Monday, November 30, 2015

Washington State University Ag Extension Compost Tea Webinar Revisited

Soil without Biology is simply Geology
Well the Webinar put on by Washington State University Ag Extension gals (Lynn Carpenter-Boggs Associated Professor of Sustainable and Organic Agriculture at WSU & Catherine Crosby who is a PhD candidate for Soil Science also @ WSU) provided very informative material for recipes regarding compost teas and how to use them finally them came and went without all the advertise upset by individuals with a vested interest in industrial science. With all the advertised potential for anti-science rants coming from the WSU Garden Professors over the potential negative harm this Webinar was going to cause in the public's mind in creating a less than scientifically minded landscapers/gardeners, what actually came across in this Webinar was totally opposite of what most followers of the Professors would have expected. The Compost Tea Webinar was very intelligently presented, honestly & refreshingly informative in educating listeners that this was a new field of research yet to be thoroughly tested scientifically and the need for caution where some potential areas of both dangers and benefits where carefully and respectfully pointed out minus the usual smug sarcasm often experienced with this subject. For the folks who have yet to watch the Compost Tea Webinar, here it the link and keep in mind it's about 75 minutes in length.
WSU eXtension: Making and Using Compost Teas

First off I'd like to confess, I've never really been one to actually use compost tea. My Mum has made her own and swears by it. And the plants in the yard never looked better. The closest I've come to using a type of compost tea is using Kelp or Seaweed Extract and Liquefied Fish Emulsion diluted with water for a tea used for watering newly emerged seedling and again after transplanting them into one gallon containers. But this was limited as they were always soon outplanted. However according to Catherine Crosby, my version of the compost tea still wouldn't qualify as real compost tea because I never left the mixture ferment beyond one hour. True, after mixing I always used the blend immediately. Mostly my purpose was to provide slight nutrient availability to small seedlings while containerized as I though using any type of pellets, crystals  or other was simply too rich a diet for small seedlings and would be nothing more than waste. I must say this practice was always without fail successful for the need intended. But all in all I thought both women who were the presenters of the Webinar did a wonderful job, NEITHER saying anything controversial nor unscientific as the WSU Garden Professor criticism always hyped. Both were very upfront that there really is not a lot of scientific data on compost recipe blends, successes, etc. They both did quite a bit on cautioning people on potential for unhealthful conditions if done wrong [like creating an anaerobic tea. They strongly insisted that no human or other animal waste contaminants be used and that aeration of the mixture was imperative to create an aerobic compost tea as opposed to an anaerobic tea which would smell and probably have the wrong type of microbes present. One of the other interesting things mentioned was that compost tea is being look at as a possible experimental pesticide. Now this was interesting, but let's define pesticide here for a moment. Pesticide could be the elimination of anything that would do harm to a garden, urban landscape or commercial farm for which numerous synthetic chemicals would otherwise be employed like insecticides, fungicides, herbicides etc. Specifically here both woman, but especially Lynne Carpenter-Boggs alluded to the fact of compost tea having a potential for preventative suppression of pathogens, blights and powdery mildews on foliage, but that more experimentation and testing be done for the correct formula.

Again on this association of Compost Tea as being a possible pesticide, I have found several stories around the net about whether or not compost teas will kill bugs. Let's be honest, when the mere mention of the word "pesticide" is always used, the #1 thing that comes to folk's minds are Bugs. Almost no one will consider the full definition range of what the word actually means. I mean there are also blight, mildews, viral infections and other bacteria diseases that should also come to mind, along with unwanted weeds. The term pesticide encompasses all those things. But will compost teas kill bug ??? Absolutely not, unless one fell into a five gallon pail of your compost tea and drowned because it couldn't climb out. Mostly here compost tea is used as a soil and foliage inoculent and that's it. It was interesting to me the other day when someone contacted me and reported that the members/followers over on the Garden Professors Blog's Facebook community pages were discussing once again the controversial Compost Tea Webinar from WSU. Okay, but there was nothing controversial about it. The problem is many of these Garden Professor followers & Garden Rant types they attract like to hunt down and post stuff which may be of a controversial nature just what kind of outraged they can get from one of one of the Garden Professors or fellow sel-proclaimed Master Gardeners. One individual who seems like a nice enough guy, who also patterns his own blog as a fable and myth buster for gardening posted this statement to see how Linda Chalker-Scott would react. 
"I found the following statement very interesting. Why is this true,  "compost tea is considered to be an experimental pesticide" - Robert Pavlis
Well she didn't disappoint. Took everything out of context and in fact didn't think thoroughly about what was actually said [going purely off the vague quote mine mentioned in the Webinar and I suspect that was because she hadn't actually viewed it, before she blurted out:
"Legally there is no such designation. It's not registered anywhere as a pesticide so using that term is not appropriate." - Garden Professor, Linda Chalker-Scott
This was unbelievable. This actually exposes the fact that she didn't actually watch the Webinar before making this comment. Even the quote mined reference should have been a clue they never stated such a thing when all they said was it was being considered as something experimental. Mostly her uninformed response played off her preconceived prejudice and biases against compost teas. No where did EITHER women, Catherine Crosby or Lynne Carpenter-Boggs EVER say compost tea was a registered pesticide let alone a simple natural pesticide. They both emphatically stated  it was being considered as an EXPERIMENTAL Pesticide, which means that someone is probably merely experimenting with various formulations, possibly involving some sort of specific microbes and/or natural extracts to trigger an immune response in plants against pathogens. That's all there was folks, they never even hinted that compost tea should ever be considered a registered pesticide. But it get's even worse, when a member named John A Perazzo asks for clarification on the term pesticide whom I assume think like many others [including Ms Chalker-Scott] that these ladies were talking insect pests.
"Is there another word in English that distinguishes something from chemically killing pests (a pesticide) to say, starving the pests to death?" - John A. Perazzo
So rather than doing her own homework so she could clearly ascertain what both Catherine Crosby and Lynne Carpenter-Boggs actually meant by using the term pesticide, she assumes like everyone else, they are saying compost tea will kill insects.
"Not really, It doesn't matter how the pest dies - it makes the agent a pesticide. (And just to be clear - compost tea has no consistent, demonstrated pesticidal effect.)"        Garden Professor, Linda Chalker-Scott 
Now when Catherine Crosby first made mention of "considered as an experimental pesticide", I instantly knew exactly what she was probably alluding to. In fact later on in the Webinar when Lynne Carpenter-Boggs took over and said basically the same identical thing, but also she further clarified what was meant and it totally confirmed what I already knew. Here is what Lynne Carpenter-Boggs actually said and clarified at the 17:30 mark of that Webinar:
"In the last portion of this talk we'll talk about compost tea as a disease suppressant and some of the research that's been done in this area. And then get into the legality of using compost teas. The first thing I want to say about what Cece mentioned about using compost tea as a disease suppressant or disease control is that this is being considered as an experimental pesticide and that we are NOT recommending the use of compost tea for use as disease control."
 "The one thing we can say about the research out there is that the results are mixed. There are some studies showing that a particular compost teas have suppressed particular diseases and there are a few studies that suggest that compost teas have actually worsened disease. Sometimes we also see enhanced plant growth and the reasons a particular compost tea enhanced plant growth is that they may have contained some nutrients. There are also some studies showing that some compost teas contain plant hormones, so that's another method by which they may be increasing plant growth in some studies. There are some studies which show reduced harvestable yields as well as some studies which show increased harvestable yields. And some studies which show no noticeable effects."
"As Cece mentioned, there are many many kinds of compost teas, there is no single compost tea. So it's not surprising that when studies pop up that will show in compost teas, the results are going to be really different. Then of course every disease is going to have a different life cycle and the teas have been used in somewhat different ways so that it should be a surprise that results are really mixed. There needs to be a lot more work done before any kind of recommendations can be made. So with those caveats there are dozens of studies which showing  that the use of compost tea reduced or controlled certain diseases."  - Lynne Carpenter-Boggs
I'll leave it there as there is so many more incredible things she next talks about as far as from a mechanisms standpoint which I gravitate towards anyway. She actually shows us in the video the exact same slide photo of a fungal species called Trichoderma attacking a pathogen by actually boring holes into it. Just like the one here on the right. Trichoderma is not necessarily as glamorous as other fungi with those wonderfully tasty and beautiful truffles, but rather looks more like the fungal mold in your bathroom build up. I just finished writing about this fungi the other day. (Here)  The reason I am writing about it is because it produces some incredible amazing epigenetic effects depending on the soil environment or ecosystem it is residing in, the different plants etc and all the while triggering on switches to plant genomes to produce chemical immune defense products to ward off pathogens before they arrive. In fact Lynne also names a naturally occurring commercially produced product called Harpin Technology which is a protein in the form of an RNA protein chemical which can be sprayed on the outer surfaces of plant foliage to simulate an attack which triggers the plant's immune system chemical defenses. Here is something further that Lynne Carpenter-Boggs referenced regarding potential for the right formulation of compost tea being utilized as a systemic drench which would act as an systemic acquired resistance inducer for triggering the plant's own immune system response prior to being actually attacked.
"There can also be stimulation of plant responses and we'll go into more detail on this one because it's really interesting. And there also be an interference with the disease life cycle. In some cases for instance we see that diseases need to build up to a high population before they turn to a pathogenic stage of their life cycle and the use of compost teas again partially by means of microbial competition can simply reduce the likelihood that pathogenic population reaches a high level in that life cycle of pathogenic phase. So we'll talk a little bit more on that systemic acquired resistance and compost teas are definitely not the only kind of  material that's being researched and being used to stimulate a systemic acquired resistance in a plant. What this is like is a sort of "plant vaccination" and you're stimulating a plant response prior to a pathogen attack. Now plants can make and use a number of defense compounds to protect the cell wall or to  break down the pathogen. We can look at what happens in the plant apply an inducer material which in some cases might be a compost tea, but also there are commercial products like Harpins that can induce this response."

This was awesome that she referenced commercially available Harpin products. I first stumbled upon the Harpin Protein Technology when I purchased my mycorrhizal inoculation products from Plant Health Care Inc (PHC) out of Pennsylvania, if I remember correctly. This Harpin is one of a class of proteins occurring in nature by certain bacterial plant pathogens. Like the epigenetic trigger inducing immune system response effects on a host plant whose root system is colonized with Trichoderma virens which I wrote about the other day (Here: Trichoderma virens systemic inducer) , this Harpin protein can also elicit a complex natural defense mechanism within plants. While most of the conventional pesticides we've all used in the past act directly on the target pest, this Harpin protein when it comes in contact with a plant's foliage, according to the developer of the product, elicits a protective response in the plant to producer it's own defense compounds that makes it resistant to a wide range of fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases. Because the use of Harpin protein has the potential to substantially reduce use of more toxic pesticides, especially fungicides and certain soil fumigants, such as methyl bromide. And I hate methyl bromide as I've written about in the past regarding sterilizing seedling growing media to prevent damping off in regards to emergence of the seedlings who rot at the root collar just at the soil level. (Read Here)

Plant Health Care Inc., (PHC)
In nature, this Harpin protein is produced by an organism called,  Erwinia amylovora, which is the same bacterium that causes the disease fire blight in apples, pears and also several of the native California plants I have used and planted like California Coffeeberry. The commercial production of this Harpin Protein actually comes from a weakened strain of Escherichia coli has been genetically modified to produce Harpin on a commercial scale. Commercially produced Harpin protein is identical to the protein that occurs in nature. E. coli K-12 which is considered to be a non-pathogenic, nutritionally deficient bacterium which is supposedly unable to grow in the environment. Of course we've heard this before, but who knows. This Harpin product is concentrated from the growth medium of the genetically modified E. coli, and the bacterial cells are killed and removed from the marketed product. Again, all it takes is that one rouge bacterium that gets free, so who knows. Plant Health Care Inc was not the original inventor and Patent holder, I believe they purchased this technology from another company (Eden Bioscience Corp) and then started their own commercial production. The product I believe was released back in 2002 as Messenger® by Eden Biosciences. About this 2006 when I moved to Sweden, the folks at  (PHC) were becoming distant and disconnected from their original end user clientele. With the retirement of their chief science officer Dr Donald Marx and later the death of his wife Faye down in Frogmore South Carolina where they use to hold regular workshops teaching landscapers, farmers and others on the microbial world and how it operates and functions and how (PHC) had the products to replicate management of commercial plant operations as a viable ecosystem, but this educational program came to a halt. Finally for me what broke the proverbial camel's back was their agreements with Monsanto in licensing for this generic engineered Harpin technology. There was more focus in doing business with other corporate giants and also becoming a corporate giant themselves where the push and marketing for stock shares was what most of their website was all about. I tried contacting their UK Office for info on obtaining product here in Europe, but the guy I dealt with wasn't overly interested nor helpful in that regard. He promised to send me a product list and pricing but I never received them. The end user landscape division of Retail product sales was sold off to Lebanon Turf , also from Pennsylvania which to this day still sells PHC products. I believe the products are most likely still excellent products, but I simply switched over to Mycorrhizal Applications Inc out of Grant Pass Oregon.

WSU - Lynne Carpenter-Boggs
Here is my point in giving you a bit of history about all of this issue with the mention of "compost tea considered an experimental pesticide" and the Harpin Technology. Clearly in that WSU eXtension Compost Tea Webinar, both Grad Student, Catherine Crosby and soils microbiologist, Lynne Carpenter-Boggs did indeed mention this briefly a few times, but made sure everyone knew this was considered experimental. There was no dogmatic insistence that it was considered a registered pesticide. That exposes the fact that Linda Chalker-Scott hadn't really watched the Webinar at that time, otherwise there would be no reason to make the accusation. Also the present Lynne Carpenter-Boggs was the one who brought up the Harpin technology by name and the obvious reasons were that proteins manufactured by some bacteria can have a triggering effect in turning on the plant's immune response to contact. If indeed some researcher did one day discover a safe bacteria which could be added to the tea that would elicit such a mild response of plant immune system boosting then so be it. This is why ongoing studies and research for just the correct formulations would indeed be considered experimental, because that is exactly what is going on. 

Interestingly, had Linda Chalker-Scott actually watched this Webinar and heard Lynne's reference to Harpin Technology, she would have instantly known what Lynne was referring to because guess what ? Linda Calker-Scott has in the past several years ago written about this very Harpin Protein, Eden Bioscience and their brand name product Messenger® and did so in the most negative of reviews. Many of the studies she cites date back to the early days, like the one from Cornell University. The problem however is  when I go back to Google those research studies, the dates of the studies are anywhere from 1999-2000 to 2003. It's an entirely new ballgame since 2010 and newer upgraded products by several companies exist today. I'll post her link to this Myth article she has and incredibly although the link shows an update of March 2015, her material used is mostly negative against Eden Bioscience and Messenger® from earlier studies which have nothing to do with today's products. Apparently these products have been successful through improvement. But she hasn't updated at all, so the only myth is an earlier personal biased take on this product and it's claims. Again, the Harpin Technology was purchased by PHC in 2011 and newer upgraded products are AXIOM and other brand names and even the great Monsanto has purchased licensing from PHC to manufacture their own version of Harpin products. This makes sense from a money making standpoint, because when all your other technologies with GMO plants and agro-chemicals have greatly disrupted natural underground microbiological processes, then an artificial means of systemic inducement of plant immune systems makes more financial sense. the bottom line is that there are no science-based or peer-reviewed updates regarding Myths/Facts of Harpin on her site.

Again, neither of those presenter ladies in the Webinar never made such a dogmatic statement that compost tea is an official pesticide. Once again for clarity, this is why firmly stating that compost tea was being only considered an experimental pesticide and NOT a registered pesticide as Linda Chalker-Scott in ignorance posted in response on her own forum. It is clear to me that these Garden Professors didn't exactly listen and /or pay close attention to the entire Webinar if at all at the time it was released. Their ranting followers have much of the same selective reading quote mining and comprehension problem as well. Many of them even have their own websites dedicated with nothing more than garden ranting about landscaping myths and/or fables and championing themselves as professional debunkers.

Cece Crosby
One of the disappointing comments was where someone questioned how really scientifically qualified the presenters really were. The qualifications of Catherine (Cece) Crosby were brought up because she is only a Grad Student. Seriously, so what ??? They both did a very professional job in educating the public on things they may have never considered and the real unprofessional conduct came from those who have previous bias and prejudice against compost tea, selective quote mining and a sort of mystic ability to read between the lines. Funny, you know, anytime I ever tried reading into a text between the lines, all I ever found was empty space. Look, I'm also not overly interested in compost tea as a foliar spray or possible pest control. That doesn't mean it couldn't work given the correct formulation and handling of how it was made. I believe, like some of the things these Garden Professors stated, about letting compost do it's job under trees and shrubs when every time it rains a new weak batch of teas are produced for the benefit of the plant. Now that make work wonderful in wetter Washington or Canada, but what about the southwest where far less rain falls ??? However, I have no problem if someone wishes to do these things. In fact I am very impressed with Harvard Yard's professional and successful use of compost teas on their lawns. The lawns and soils vastly improved and for me as a former landscape head gardener with a commercial property management company who actually hated lawns, I love the fact that Harvard Yard's non-chemical (synthetics for those who love definition shell games) methods kept the grass greener and made it grow slower. That translates as less mowing and dealing with waste and far less money being put out for massive amounts of chemical inputs. 

photo: Getty Images
The Garden Ranters set out to paint a unfair picture of people who chose to take a holistic approach as mad citizen-scientists working behind the scenes in one of their own bathtub operations or new-agey Luddites promoting Voodoo science for profit. I find many of their rants as nothing more than time wasting nonsense created to entertain an elite few within a certain specific cultural setting who have little else to occupy their time for the benefit of others. So the question now is, "How can the average person really know for a certainty just what is the right way to design, create, install and maintain your garden, landscape or even commercial Farming operation successfully and free oneself from the shackles of corporate agro-chemical recommendations ? First of all, it is absolutely NOT necessary for you to study and compare every so-called myth or fable advertised and promoted out there [this even includes many of the heavily advertised science-based & peer-reviewed hype by Industrial Science business interests] or even weeding through the plethora of self-help book teachings of all the many Garden/Landscape Gurus out there. You need only learn about whole complete natural plant community ecosystems and how really function and maintain themselves. Very few people do this anymore and this includes numerous scientists stuck in a Lab away from the real life outdoors. This also requires the average person getting themselves outdoors which is imperative. It's not enough to read the popular books [even scientific textbooks] which exclaim how they have the peer-review, science-based and settled consensus science to back them up. You may find that such recommended techniques will probably need specific tailoring to your own specific region. Look for healthy viable horticultural practices that biomimic or replicate how nature actually functions and operates out in the field. So again, you don't have to read and study every popular garden fad that makes the internet rounds. So then now what ???

To illustrate: In many lands, there is a problem with counterfeit money. If you wanted to pursue a career as a professional whose job it is to expose what really was false counterfeit money, what do you think would be the correct way you should go about it ? Would it really be necessary memorize every single kind of counterfeit money [garden myth, fable] that has ever been produced ? No. Your time would be better spent if you studied what real money actually looks like in great detail. Perhaps after you knew what real money looked like, you could then be in an educated position to recognize and identify what a true counterfeit looks like. Similarly, when you learn how to identify how whole natural plant ecosystems really work and function, then you will easily  recognize which  advertised horticultural practices [science-based or otherwise] that are the true myths and fables without all the wasted time of proving the claims wrong. It's also not necessary to be insulting or employ derogatory name calling by insulting others with labels like "pseudo-science", "anti-science", "practicing Voodoo Science" or calling others Luddites just because they do something different than you. Just leave others alone and offer the sounds advice you know for a fact that works.

In our world it seems that negativity sells. News Reports daily are loaded with negativity because for whatever reasons the average person today seems to gravitate towards that type of reading content. If a media outlet posted only positive news, they wouldn't get that large target readership needed and low ratings translates as no advertisers which means no money. I can even admit myself that when I do an article on some injustice or irresponsible practice of some corporate methods hurting the environment, I get more reads than if I write about beneficial plant findings or landscape tips. As a prime recent example, I wrote about an amazing plant which most people in Southern California demonize as of little worth. It is viewed as dull, mundane, a rangy chaparral plant of no real value other than control burning and yet it is one of the most abundant chaparral plants. The plant is Ademostoma fasciculatum otherwise known by common names of Chamise or Greasewood. This plant has incredible physical characteristics at preventing of erosion, it will grow in many places other plants will not or cannot grow and is an excellent forest "nurse plant" which facilitates plant community succession. I wrote that over two month ago and have 131 reads. And yet, I just a few weeks ago wrote about the negative attitudes of these garden professors against the people who run and maintain Harvard Yard's landscaping about a few weeks back and have over 500+ reads. Here is the point, whatever is insisted upon as fact for no other reason than it is labeled as "science-based" and/or "peer-reviewed" can itself actually be in reality factoidal. So when it comes to garden, landscaping and/or farming practices and advice, then test it out for yourselves people and do this by making comparisons on how nature really works as opposed to industrial scientific shortcuts design for cash lining the pockets of an elite few with an attitude.
I'll post some reference links as promised and you can make up your own minds. Also, here is my previous post about the Garden Professor's unfair and derogatory insulting name calling rant  against the professional landscapers in charge of Harvard Yard's Soil Project who have 80+ acres to maintain at Harvard University:
The Arrogance and the Ecstasy: The difference between Good Science & Bad Science when it comes to Soil Health
"This assumption [that scientific institutions have a peculiar epistemic reliability] is at best na├»ve and at worst dangerous. If any human institution is held to be exempt from the petty, self-serving, and corrupting motivations that plague us all, the result will almost inevitably be the creation of a priestly caste demanding adulation and required to answer to no one but itself. 
— Austin L. Hughes, The New Atlantis, Fall 2012
Now to be completely honest & fair, as I've stated, I do believe in many of the things said by Linda Chalker-Scott and the practices she suggests. But the Blog and Garden Professors Forum have just gotten out of control with pouncing on every little burp or hiccup that is perceived as an imaginary  flaw or mistake.
 Here is something she wrote that I do like [well 90%] about Mycorrhizae. It fits in with most things I have observed and even read about. The main disagreement I have is she is one of these "You never need to inoculate the soils because the fungi are just out there in the soils". WRONG, conventionally maintained agricultural soils which have for decades followed the industrial dogma are virtually devoid of the healthy organisms that benefit soil building qualities. Same with urban landscapes where again, people have maintained their landscapes/gardens using the same failed synthetics as commercial farms. And this is especially true where new housing development has property pads created from sterile sub-soils, often made of nothing but decomposed granite with zero organic matter. So here is a link she provides which I mostly do like.
MYCORRHIZAE: So, what the heck are they, anyway? 
Garden Professor Myth and Fable Links:
The Myth of the Magic Bullet (Harpin - old & outdated but still pimped)
Plant Health Care Inc and Lebanon Turf
Some viable alternatives to using genetically engineered Harpin Proteins - In the USA the Knotweed extract product is marketed under the name Regalia®
Marrone Bioinnovations: "Regalia" (USA brands)
Marrone Bioinnovations: "Regalia RX" (USA brands)
Over here in Europe, the Knotweed extract product is marketed under the name Milsana®

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