CompostFungiSoil BiologySoil Rehabilitation

Get Your Food from a Firehose

We have been delving into the dirty secret behind our food, which is that it comes from bacteria — primarily, with considerable assistance from a social network of fungi, nematodes, micro-arthropods and soil-dwelling microbes of various descriptions. Most people, asked what plants eat, answer something like, "sunlight, water and dirt." Water and sunlight play an important role, for sure, but what really counts is the life within the soil.

This week we asked Joey “Mr Tea” Thomas to come dose the Ecovillage Training Center with his eclectic brew of liquid compost. Mr Tea’s recipe is as good as any batch of Biodynamic Preps or EM (Effective Micro-organisms) you might already be using. It is inestimably superior to MiracleGrow® or other commercial, bagged soil amendments.

In a large stainless steel tank retrofitted with aerating pipes, Mr Tea combines de-chlorinated warm water and…

  • kelp
  • humates
  • folic acid
  • fish oil emulsion
  • bat guano
  • feather meal
  • virgin forest soil
  • deep pasture topsoil
  • composted animal manure
  • composted kitchen scraps
  • composted poultry litter
  • worm castings & liquor, and
  • biochar

The kelp, fish oil, and most of the composts provide rich food for the microbes while they brew. The humates are million-year old deposits with diverse paleobacteria. The bat guano is drawn from distant caves rich in trace minerals and packed with still more varieties of exotic bacteria. The two kinds of soil contain a complex of two discrete living microbiomes, one the fungally-rich virgin forest and the other a bacterially dominated grasslands. The fine biochar particulates provide enough soil structure to retain water — about 10 times the volume of the biochar itself — and aerobic conditions, while providing a coral reef-like microbial habitat. The animal manures, worm castings, feather meal and compostables all contribute to the biodiversity of available microfauna.

In the world of bacterial epigenetics, dictated by the particular demands of diverse members of the web in different seasons and weather conditions, this is a supermarket of genotypes that allow the bacteria to switch up and morph into whatever might be needed for soil health and fertility, capturing passing genes and unlocking regions of their DNA and RNA to provide new or ancient solutions to current conditions.

Bandwidth permitting, you can watch this video that’s so sexy it should be x-rated. This is a revolution disguised as organic gardening. The sex is going on right in front of the camera, you’d just need a microscope to see it. Use your imagination.

Albert Bates

Albert Bates is a lawyer, author, and teacher. Since 1984 he has been the director of the Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology and of the Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee since 1994.


  1. This is a great article and video!

    I like the info on bacterium electing to morph in order to accommodate for varying condition’s. I’ve thought this to be the case for some years but have never read or heard about it anywhere before now. Excellent.

  2. Good work going on here, and pleased to see biochar being applied. The fire hose seems a bit harsh on some of the microbes – the fungal hyphae are very delicate and may not survive that pressure and speed. But soils around trees and shrubs are usually high in fungal activity, so not too much of a problem.
    Is the compost tea going in with the subsoiler doing keyline ploughing? and at what rate per acre please?
    Will be fascinated to see the results when you post them.

  3. Can you provide a source for the information that the “biochar particulates provide enough soil structure to retain water — about 10 times the volume of the biochar itself”?

    This seems counter-intuitive. Sure the biochar has an _internal_ structure that has a massive surface area, but this is inside the biochar, and therefore its volume is no greater than the volume of the biochar.

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