Brewing actively aerated microbial teas can be the single best activity a cannabis cultivator can participate in. Every stage of plant growth, perhaps aside from the end of bloom, can benefit from a microbial tea, assuming the tea has the correct ingredients to promote the specific stage of growth it is in. This first part of the tea brewing series will detail what the benefits of a microbe tea are, how to make a tea brewer, and what goes in a tea.
The benefits of teas are wide ranging. When applied to living soil, it replenishes the nutrients the plant consumes, keeping it fertile for weeks on end, as well as aiding in the digestion of the organic inputs already present. When added to a hydroponic reservoir a day or two before it is time to change the nutrient solution completely, it can prevent pythium from rotting the roots by digesting the pathogen and mitigating some of the salts of the synthetic nutrients. Cannabis foliage flourishes when sprayed with a living tea, growing more resistant to pests and pathogens as microbes cover the outer surface of the leaves as well as inside the plant tissue.
To brew a tea, first the apparatus must be constructed. The simplest tea brewer to assemble is a 5 gallon bucket, an air pump, air tubing, an air stone, and some pantyhose. Purified water is aerated in the bucket using the air pump/tubing/stone device. Purified water must be used so no chemicals kill the microbes. The pantyhose is used to hold the dry organic ingredients, much like a tea bag holds tea leaves. As the solution is aerated with the pump, the solution is oxygenated and the dry organic ingredients dissolve and separate in the solution.
Another brewing apparatus that is becoming more popular is the vortex tea brewer. Vortex brewers don’t use air stones, but rather they rapidly circulate the solution moving it from the bottom of the brewer down a series of PVC tubes and then back to the top. The benefit of a vortex tea brewer is that particulates are never able to settle at the bottom of the brewer, potentially creating an anaerobic pocket.
Many organic and even some inorganic inputs make great tea ingredients, however all teas have three (3) essential components: a ‘base’, a sugar source, and an inoculant. Which ones are appropriate to use depends on which stage of growth the plant is in.
The ‘base’ of a tea is the dry organic foundation inputs that are placed in the tea bag. This foundation is digested by the enzymes the microbes create, and give them surface area to work off of. Common base ingredients include bat/bird guano, kelp, fish/fish bone meal, worm castings, compost, mineral supplements, humic acid, and alfalfa meal, although many other ingredients work wonderfully. It is best to use a variety of ingredients, with about one cup of total base per 5 gallons of tea. Use guano and kelp sparingly as they are very high in salt, which can accumulate, killing microbes and blocking nutrient uptake.
The sugar source of a tea feeds the microbes, allowing them to multiply at a ferocious pace. Dry molasses is a preferred source, since it is a large and complex sugar which takes the microbes a fair amount of time to consume. Also worth consideration are plants that are high in sugar, such as sugar beets and sweet potatoes. Simple sugars are expensive and consumed too quickly in an actively aerated tea.
Inoculants are microbe sources that are used to establish the initial microbe colonies in a tea. Many sources and products can be used to inoculate a tea, including homemade compost. Well-matured compost is filled with all types of microbes that can thrive in a tea, multiplying exponentially if the environment is favorable. However, if compost is unavailable, numerous products from your local hydroponics store work perfectly, including Great White® and Voodoo Juice®. Some may argue that these products are expensive, but only a little is needed to brew a tea, and tea brewing effectively multiplies the product well beyond its original volume/concentration.
A wide variety of microbes are beneficial to cannabis plants, both at the root zone (rhizosphere) and on the foliage. Bacteria, protozoa and fungi can all be made by brewing teas. Which microbes are made in a tea depends on a number of factors, which will be detailed in the second part of the tea brewing series. Stay tuned!