Chip: Oklahoma reminds me a lot of Humboldt in the late 90’s.
Chip: Right? The organic movement, the freshness, the newness, the idea. Because even though like Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity, they’re thought about and they are the world capital of ganja production and have been for, like 50 years, right? It’s like Mexico, Humboldt County, right?
John: Right. You go anywhere in the world and they go, “Where are you from?” And you say, if you say Arcata or Trinidad, immediately they’re like, “That’s in Humboldt County. You’re from Humboldt County.” Yeah.
Chip: Yeah, right. So I know there’s a lot of haters out there, but that’s just how it is, the volume of cultivators up there, it’s just now incredible. But back then, in the late 90s, we had just gone through Operation Green Merchant. There was, one of the Bushes came in with an aircraft carrier off the coast of Humboldt, they had National Guard, they were like, stopping and searching people coming in and out of highway roads that just went through National Forest systems. But, you know, all kinds of illegal Gestapo type of stuff. And in the late 90s, cannabis, it was really, really underground. You know, outdoor cultivation. It had it for like, 10 years at that point was really hard, right? You had to hide it, you had to put it under trees. And people were growing indoor. It started growing indoor in like, huge farms. Absolutely some of the biggest farms in the early years. Everybody seemed to have a 40 or an 80 light indoor on a generator back then.
Chip: Right? That’s kind of what’s going on here is that it’s easy to get a 200 amp license, it’s easy to get a license to grow and grow under 200 amps. Maybe that’s what I should say, 2500 bucks, $3,000 you can easily get a license. And it’s kind of the same way back then, it’s like you could go get your prescription and grow some weed and sell it to the dispensary, right? They just kind of formalized it a little bit. But the same enthusiasm, right? The same old coops coming out of the hills going, “I love weed. We used to grow it back in the whenever it is,” right? Man, and we saw it happen then. Because we had that big first explosion happened in ’97. And it was like ’97 to like ’94 or something. And then there was smaller changes in the laws like in Mendocino, they made it legal for 25 plants for anybody, and then 99 plants. If you registered, they were one of the first registrations in the country, that was back in 2004, right? And outdoor cultivation really started to take off again. We got rid of Terry Farmer and a couple of other holdouts from the old war on drugs and it reminds me all of that here. It’s like the, except it just went differently, right? Instead of there being this big political issue, you know, the police are just like, “Oh, weed’s legal? Okay,” right? And it’s not like it was in Humboldt back then where everybody fought it for years, and years. Now it’s like, “Oh, weeds legal? Okay.” People were really accepting of it here, right? They’ve embraced organic cultivation like those old days in Humboldt. Remember how it used to be if you [inaudible 33:22] wasn’t organic? Like I mean, your friends would just like, rail you for it.
John: It’s true.
Chip: I mean like, what, I mean, it means me and John are both hydro guys. And I love organic too, John does too. John’s got a whole like organic thing too. You know, organic supplements, organic nutrition, that we use – I’ve got some weed over there in front of us –
John: Oh, nice.
Chip: That’s all just happened in here. It’s a special time and special place in Oklahoma. And man, it’s starting to happen that way in Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, right? It’s this new great industry that still anybody can get into. In Colorado and in California now, anybody just can’t get into.
Chip: And if you guys are into it over there, and things are going great for you, me and John are both giving you a thumbs up.
John: We are still there, Chip.
Chip: I mean yeah, we’re –
John: We’re still in Humboldt County, but –
Chip: We know how hard it is, man. It’s hard.
John: The building codes, everything that goes along with it, the invasion of your private property. You know, touring farms here, I don’t see that I see people doing their best, instead of having to pay regulators and go through all these different code enforcement issues, and wait, and wait, and wait, and spend money on their mortgages, or leases, or whatever. In the outlying areas of major cities here, there’s no building codes. So I mean, I was just yesterday at a place that you know, they spent 300,000 on a state of the art greenhouse. And they’re putting up two more, they’re putting up one first and they’re gonna join these greenhouses together. But my point is that when people are allowed to do their best, they do great. And when people are held back by a regulatory industry that doesn’t understand what they’re doing, but wants to take opinions from everyone else –
Chip: And a percent.
John: Yes, let’s not forget that.
Chip: And let’s not forget the percent of profit that they want to take as well.
John: Right. And it really should just be grown and sold at the end that it’s being sold that it should be taxed.
Chip: Easy enough, man, Oklahoma’s got a really good handle on it, that’s for sure. And it’s got some problems, don’t get me wrong. Back to compost tea. A couple ways, I guess, people use compost, either they like, do a soil drench, or they do a foliar spray.
John: Right. So a foliar spray would be to offset other potential plant pathogenic fungi that could be on the plant like, powdery mildew. Aspergillus brasiliensis will take care of –
Chip: Like I know if he’s pronouncing that right.
John: Yeah, I was kind of hesitant when I started because –
Chip: He almost, your eyes go up in your head, like they’re having this rain man moment.
John: Well you know, you throw out these kind of terms, and then people are, they can’t, you can’t catch it. It’s something that’s really got to be written down. But, I mean, that’s something that offsets and outcompetes powdery mildew, which is a big issue. Going back to this farm that I was just at yesterday, you know, state of the art greenhouse really good quality Quonset houses, and one is lit up and holding all the best mothers. But at the same time, they were put in not Chip’s soil, but another soil let’s say. And that soil was made from composted pine needles back east. And then what happens is, it’s super acidic.
Chip: Oh. So there was a pH problem.
John: To the extreme, where the plants were basically dying. When I looked at them a month and a half ago, the person didn’t want to take them out of their 30 gallon plastic pots. So the only choice is to use a compost tea or to use HumTea, because the microbiology will start breaking things down and leeching out certain elements that are toxifying the plant. And these are prized plants. I mean, they’re, you know, they’re –
Chip: Compost tea. One of its benefit really is if you have sick plants, if you have plants that aren’t doing so good, regardless of what diagnosis you think they have, compost tea will help them.
John: Yeah, it’s true. I mean, it’s like magic, you see? You know it’s working because the leaves –
Chip: It’s kind of like chicken soup. It’s like the chicken soup.
John: It is, for this time of year. It’s flu season. You know, people are afraid to even cough in public. You know, will be hauled off. But you know, when you want to keep those mother plants going until the spring, and you have light in order to be able to do that in a greenhouse and you’re heating the greenhouse, if they’re in bad soil, or if they get some sort of disease because it’s too humid, and you don’t want to open it up because it’s too cold outside, compost tea or Hum Tea is is what you need. Not only foliar spray with, but run through the soil and then that has another action when it goes into the soil. It will stimulate the plant’s immune system.
Chip: So there’s lots of talk about dilution when you do soil drench. Do you have a typical dilution rate? Or how about this, what’s a, because I know it’s varied. What’s the best dilution rate?
John: You know, when you have a brewer, say it’s even a five gallon bucket. When you make tea in that, you should be able to take 1 gallon to 25 gallons. And if you want to go thinner, you can go up to 50 gallons. One gallon of compost tea or HumTea to 50 gallons. And you’re going to get the benefit. You can pour HumTea straight on, and it’s good to do. Pour it straight on. Do it 1:25, do it 1:50. And you pour it straight on, you see a result the next day. You do 1:25, it’s two days. You do 1:50, it’s three, maybe three days. And for me, 1:25 is good because you know brewing it is roughly like, $6 a gallon. So I don’t want to spend too much money, but I want the plants to be healthy.
Chip: Yeah my experience is exactly the same thing. If you, I think that the HumTea, it works best diluting it 1:1, because I think you can use it. I mean, I know you can use it just straight on, but most people can’t afford to, or the volume of it. And you know, I also try to just use it on like, just rooted plants or vegging plants, so I can get the most concentrated colony forming units in one area, right? I like the 1:1. That being said, man, like, you can pretty much pour it in any volume of liquid that you have to feed your plants, right? If you’re using a 300 gallon tank even, you will absolutely see benefit by making a five gallon compost tea and pour it in there. Now, it might work better for [inaudible 40:34] if you only have 5 gallons, and you have a, you know, a garden that would require 300 gallons of water, you’d be better off boiler feeding it, I would think. Even if it’s just on the top of the soil, because we see people doing that too. And I’ve done that too, is just take the like, direct HumTea, Humboldt Countea with a pump sprayer, right, right? Have you ever seen this?
John: Yes, oh yeah.
Chip: They just spray it right on the top of the soil as opposed to the plant and then you get the water in and you get the like, you know, the colony to develop there. And I mean, that’s like, three bucks for something like that.
John: It’s super cheap, and it’s super effective. And that’s a good point, Chip. Putting it in, regarding the sprayer, you can do full strength or 1:1 and foliar spray it.
Chip: The only problem with the full stream is sometimes it’ll clog your sprayer and you have to like, screen it out anyway.
John: Oh, yeah.
Chip: Right? But if you just dilute it, 1:1 goes to the sprayer.
John: Yeah, that’s true.
Chip: Pretty, pretty good.
John: And not use the bottom little part, just pour it on the top.
Chip: Yeah, we screen it out exactly and try to leave the bottoms. When we’re actively doing it, and I don’t know how you feel about this, but I just try to do back to back to back to back compost teas. And I never clean out my compost tea brewer except with water. So I’ll just wash down the sides, wash down the sides, and then just start another one up. And it works. If it’s back to back to back to back to back, that seems to work great. As soon as I let it sit a few days and don’t fight with it. I gotta start over.
John: And there’s a good point in there is, so you’re on a farm and you’re using well water.
John: So it has no chlorine in it.
John: Right. And chlorine isn’t really a bad problem, you can aerate it for 24 hours and it’ll, you know, take the chlorine out. But, you know, if you’re using chloramide or chlorinate, some cities use that, then you’ve got nitrogen injected with the chlorine. IT forms a more stable compound to keep the chlorine in the pipes, right? And then you have to use something like a Hydrologic Big Boy. Or, you know, if you don’t want that, you could go to your local hardware store and get a carbon filter that removes chlorine, and that’ll also remove that.
John: So because that will kill, mean, why is it there? To kill biology. And you don’t want to do that.
Chip: So don’t use chlorinated water.
Chip: So back to the foliar spray though. So we can use it as a soil drench, or we can use it as a foliar spray. How do you recommend people doing that?
John: That’s a good point. You can screen it through a piece of nylon and get all the particles out of it. And then either do it full strength or 1:1, and foliar year spray the top, foliar spray the bottom of the leaves and the stem, you’ve pretty much completely covered the plant. You can also, and this could be called foliar spraying, you could spray where the drip emitters are. And that will, the water coming out of the drip emitter will drive the biology down to where the roots are. And if you just, if you hand water, same thing. You can either throw it into your hand watering reservoir, your hand watering in or you could put, you know, just put it on the top and spoil the tops of the pots or the trench or whatever.
Chip: Yeah, my first commercial application of compost tea was down in Salinas at our first Royal Gold potting soil plant down there. And I saw people spraying it on lettuce and cauliflower. They would say it was a foliar application, they just called it spray. But they’re spraying the plants and the ground at the same time. Right? To get these big rows and this stuff wasn’t plastic culture. To me, it’s like part of it all. It needs to go in the soil. You need to spray the plants. Now what is some of the benefits of spraying the plants over soil drench?
John: Well, spraying the plants, it will knock back powdery mildew and other plant pathogenic fungi that might grow on the leaf surface. So that’s the benefit there. It’s not really like it’s going to be able to break down any fertilizers. Some people say, well, it does, it seems to boost the plant. Well, that’s because they’re spraying with chemical fertilizers, and it’s helping move those into the plant. But in general, it’s better to spray with organic supplements than it is to spray with NPK directly on the plant. The plant doesn’t really take it in well that way.
Chip: Let’s talk about compost tea and synthetic nutrients. Because this is one of the myths or maybe not myths, but concerns people have. Like, if I’m using synthetic nutrients, can I benefit from compost tea?
John: You can. I mean, it depends on what type of synthetic chemicals are being used. I mean certainly, if you’re using urea, you know, you’re gonna kill things. If you’re using something that’s made, and it’s got sulfuric acid in it, you know, there’s some harsh chemicals out there. But in general, when you go into a hydroponic store, or if you want to call it a grow store, the lines of nutrients that are on the shelf are better quality. A lot of them aren’t –
Chip: Say at the farm store.
John: You’re not getting ag grade, you’re getting possibly food grade. I mean, we use food grade in our line of fertilizers. You know, there are other companies that use ag chemicals because it’s cheaper. And then people call them salts. I mean, all it means is that it dissolved, those minerals can dissolve in water, and that it’s not necessarily sodium chloride. But you know, going back to how microbiology works, and how well will it do with these different fertilizers? Well, I would say it just depends. But when I was working on HumTea, I developed it so that all the functional groups that do the magic, let’s say, are offset by our fertilizer lines. So because I built it so that it could be used in recirculating systems.
Chip: And we have used it in recirculating systems with your you know, 3 Part Cutting Edge for sure. It works great. I gave up the organic components and [inaudible 47:25] during a while ago just because I don’t want to deal biofilm, or clogged comps, or some of the other problems that happened with it. But it worked great. I just prefer to keep the synthetic stuff and recirculating systems separate. You know, if you’ve got a tank that’s not recirculating, then no reason not to mix synthetic and biological stuff together. Right, I know, I know. I’m [inaudible 47:53] now that I said that. Oh dude, I’m gonna have a flurry of people like, “You can’t kill all the biology dies when they come across [inaudible 47:59],” what did you say that [inaudible 48:00] was? You didn’t listen to that?
John: Yeah, it doesn’t. I mean, if –
Chip: It doesn’t, and we can see. And here’s another big myth that happens is people talk about, “Oh, in California, the ground’s dead, because of all of the chemicals that they’ve put on it. You can’t grow anything there anymore.” Do you know any place in California that’s like that?
John: Well, you know. Yeah. Maybe not in the Hills but you know, you look in the Central Valley. And yeah, there are a build up, there’s a buildup of boron from the groundwater. And the boron, you know, it gets to certain parts per million, and there’s fewer crops you can grow until you’re finally left with pistachios. So –
Chip: Oh so they just moved pistachios to those areas?
Chip: Oh, that’s why. Okay, okay.
John: It’s like a succession of planting. And then ultimately, the pistachios come out and then they grow cotton. And then when you –
Chip: Uhuh, that’s Oklahoma.
John: Certain people say, “Well, what caused the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma? Wasn’t that the killing of all the microbiology?”
Chip: No, it was all the people leaving at once.
John: They were trying to get on the freeway first. It’s really dirt roads back then.
Chip: Oh man. I miss the railroad on the freeway. There’s a song there, right, right? Hotel California or something.
John: Right. But you know, the dead lands of California, it’s more like, they’re not dead. They just don’t have, they don’t have the water quality to grow crops. And what is growing burns down.
Chip: Yeah, I mean water quality is a big issue here in Oklahoma and throughout the country. That’s for sure. I mean, the water quality here is pretty poor. We almost all use RO filters. If you’re an indoor you should be using an RO filter here.
John: Yeah and you know, I go to a lot of places here and there, you have boron problems. That’s why those farms were abandoned. So that and the fact that everybody tried to grow one type of wheat, not weed. Fortunately, that’s not happening, because we’re growing many varieties of weed. But wheat, I mean, that’s what pretty much caused the Dust Bowl. It was, there was one popular wheat that everyone wanted to make bread out of in the northeast. And so everybody ran out here, tore up the land, grew one kind of wheat, because it was profitable, and then it became not profitable. And then all those farms were abandoned. And that’s part of the reason of the Dust Bowl. All these people left. They weren’t farmers to begin with anyway.
Chip: Yeah, series of droughts. Everybody was planting at once over and over again.
John: Same thing.
Chip: You know, World War One, it had a huge demand of food for, you know, for that effort. Everybody kind of like, had several great, great years and just everybody pumped it up.
John: Right. And my –
Chip: Kind of like the hemp industry. In the current hemp industry, there’s a Dust Bowl reference in there someplace.
Chip: Yeah, I mean hemp growing, you know, that’s farming once again. I sell a HumTea to hemp growers. You know, they use very little of it, but they use it at transplant because it helps with adjusting to the field from the greenhouse. I mean the hemp industry, there’s another over regulated industry. Keeping people at point three has punished a lot of plant breeders who –
Chip: How will that manage? You know what I hate about it? This is the biggest problem, is it still differentiates cannabis growers. There’s either the no THC or the THC growers. And the non-THC growers – mostly, don’t get your feelings hurt if you’re one of these people – mostly you’re like, “Oh no, I don’t grow THC.” It’s like come on, man. This is just the cannabis plant. Let’s stop being so scared of some letters, right? THC, CBD, DEA, FDA. Let’s stop being scared of those. Let’s think about like the cannabis. Let’s think about the plant. Let’s think about the world. And think about it that way, instead of this just fucked up liability type, human health and safety issue that they try to raise with it. We know cannabis is harmless. We’ve been using it for a long, long time.
John: Very true.
Chip: Yeah. Alright. So John, we’ve gone over a handful of things here with compost tea. Who can most benefit from this? Is this just for small people? Is this just for big people? Can anyone benefit from this? What are the best scenarios for compost to use?
John: The plants benefit from it.
Chip: Anybody, any plant can benefit from it.
John: People are problematic.
Chip: People benefit from it only because their plants are better and it makes the people happier?
Chip: Oh, I get it. I get it. I get it. I get it.
John: A regulator told me a long time ago. “Don’t try to list too many things on the label. Just say it makes plants happy.”
Chip: Yeah, yeah. Happy plants.
John: And this was California. And I took that to heart because if you read our Constitution, we have the right to the pursuit of happiness.
John: So why shouldn’t plants?
Chip: Absolutely. Well, I love compost tea man. I’m glad we kind of got to talk about all of this. I got a couple compost tea recipes I love. I love 5 gallon compost tea, right? And the way that I like to make it, I don’t know if this is right or not, but when I make it this way, my plants absolutely respond. I usually dilute like, 5 gallons into about 20 gallons when I do it this way, right? And that’s out of sheer necessity. But I like 1 gallon of earthworm castings, 3 gallons of water. I’m gonna then put in a half a cup of some type of trace minerals. And then this is where it gets a little sticky, but I really like some sort of fish product. The fish [inaudible 54:33] or the fish emulsion, there’s controversy over all of that. And then just a smidgen of some sort of sugar. That recipe has been great for me and many other people for years. It’s so easy to follow. It’s not hard at all. You bubble it at you know, it needs to be over 60 degrees. I usually almost always bubble it outside. It usually takes three or four days for the fish smell to exchange from putrid to sweet. And, that’s what I like about this thing. When’s it ready? As soon as it turns sweet. I generally like the soil drench as opposed to the foliar spray. And part of that is because I’m scared of the yeast and fungus tests.
John: Oh, interesting.
Chip: Yeah, I don’t know if that’s real or not. But I’m scared of it. And I know you can outgrow it, you know, but many people spray throughout their flower period and I just choose to only like, spray it once or twice when they’re clones. I feed the clones stray compost tea and then dilute it, you know, like 5:1 or 4:1 or something like that. That’s my favorite compost tea.
John: Yeah, I mean that sounds like a successful formula right there. Simple, easy to use –
Chip: Oh kelp. I forgot the kelp. There was my trace minerals, I say trace minerals, but I do prefer kelp for my trace mineral.
John: Ah see, I was gonna add that.
Chip: Oh right, right. Yeah, and you know ’cause trace minerals, mined trace minerals are now harder to find, John. Have you looked for this lately, or it might not be hard for you because you’re in California, but they’re hard to get.
John: Yeah, you have to buy them in volume. You know, they come from mines in New Mexico and volcanic areas. But, you know, no one wants to go out there and truck them in anymore, that’s one of the problems. Cost, fuel, cost of operation –
Chip: There’s something they sell for 19 cents.
John: Right, right. So you know, I keep stocked up on all those. When I get halfway down in a container, I’ll reorder, because I like to use trace minerals for a couple different locations in my, in HumTea. And of course, there’s also kelp in there. Simple things that make a great tea. And sort of feed the microbes that you want to step up and be able to further break down what they need for the plant.
Chip: So if you’re interested in compost tea, definitely check out more information we’ll have on The Real Dirt. Check us out at Cultivate Colorado, Cultivate OKC. You can buy all of your compost tea equipment. If you’re not familiar with Cutting Edge products, how do people look you up, John?
Chip: Cuttingedgesolutions.com. Ask your local vendor. If you’re a commercial grower, you absolutely need to check out the quality of the product. We didn’t even go into the whole lines of this whole compost tea conversation I wanted you here for today. Because I believe in compost tea and it’s something we’ve been talking about forever. And you know, really something that I want to turn people on to. So thanks for coming today, John. I really appreciate this little chat and I look forward to having you on in the future.
John: Sounds good. You know all I have to do is drive down from Tulsa now.
Chip: Oh, yeah, that’s right. We’ll get on that whole relocation on the next episode. Hey guys, thanks for joining me today on The Real Dirt with Chip Baker and John Piccirilli. If you liked this episode, and you have not subscribed yet, please subscribe on iTunes. Join us on Instagram, join us on Facebook. Hey and always comment, always leave a message. And if you’re interested in soil, or any type of growing equipment go to cultivatecolorado.com. Stop in one of our stores in Denver or Oklahoma. Yeah, man, we’re always willing to chat and we’ve got great, great, great people who are willing to answer any question you have. So there it is, The Real Dirt on compost tea. Thanks again.