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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
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 Leafs
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.

Comparison of Batchelder / Comstock's results with those of David Johnson and others (from David Johnson): "Matt, yours looks pretty good with the Tombull compost having the best counts of the two. Your bacterial counts were 15-20 microbes/0.25 nanoliter and good fungal biomass with ~ 8-9 spores per 4 nanoliters). The San Antonio had ~10 bacteria/0.25 nL 12-15 spores/4 nl and good fungal biomass. My compost measured 150-200 -microbes/0.25 nanoliters and higher spore counts ~30-." All of these are at the same dilution rates….

Microscope slide of the results from Tombull

Microscope slide of BEAM from Tombull Bioreactor

Microscope slide from San Antonio bioreactor

Microscope slide of BEAM from San Antonio Bioreactor

Microscope slide from David Johnson's work

Microscope slide of BEAM from Dr. David Johnson's BEAM for comparison


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.

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%.

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.
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!