Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems

Bioreactor Registry Additional Participant Comments

Some participants in the Registry are doing multiple experiments. Others shared materials and comments longer than anticipated. You can read more of what they shared here.

Anchorage Farm

These [results] are very encouraging to beginners like me. Why this project worked out so well is hard to say. There are several variables including the makeup of what was put in, the setup of the bioreactor, its position re sun and shade, bioregion, watering method. What really counts is that this was a static preparation, aerated only by  the channels  formed by the PVC pipes that had been pulled out. Some people are skeptical that static can work. This shows it can. Test results. (PDF)

July 2020

We recently began making compost tea from the product of our JSB, using brewing equipment (aerator and pump) bought from Earthfor(opens in new window)t in Corvallis OR. Attached is the report on a recent batch (PDF). The tea brews 0.5 lb moist JSB compost in 5 gallons of water for 24 hours.
I have no experience at all with teas, but got good tips from Matt Slaughter at Earthfort. He says that  interpreting results on teas is very different from doing it on solids, because everything is very  diluted and some of the fungal and bacterial species did not make it through the brewing. For instance, the F:B ratio means very little with a tea. Matt did say ours is a very good tea, five to ten gallons of which, diluted with 4 parts water to 1 of tea that and sprayed on is a good treatment for an acre of cropland. 
The first batch of tea we made had much lower active fungi, 0.91 mcg/ml instead of 3.11. This had been made without pre-treating the solid with an activator called Soil Revive sold by Earthfort. It was a false economy not to start right off with Soil Revive. Other soil health labs undoubtedly offer something like this.
It's still too soon to see the effects of either solid JSB product or compost tea on garden and pasture, but I wanted to pass on my experience with making compost tea. If one plans to treat many acres of soil and has only  a few hundred pounds of compost, a tea is the only way to go.
Bart's Project

1) integrating "luzerne" (alfalfa) as material in the BEAM compost next time : luzerne has very interesting properties, also stimulating fungal growth (mycorrhizae symbiose), as I recall (see : (PDF))

2) In the period between now and end of October : to make extract from "bedding of old forest" (indigenous micro-organism) , to make extract out of it and "provide this as liquid to the BEAM compost pile (as it need to be watered frequently to maintain it moist, so integrating this in the overall watering requirement). 

Objective : trying to speed up the process of break down (as I have used almost only carbon material, too few nitrogen, what resulted in "no heating phase), and by extract based on old forest bedding contributing to higher "biodiversity" in the BEAM.

I am planning to sample my Su-composting end of octobre.
I am planning to start a new fill of Su composting later this year : 
This time I like to do it a bit different : 
1) Wood chips and Leaves
2) manure (organic farmer, free of parasite)
3) inoculate (with existing SU compost)
4) NEW : Dried Lucerne (protein source and seems be be loved by protozoa, besides other values Lucerne (alfalfa) is bringing.
Bart has sent us some beautifully done Powerpoint presentations detailing his process and results:

Materials used to make BEAM and in what ratio: Have modified the first two bins to a flow through design, add new material to the top pretty much monthly, harvest matured material from an access point at base now that we are over 12months. Probably only top up 15 to 30cm at a refill, and different material every time, mostly leaves, some aged wood chips already fungal, some aged grass cuttings, some household food scraps covered by leaves, and some sawdust with added lipids. 3rd Bin isn’t 12months yet, haven’t topped up, and was 1/3 third grass cuttings, 2/3rds sawdust. Lipids and extracted plant growth hormone were also added as have found with other experiments that these speed up fungal growth and may temporarily assist mycorrhizal growth. This bin did stay on the warm side for a bit longer initially.

Freeman Project

The reactor is the standard size of 5' x 4'. (Ran out of leaves at the 4'5" mark on the reactor) The contents of the reactor are; 80% Dry Pecan leaves 15% Dry Oak leaves 5% Dry Sycamore leaves Bioreactor Core Temp(degrees F): Day0=72(ambient), Day1=82, Day2=104, Day3=114, Day4=105 (will add 1000 worms at 80 degree mark) Water: We live in a residential neighborhood and have treated city water. However, we catch rain in 300 gal tanks and have only used this during reactor prep and daily watering. Inoculant: We used a total of approximately 2 cups Johnson-Su bioreactor inoculant from a 12-month finished reactor at City Farm in San Luis Obispo, in the leaf bath containing some of our own cured compost, prior to loading it to the reactor

Other: We put it inside our fence up against the sidewalk. People love to ask what it is and we love to tell them. We have created a 12-inch square QR code on the side of a large Bioreactor sign that takes them to a Johnson-Su information video :-) Acknowledgments: David Johnson and Hui-Chun Su Johnson for opening our eyes to the importance of healthy soil; Timothy LaSalle for his patience and kindness in answering numerous questions; Shane at City Farm for sharing some of the BEAM inoculant with us; Our family and friends who allowed us to rake up the leaves in their yard and joyfully cart them away for free.

We live on 1/8 acre. Packed with organic fruit trees, vegetables and flowers. We will keep for ourselves a small amount for use over the following year while the next bioreactor is curing. All the remainder will be given away (with knowledge) to those who will introduce it properly to the soil.

their bioreactor and QR code

Their water system and view of the inside of the bioreactor

JBarT Ranch

20-25” annual rainfall

their bioreactor

Puma Springs Vineyards

In the first year, there was no real discernible difference in seed set for a new flower crop. In the second year, flower germination was improved. Results are inconclusive due to nature of application here but we continue to use the bioreactor compost by mixing into our imported compost each year.

In the second year, we installed a second Bioreactor with a modified design- a horseshoe shape, to increase ease of loading and unloading. Our framing for the Bioreactor uses a combination of rigid hardware panel (16 foot length, 4" squares, 53" height) The horseshoe , at its open end, is closed by adding a series of tree stake posts (horizontal) through the 4" squares and attaching landscape fabric in front to hold back compost material. This design switch increased our capacity (final yield) and reduced our loading and unloading time by 60%.

Round The Bend Farm

Detailed description of process and observations: 

Modified Pallet to a full 48” x48” long. Used 9 gage wire and gorilla tape in place of rebar to make pipe holder for the ventilation pipes. Start to fill June 14, 2021 with mixture of 70 % mature (has seed head but still with green leaves) orchard grass, quackgrass, bedstraw, and 30 % same species but not yet headed out. Mowed first with a bush hog and then a lawn mower to chop up the grass. Also added i noculant material of 3 gallons each of forest soil, lawn soil, old leaf compost, and wood chips. Soaked materials in 1/4 Cu Yd front end loader and lifted this to scaffold and placed material with a silage fork. Added 1 qt of each inoculant for each 6-inch lift. Bioreactor settled 1 ft overnight. Continued filling to top on June 15. Pulled pipes out 3 ft, so lower area does not go anaerobic. Bioreactor settled another 1 ft overnight. Filled cage to top on June 16. Pulled pipes all the way out on June 17. Bioreactor has a sickenly sweet smell. Water as needed to get material so that a handful squeezed easily dips water and water also drips off hand easily. 

June 24 – See white mold 4 inches below top of pile. 

July 1 - Hottest pile ever got was 122 deg. F. 15 inches below top of pile. Tough to get compost thermometer through fibrous grass stalks.

July 6 - Pile has lots of mushrooms.

By July 16, 2021, temperature has dropped to 80 deg F. Pile has sunk to about 2.5 ft high from its original 5 ft height. Red wigglers arrived July 19 and will be rehydrated in a 5-gal bucket of leaves and newspaper. Expect wigglers to be added to bioreactor on July 20, 2021.

Test results are in and look great! I should mentioned though that while my biology is looking great resultwise, the consistency is quite different to that of David's from what I've seen. It isn't like clay at all, still a lot of woody material in it.  I'm wondering if there is a correlation between very high healthy biology and the amount of woody material still present.
Undo Climate Change LLC

Rob Weiman and his latest bioreactor (4/22/2021)

Rob Weiman and his latest bioreactor

Wright's Farm

Failure is Just a Learning Curve

I did not send any samples out for analysis, I really did not have to. Is my Johnson-Su teaming with biology? Probably, but it did not winter as one would hope. The army of worms I expected to see in the shovel full of dirt just didn’t materialize. There are many reasons one could theorize as to why my worms became the Donner Party. Lessons were learned though, changes will be made, and another Johnson-Su will be built.

Montana’s winter this year was not super cold but seemed forever long. We survived seven months of snow starting in September. I think that the late release of my worms led to their lack of propagation. The early cold froze the ground quickly. Well ventilated, moist dirt, suspended roughly 4” off the ground froze even faster. I would venture this is the cause for the extinction of a pound of red wigglers.

Besides the fall of inclement weather, my Johnson-Su was started un-seasonably late in the year. This late start pushed my worm release back. These are the largest factors of an incomplete product. Though the product was “composted” to some degree it was by no means the targeted end-product. While the end of this adventure did not lead to black garden gold, it was able to teach many lessons.

I was short roughly five yards of fill dirt to top dress my yard—well, I can tell you an incomplete attempt has caused 3500 sq. ft. of sod to strive. The material I used to line my container was the wrong choice, while it allowed the transfer of and release of water just fine, it was absolute misery to deal with when trying to gather material. So, in the end I did not get the product that I was trying to, but I did learn some valuable knowledge along the way.

The material you choose to line your container is important, cheap weed fabric was not the best choice. Start early, a Montana winter is unpredictable, so the earlier in the year the better. Worms are tough but without a proper amount of time and good conditions, even they will become extinct. My temperatures were pretty constant but once a good wind caused viable circulation, I lost heat rapidly, so this year I am going to “tarp” my load and hopefully that will insulate the project.

All in all, I failed at turning out a good Johnson-Su compost but learned a lot along the way. This year we will adjust our methods and change some strategies. We are going to use the same composition with manure from the same farm and a fresh lot of worms from the same distributor. While some would chalk this up as a failure, I like to remind my team (wife and kids) that this was a huge success. As a team we enjoyed the experience, we used the product, and found some kinks in our process. This Failure is just a learning curve towards our success!