“What we’re doing is reinoculating the soil. We’ve killed off a lot of the soil organisms with tillage, heavy chemical use, single cropping and by leaving it fallow. Basically we’re putting a huge microbiome back out there for them to reproduce.”
— Ryan Gibbs, Hopkinton, Iowa, No-Tiller & Owner of Gibbsfield Ag
Ryan Gibbs, an Iowa no-tiller and the owner of Gibbsfield Ag, makes and sells vermicompost extract to improve the health of his no-till soils. The liquid product is applied to his corn fields and has allowed him to cut back on nitrogen.
In today’s episode of the podcast, brought to you by SOURCE®️ by Sound Agriculture, Gibbs introduces his method of making vermicompost extract, its benefits and how he applies the product at field scale.
- [Video] Making Compost Extract for Commercial Farming
- [Video] How No-Till Corn Responds to Vermicompost Extract
- No-Till & Cover Crops Paying Off in Drought Conditions
No-Till Farmer podcast series is brought to you by SOURCE®️ by Sound Agriculture.
Welcome to a better SOURCE of fertilizer. SOURCE from Sound Agriculture unlocks more of the nutrients already in your fields, so you can add less fertilizer while getting the yield you’re counting on. By activating soil microbes, SOURCE provides more of the existing nitrogen and phosphorus to your crops. It’s such a solid backup plan, you’ll probably find yourself wondering why SOURCE wasn’t the plan all along. Learn more at www.sound.ag.
Full TranscriptMIchaela Paukner:
Welcome to the No-Till Farmer Podcast, brought to you by Source, by Sound Agriculture. I'm Michaela Paukner, managing editor at No-Till Farmer. In today's episode of the podcast, Ryan Gibbs, an Iowa no-tiller and the owner of Gibbsfield Ag, introduces his method of baking vermicompost extract, its benefits, and how he applies the product at field scale.Ryan Gibbs:
We make a compost extract. So I don't know how familiar you are with that, but compost extract, basically we're taking worm casting and biodegraded material that's aerobic, and we're turning it into a liquid product to put on our crops. We do Johnson-Su compost, and then we also buy vermicast compost from Dan Rasure with Fed N Happy. He's got a really good product we tried this year and it's really affordable, really, really good quality product. So here's what we're making, and then what we'll do is we'll take this, this is a year long process to make a Johnson-Su. It's actually easier if I dump these out and then I shovel them in there and then we screen it.
So this is the final product, which is a rich, earthy material full of microbes. There's more organisms in one tablespoon of this than there is humans, life on earth. We can look under a microscope and find fungal hyphae and bacteria and all the good stuff, protozoa, nematodes, all the goodies on that. So what we do is we'll put it into this machine here, which it's a auger, and then on the outside of the auger is a screen, and then this water hooks up and it shoots water through the center of that auger and there's jets, and it basically cleans the compost. So your spent compost comes out there, muddy water comes out there.MIchaela Paukner:
Which one are you then putting on the crops?Ryan Gibbs:
So it's a combination of this, so this is our vermicompost we bought from Dan Rasure with Fed N Happy, so we'll take that and we will scoop it up and put it into that machine and we'll liquefy it and turn it into a liquid product that we can use. So I'll run it through this machine and this tote will be full of muddy looking water. So what we're doing is we're inoculating the soil. So if you go out to the timber and you grab some soil, it's beautiful. It's black, it's lush, got real good smell. Walk 100 feet into a corn field or bean field and the soil's not like that.
We've killed off a lot of them organisms with tillage, heavy chemical use, single cropping, corn, corn, corn, corn or whatever, and also by leaving it fallow. So we plant corn crop and then there's nothing there from November, December, January, February, March, April, there's nothing growing. So what we're doing is we're reintroducing the bacteria, the fungi to that soil that we've killed off with tillage and chemical and stuff like that. So basically, it's like a huge microbiome that we're putting back out there for them to reproduce and flourish, which our crops need those, but we've killed them off. So basically what we're doing is we're taking liquid timber soil and putting it out in our fields.
A lot of this stuff is native, like these wood chips and stuff came from around here. So all this is, is wood chips, straw, alfalfa, and a little bit of livestock manure, and what we did is we mixed all this until it was sopping wet, and there's actually five tubes in here. And then we filled this plump full, and then after 48 hours, we pull them tubes out and it naturally breeds. This one here is over a year old. So what happens is it's a no-stir compost system and it's fungal dominant, which we want more fungi. We're trying to get more fungi out into our fields. So we've always been told fungi is bad, we need to spray fungicide because we got fungus on our plants. Well, when we're spraying a fungicide, we're killing off all of our fungi, not just the bad ones, but the good ones as well.
Well, the good ones keep the bad ones in check, so now we start seeing diseases in some of our crops, because we have a lack of fungi, we have a lack of minerals and stuff in our soils that are causing these plants to not be healthy enough, which allows a host or a fungus to enter that plant. So we're actually putting fungi out there. The thing with a compost extract like this is we make, it has a very short shelf life because this is a living organism. It needs oxygen and it needs food to live, so this isn't something you can just put in a jug and ship it to a farmer and when you plant corn next month, put it on because by then, the organisms in that jug will be dead. It'll just be muddy, stinky water. It should have an earthy smell like this.MIchaela Paukner:
So when you mix up the compost extract, how long does it stay good in that liquid form?Ryan Gibbs:
Right here, making the extract, we're not adding food source with it, we're not adding oxygen and bubbling it because you'll hear people talk about compost teas and they'll be like, "Oh, he's making a compost tea." A compost tea is where you actually brew it and you add food source to it because when I first started this, I got the two mixed up all the time like, "I'm making compost tea," and they're like, "How long are you brewing it?" And I'm like, "I'm just making tea," and they're like, "No, that's an extract." So we're extracting the nutrients off of the compost. Once you make a tea, which is what I also use this tank for, you see up there, I got a big blower?
That's a regenerative blower, and I hook that onto the bottom and I can actually put this compost right here, liquid, pump it into there, and I can run oxygen to it for like 36 hours, throw a little bit of molasses, a little bit of fish, and we will actually brew it, which I've done very few of these because you have to babysit them. You have to monitor them and when they're ready, you have to apply them. You have to apply them and if it rains and you can't apply them for eight hours, you've got a batch of anaerobic stuff that went bad because when you start adding oxygen to it and you throw a food source in it, when you give an organism food and oxygen, what happens? They reproduce and then their offspring reproduce, and those offspring reproduce and those offspring reproduce.
So you go from product that has a fair amount of bacteria and fungi in it to a product that has an unbelievably enormous amount of bacteria and fungi in it, astronomical amounts in tablespoons, it's just so much. And they got a huge benefit because you can fully apply and you're getting 20 times the benefit versus an extract, but there's so many living organisms in that once you brew it for 24 or 36 hours and it reaches a peak, it has to get applied now. You've got hours to apply it before it goes bad because there's so many organisms in there, they will consume food and oxygen so fast that they will actually run out of food and oxygen and then they all die.MIchaela Paukner:
Sure. Yeah. Then what's the point?Ryan Gibbs:
What's the point? Now, an extract like this where we are just extracting it, we're not blowing oxygen in it, we're not throwing molasses and fish and chiton and food sources in there, it's just a worm casting or a vermicompost extract, I have heard of it staying good for as long as 30 days.MIchaela Paukner:
Oh, wow. That's pretty good.Ryan Gibbs:
I typically like to see it used in 48 hours. So I had farmers come to buy it from me, and we make it to order. If you're planting tomorrow morning, you come and get it before you're ready to plant, or if you're planting tomorrow morning, you can come tonight and pick it up. But I like to see it used up within 48 hours because you get the most biological activity in 48 hours. Try to keep it out of the sunlight if you can, or come with a stainless steel tank. Most of the guys that used it this year, they came, they picked it up, they were going straight out to the field to plant. So Zach Wright has told us, and Chris Trump. Chris Trump teaches Korean natural farming, Zach Wright is the owner of Living Soils Compost Lab out in South Dakota, and then Ryan Noss, he has We Grow With company. He sells a fungal product, a fungal spore.
And these guys are really intelligent and they say, "Use your senses when it comes to compost because your senses will tell you what it is." What's it look like? What's it smell like? What's it feel like? And in some cases, what's it taste? Maybe not for compost, you're not going to go licking it, but use your senses to define what something is. Now, you can look at this and you can say, "It looks like woody material, looks decent." You can grab it and you're like, "Well, it's got some moisture in it. I like texture of it." Biggest thing I look at is the smell. You smell this and it smells like beautiful timber soil.
That tells me that it's aerobic, which is getting aired through it, it's got living organisms in it and it's healthy. There's a lot of good organisms in it. So if it stinks, if it's real mushy, if I squeeze it and there's juice coming out between my fingers, probably has an odd smell, might be gnats flying around here, that would aerobic, so oxygen can't get through it and very well and make the organisms live. So what you got there is a lot of bad bacterias and probably no fungi. So with this, what we'll do is after four months or so, we will add earthworms to it. Red wigglers, you can see there's one there. Well, that's an earthworm. That's not a red wiggler, that's an earthworm.MIchaela Paukner:
So that one just popped up in there?Ryan Gibbs:
Yep. Well, we put them in there, but this we do not put in there. I don't know how he got there. A centipede. It's amazing, you'll have centipedes and stuff in here, it's like I never added centipedes to this. Somehow nature, they came in here somehow because I didn't put that in there.MIchaela Paukner:
Right. And they [inaudible 00:09:53].Ryan Gibbs:
But they help decompose this as well. And we'll take this, turn it into that, liquefy it, and then we'll reinoculate our soils with it. So that's where there's a lot of biological products on the market, and it's a multi-billion dollar business right now and a lot of these products, if you look at them, they are just a couple strains of bacteria. There is not a product out there that you can buy in a jug that I know of that is a fungal hyphae living organism in a jug, because they cannot survive very long in a jug. They need oxygen, they need food. So the only person I know who's made a product similar to that is Ryan Noss. So here's a few more of them. This is the oldest one that I made. I'm in the process of using it, but this is the oldest one I made, and then here's another one. I got basically three different ways of making them. I like the tote bag the best, just because it breathes. This doesn't allow air in the sides as well, but it still makes a really good quality product.MIchaela Paukner:
Are you letting it age for a certain amount?Ryan Gibbs:
12 months.MIchaela Paukner:
12 months, okay.Ryan Gibbs:
We add the earthworms after. So this no-stir compost system called the Johnson-Su Bioreactors, we will mix all the product together, the wood chips, a little bit of livestock manure, straw, alfalfa, hay, whatever, mix it all together, get it really good and wet, fill these, literally plump full. After 48 hours, we'll pull the tubes out and there'll be holes in here, and then it'll heat up to 140 to 160 degrees and then it'll cool down. And once it gets below 80 degrees, then we throw a couple handfuls of red wiggler worms in, and then from there, it just breaks down. We water it every day, we'll just sprinkle a little bit of water on it, and after 12 months you've got a fungal dominant system. One of these will produce about 500 acres worth of product, give or take. It depends on the rate and stuff.
I'm screening this, so I'm not getting quite as much out of these totes as what you typically would if you were using the wood chips and everything and running it through a machine, so I'm probably getting like 250 to 300 acres out of a tote. I've got these three and I've got three more in the barn, and then my neighbor, actually, we made 10 of them for next year because you got to make them a whole year ahead of time. But what I like is this is extremely fungal dominant, and the worm castings are not really fungal dominant, but they got other bacterias and fungis in them. So I feel if we can get a combination of both, we can get a lot of good biology together out there.
So last year, putting it on our crops, I left check strips in every field. Crops coming up, above ground you would never notice a difference. Crops look the same. But once we dug below ground, the root structure was almost twice as good where we put this versus nothing. And when it came to harvest, it was anywhere from four to 17 bushel better yield depending, corn, beans. Lighter ground, sandier, rocky ground, really big yield benefit from this. Really good fertility ground, black dirt, I've got livestock manure on almost everything but really good high fertility ground, we didn't see as big of a yield benefit from it, but what we did see was a plant health benefit from it. We had very minimal disease on everything, little to no disease on everything, which was great because the big talk is tar spot. "Oh my God, we got tar spot."
Everybody's got tar spot. Everybody's got to spray fungicide at least once or twice or three times or however many times, because we got tar spot. Well, tar spot is a direct correlation to a copper, zinc and manganese deficiency within a plant. It's been proven. I've got a book with research showing why we have tar spot, and the point of putting this biology out there is we've got all those micronutrients and minerals in our soils already, but they're not available to the plant. Well, why are they not available? It's because our biology in the soil is so messed up, it won't release them products and them minerals. So by putting this out there, it's working with the biology in the soil to help release nutrients within the soil naturally, because these trees and plants out in the timber, they don't get fertilized.
They don't have disease. You don't see all them horse weeds in the timber with tar spot on them, so why is it that we don't have that issue in a timber, in an environment like that, but we have it in our crop fields? It's because the biology and our minerals and everything is so messed up. That's our whole point, is trying to get the biology back out there and let it reproduce and flourish and become better, and hopefully build our soils up faster than just using a cover crop to try to grow carbon and make the soil healthier, but also adding the biology to ramp it up and speed up the process. We can destroy it so fast, but it takes years to build it back, if you get where I'm going with it.MIchaela Paukner:
Yeah, for sure. And so are you putting this on every acre?Ryan Gibbs:
Yes. Yep. So I learned about this, I went to a field day about two and a half, three years ago, and Kyle Schnell had a field day with Practical Farmers of Iowa, and it was on relay cropping and basically making Johnson-Su making composts and stuff. And he had Chris Trump there from Hawaii who talked about Korean natural farming and making your own fungi and making your own fertilizer, basically. I left that field day like, "Wow. I did not realize that you could make your own fertilizer," which technically it's not fertilizer, it's soil amendment product, but you can make your own biology to replace fertilizer because we've got lots of fertility out there, it's just not available because our biology is so messed up in our soil. And I'd never heard of this. This was completely new to me, and I drove home three hours with the radio off, just trying to consume everything that I had learned that day. I went there to learn about relay cropping and I left learning about this.
And so I kept in contact with Kyle, and he's a really good friend of mine now. We talk a couple times a week, sometimes daily, and we got a network of us farmers who are all crazy farmers doing this stuff that people think we're crazy, but it's great because now we have a network of us. There's me and there's Kyle and there's Michael Vittetoe, and we've got some guys out in Kansas that are doing this, Nebraska. It's not just Iowa, it's nationwide. And we're talking to each other like, "Hey, how are you doing this? What food sources are you adding for this? How are you feeding this?" Instead of being alone at this, we got a whole network of us. And so this is step one. We make the compost, we make the extract, but now that we have the biology, let's put some food sources in there to feed them.
So we use food sources such as I use a little bit of molasses or brown sugar to feed bacteria. I use fish hydrolysate to feed the fungi. So we'll put a little bit of food source in there, so not only do we have an extract, but we have food for them to consume, and then we'll put that in-furrow or foliar or feed it or whatever. So anybody starting out with this, it's like just start simple. Just make a compost extract. If you don't want to make the compost, you can purchase it. There's places out there. I'd put a word in for Dan Rasure with Fed N Happy. He's got a really good product. It's really affordable, customer service is great. He's got everything there, great product. He genuinely caress about what he makes and what the farmers are using and how they're using it. And it's so affordable, a guy can barely make it for what he sells it for. It's like dang, for the amount what you're getting from him, it's like you can't mess around making it hardly.MIchaela Paukner:
Yeah, right.Ryan Gibbs:
He's got an awesome product that's got 4% mycchorizal fungi in it, which is the most important fungi that you can have, is mycchorizal fungi. It is the one that helps with the growth and everything. It's kind of hard to explain, there's so much to it, but mycchorizal fungi is your most important one for plant and root growth, development, all that. And so his worm casting has some in it. He's had tests done and it's got some in it, but a farmer can buy some of this and just have a setup, like a tank. If they got a tank on the farm, they can have a tank and just a filter and just do it by hand and wash it if they're doing 50 acres or 100 acres.
If you start scaling up, this year we did it on over 1,000 acres, and that's just like planting. We'll come back and do foliar on well over half of that. So step one is kind of like when it comes to planting, we put it in-furrow right into the soil. It's got a home, it's got food sources, it can just take off from there. So that's step one, and then we can come back and do foliar applications with it too. So if you go to these fruit vineyards or fruit orchards and vineyards and stuff, they found that spraying a worm casting or a Johnson-Su extract on the plants at night before a freeze, it will protect that plant so it won't freeze, down to, don't quote me on the temperature, you'd have to look it up, but I believe it's like 26 degrees or something, or 25 or something.
So typically, a fruit plant would get frosted at 30 degrees. Well, by spraying a vermicompost, that bacteria and fungi protects that leaf and will protect it from getting frosted or frost bit all the way down another 10 degrees below that. And so that's one of the benefits that the vineyards and the orchards and stuff are finding from using it, but adding it throughout the season, you're just putting more biology out there and helping the plant. So if a plant can pull up biology, it's going to be more resistant to disease and bugs and stuff, and so it's just a really good thing, it's super affordable. What I like about it is it's safe to handle. Kendrick can be down here in his flip flops, helping me with this. You don't have to wear rubber gloves, it's not toxic. If anything, it's good getting dirt in your hands.MIchaela Paukner:
Exactly. It's natural.Ryan Gibbs:
It's like, you know what? Our soil is a living organism and the plants we are putting in there and spraying our living organism, so why are we spraying toxic shit on them? Fertilizers have their place, and definitely, we're slowly cutting back on our fertilizer usage. Like we went away from in-furrow starter. Well, that's really high salt, so it'll actually hinder some of the growth of seeds. It'll help it grow, but high salt on that seed can actually hurt germination a little bit. This has no salt on it. It's just like water and organisms out there, so you have no seed burn. That's one thing we noticed right away. But too much salts in your soil start tying up nutrients, so we went away from starters. We dribble nitrogen and thiazole and zinc behind the planter, but we put humic acid with it. So humic will actually neutralize the salts in your fertilizer. Humic acid is humate, so this actually comes from the earth.
When they're doing digging coal and shale, oil, this is the layer above it. It's the black material above it, and here, I've actually got some granular stuff right over here. That is a really fine water soluble powder, so it's humic and fulvic acid. What they do is they actually grind this really fine and they run it through a cooking process, and then it allows it to be water soluble so that I just mix with water and it's water soluble, but you can actually spread this on your land. It's organic matter, is all it is. You can eat it. If you go like this enough, it just kind of falls apart. It's just a soft product, but it's organic matter is what it is. Humic, fulvic acid, it's all natural. This actually comes from Canada.
So it's basically 100 million years of fossilized dead plants smashed altogether, they mine it out. It's organic matter. It's good for your soil, it's good for your health. They actually feed this to animals in some cases, and I actually feed choice a little bit of it to mine. And so what it does is humic and fulvic bind to heavy metals in your body and flush them out. It cleanses you. So like chemotherapy, in the chemo, there's actually fulvic acid in chemo because fulvic acid moves a product into the cell. So they got the chemo and they inject it into you for cancer, and that fulvic acid actually moves that chemo into the cell of the tumor or the cancer to get the product into it.
We use fulvic acid when we're spraying compost extract and stuff because it penetrates the cell wall of the plant and gets the nutrients or the biology into the plant. It's crazy, I just learned about that this last year. And fulvic acid, you can handle it with your hands, you can smell it. It doesn't have a smell. It comes from the earth, but it's such a small organism that I don't think the state of California even recognizes it as anything because it's such a small, tiny organism. But that stuff there has got a little bit of fulvic in it and humic, and it's all natural. Comes from the earth, it's safe to eat. There's actually supplements that are humate and humic supplements you can take to help cleanse your body, kind of like a charcoal pill. Charcoal is one of those-MIchaela Paukner:
That's what it looks like even.Ryan Gibbs:
So charcoal is another one, and we are doing a little bit of that this year, Biochar. I actually got a product from Wayne Volk, we just started using it yesterday, and it's a custom mix that we are putting on our crop. And this has got rock phosphate, calcium, carbon, which comes from Biochar, silicon, and then humic acid, humate, which is that black stuff. So it's all-natural. It's just a black powder. That bag's not open, but this is what it is. It's water soluble. We actually run this in our planter boxes on the seed. It sticks to the seed, so it's like, all right, we're getting a little calcium out there, a little Biochar, a little humic. It's all natural, it's safe to handle, but it's just a powder. We used it as a seed coating this year. A little bit of everything.
Over here, I kind of keep all my food sources, you could say. I got molasses that feeds my bacteria, fish hydrolysate that feeds my fungi. Humic acid, which just feeds biology, it's organic matter. And then boron is just a fertilizer. I buy it dry and I solubilize it because it's cheaper that way, turn it into liquid myself and then we'll put it on. And then we also use kelp, which I source some kelp through Kyle, who bought some from China. So he actually bought a container of organic fertilizer that was certified organic, and he's like, "I got so much. Do you want any?" I'm like, "Yeah." I can buy it through him way cheaper than anywhere in the United States, and it is awesome product. The kelp actually feeds fungi and it actually has a small fish smell, but kelp comes from the ocean. It's that seaweed that comes in and then they scrape it up and they dry it and solubilize it and make it. Kelp is really good for livestock as a supplement and also for humans and plants, so we'll throw kelp in.MIchaela Paukner:
So that's this green bag?Ryan Gibbs:
That would be this blue bag, but it's just a black powder, and that's kelp. The guys at Singular Agronomics where I get my humic from, kind of a small startup company and they sell humic, and they're supplying a lot of it this year. I actually just got mine through Kyle. But you smell your hands, it's got like a real light fish smell to it.MIchaela Paukner:
It's really good for plants. It helps with root development and it helps the plant identify other nutrients in the soil, so it's just one of those things we throw in. It's a natural product, plant likes it.MIchaela Paukner:
Why not?Ryan Gibbs:
Why not? But no, today we're going to apply some on some corn. I don't think I'm going to do any beans yet. I'm waiting for my beans to get a little bit taller. I like to foliar apply this stuff at night, so I usually don't start until nine or 10 o'clock. The other night, we ran until 3:00 in the morning spraying, just because at nighttime the plant actually, the cells will shut down during the day on the leaves. I shouldn't say the cells shut down, the leaf will not pull in nutrients or very little during the day because the sun's beating down on it. It's pulling in sunlight. At night, the plant cells in the stomata open up, we get dew, it pulls in that moisture. So the plant is actually opening up and pulling in and relaxing, so at night we'll go out and we'll spray our foliar stuff and the plant is more able to take that in. So it sounds crazy, we're out there at 3:00 in the morning just humming along with the sprayers. It's like, "No, we're not killing weeds, we're just feeding the plants.MIchaela Paukner:
We're feeding plants.Ryan Gibbs:
Feeding plants. Get started at 10 o'clock at night, run until 3:00 in the morning. We got a lot more of that to do. The corn and beans are still pretty short, so we're still pretty early doing this.MIchaela Paukner:
Sure. What's the ideal time to fully apply it?Ryan Gibbs:
I was told from midnight until 3:30, 4:00 in the morning. It's like well, I'm not going to wait till midnight to go apply. I was told do it after 7:00 at night and before 7:00 in the morning. 7:00 to 7:00.MIchaela Paukner:
That's your window. If we're going to do 20 acres, I'll wait until midnight and do 20 acres. But I farm a lot of acres, so it's like I can't be waiting until midnight and only doing it for four hours.MIchaela Paukner:
We're going to start at 8:00 or 9:00 at night when the sun goes down and we'll run until we're either out of product or tired.MIchaela Paukner:
I'd like to take a moment to thank our sponsor, Source by Sound Agriculture. Welcome to a better source of fertilizer. Source from Sound Agriculture unlocks more of the nutrients already in your fields, so you can add less fertilizer while getting the yield you're counting on. By activating soil microbes, Source provides more of the existing nitrogen and phosphorus to your crops. It's such a solid backup plan, you'll probably find yourself wondering why source wasn't the plan all along. Visit Sound.ag to learn more. Now let's get back to the conversation.Ryan Gibbs:
We start by in-furrow because our planting and in-furrow and on the seed and right there is the absolute most important pass of all of them. If you're going to do one pass and only one, that is the one.MIchaela Paukner:
It's in-furrow.Ryan Gibbs:
That is the most important, in-furrow on top of the seed, right on it. I've heard of guys putting it, dribbling out the back, you might see some benefit there, but put it on the seed right in the furrow, out of the sunlight, into moisture, into the house. That's the most important. Foliar, we started, corn's V1, V2, beans are like R1. They're pretty short. They're like this big. We started already literally two, three days ago. I've got some corn that's at like V2, V3 across the creek.
We're going to start with that today and then some that's down the road that's pretty short. We were late planting everything this year because we were trying to let our cover crop get grown up so we could roll it down and kill it. So we were a little bit later getting started planting this year, which is fine. We got a 12-row planter, we can knock out 100, 150 acres in a day. We planted about 1,000 acres this year. So for me, it's more important to plant into good soil conditions and warm soil than trying to be the first one out there planting.MIchaela Paukner:
So when the neighbors are planting, I wait two weeks. They're all end of April, it's like snow is still on the other half of the field and they're all planting. They're like, "Oh, we got to get out there early," and that corn and beans sit in the ground for three, four weeks before it even comes out, and it's not any farther ahead than me, that just planted.MIchaela Paukner:
So that's your most important is in-furrow right there. If that's not an option or it didn't get done, come back and do foliar. I like to wait until the corn is at least V1, V2, just because there's actually a plant there to spray. Before that, there's not much you're hitting. You can do it all the way through the season until you can't drive through it no more if you wanted to.MIchaela Paukner:
Oh, okay.Ryan Gibbs:
I like to get my nutrients and my microbes, my kelp, all that stuff out there early, like V3 through V6, V7, so corn's this tall all the way up to knee high, or I shouldn't say knee high, like shoulder height or hip height, this high because the early stages in corn plants particular determine ear length, how many kernels around, all that very early in the plant's life. So let's get this out there, let's get that plant going. Let's keep it as healthy as we can so it'll yield to more later in the season. Plus, it'll build the immune system up on the plant so it's more resistant to disease. Everything I like early. Let's get out there and get it on early. We do plant sap analysis. We've only sent away one so far this year because we've only had in the last 35 days, roughly two tenths of an inch of rain.MIchaela Paukner:
Oh, wow.Ryan Gibbs:
So my corn has literally had that much rain on it since it's been planted. So it's hard to pull plant sap analysis knowing you put boron, zinc, molasses, all these microbes right beside the row on top the ground, and it's like we haven't had any rain to wash them in. But this compost, we put right in-furrow on the seed, so at least it's got the biology where it needs it on the seed. But all of our fertilizer that we did put down hasn't even been washed in yet, so we're pulling these plant sap analysis that's telling us we're short on stuff and it's like we put it out there, but it just hasn't gotten any rain. So the one thing we're finding on our first plant sap analysis with all of our fields was we were low on calcium, so that's kind of why I got that foliar product there.MIchaela Paukner:
We actually put calcium down this spring the end of April. Gypsum we use, 200 pounds of gypsum per acre. And I like it because it's pH neutral, it doesn't mess up your biology. It comes from the earth, it's not manmade, and it's calcium and sulfur. It's safe to handle, it doesn't mess up your biology, and we need calcium out there. We've got low calcium in our soils. We pulled soil samples, we're low on calcium. Our pH might be fine. Adding lime ain't going to fix the calcium problem because our lime around here has high magnesium, so it actually makes your soils tighter. So it's like we don't want that crap, we want calcium, so we're using gypsum.
Well, we put that out there, but we haven't had hardly any rain to really help it get into the soil profile much. So it's like if you can't get it in the soil, then let's do some foliar application of it, and hopefully the plant could pull some in because calcium is the driver of all nutrients. Calcium makes some nutrients available in the soil. The biology helps to make the nutrients available, so it's kind of a balancing act, getting your biology and keeping your calcium levels in check. We're seeing that we're short on calcium, so we're putting some of that out. You can add calcium with worm casting, it doesn't hurt it. It's not detrimental to biology.
So if you take 32% nitrogen, a really high salt nitrogen, or 28%, and you put worm casting this biology with it, you'll kill off a lot of the bacteria and fungi within the first couple hours because it's such a high salt content. It's kind of like salt water. Salt water is really only certain things can live in salt water. If you throw a trout into a salt water ocean, it'll die because it can't survive in that environment. Same way with your worm casting. Some of the bacteria and fungi will live, but not all of them. So we like to keep it safe environment, no salt or very little salt. If anything, we'll throw a little bit of C90 in. I'm talking like an eighth of a pound per acre, hardly anything. We actually have a salt meter that we can check.MIchaela Paukner:
Oh, interesting.Ryan Gibbs:
So if you take a 32% nitrogen, it's called electric continuity, and you will test 32% nitrogen, it's like 20, 21,000 electric continuity. You go and you test this and it's like 500. There's traces of salt in soil, but not like there is in a salt fertilizer. And that's why they're like, "Don't spray 32% nitrogen or whatever on your plant or put it on the seed, or 28% because it burn the seed." Well, it's got so much salt and sodium in it, it just burns it, so that's why I like this. It's safe. You can fully apply it, you can put it on the seed. You can do all that and you won't burn, you won't kill nothing. You would have to drown the seed in water for days in order to kill it. Even then, I don't think you'd kill it. I don't know.MIchaela Paukner:
When you're applying it in-furrow, what's the rate that you're using?Ryan Gibbs:
Minimum five gallon per acre, but I'm still running two pounds of compost per acre. So let's say I'm going to make a batch, I'm going to make 40 acres, and 40 acres times five gallons is 200 gallons. I'll probably put 225 gallons in this and make a batch a little bigger than what I need, but we'll make enough for 40 acres in there. It's going to take 80 pounds of compost to do that at five gallons per acre, 200 gallons. Now, I've got a customer who puts 10 gallons per acre in-furrow. I said, "That's fine. I'll make a 40 gallon acre batch in here, you add another five gallons on top of that just to dilute it down." He's running the same two pounds per acre, same amount of product, just more liquid.MIchaela Paukner:
Okay. And why is he wanting to do that?Ryan Gibbs:
Just because he's got capabilities to do it. I did it last year because I had big tanks and my little tank that I was running some other stuff was going to be empty anyway, so I'm like, "Might as well run 10 gallons per acre." I had a little field down on the bottom there I planted, and it was just hard as hell. It's my experimental field, and it was pretty hard and we hadn't had any moisture. It still hasn't got rained on. It was the last one I planted. I ran 12 gallons per acre in-furrow because there's no moisture in the ground, so I'm like, "Might as well just dump on a whole bunch of liquid in-furrow to get the seed going."MIchaela Paukner:
And did it work?Ryan Gibbs:
It worked. It's all coming up, but it hasn't rained yet. So it's like put that stuff in-furrow, it got the seed going, but there's no moisture there. I don't know how long it'll live at this point. There's a chance of rain tomorrow.MIchaela Paukner:
Oh, that's good.Ryan Gibbs:
Fingers crossed. That's the whole point of it, is getting the biology out there and just getting the system working again.MIchaela Paukner:
And then how have you adjusted your synthetic inputs or other inputs now that you're using this compost?Ryan Gibbs:
We have cut back on our nitrogen. Last year we cut back in areas, just to see how it would work, and I'm talking corn for nitrogen. Where we cut back last year on our nitrogen for corn yielded better than where we put our traditional amount.MIchaela Paukner:
Oh, that's interesting.Ryan Gibbs:
And so that's why I was like, "Let's just cut back on these couple areas." And I had one spot on the top of the hill, which that's really heavy ground. We didn't side dress or come back with anything and I was like, "Let's just see what happens," and that was the best yield spot I had. I was like, "Okay, so that soil is heavier and then the soil down here, so that kind of plays in too," but it's like, 'Huh, that's neat." So I shoot for 0.7 pounds of nitrogen per bushel. University tells you 1.1 or 1.25, I believe, is University. That's how many pounds of nitrogen you need per bushel. I disagree with that. I think that's way too much.
My goal is to get to less than a half a pound on 300 bushel corn. That's my goal. So we're learning. We got so many new things we're doing this year. Most people are like, "Well, I'm going to try this on a couple acres this year, see if it works." I'm like, "No, we're going to try this, this, this and this on everything. I know it'll work, let's just try it on everything." So this year we're using yucca, which yucca plants, they live in a desert area, so they got properties for drought resistance. So we use yucca extract, which feeds biology and it's safe for plants.
So we started using yucca, started using humic, this black stuff, putting that with our nitrogen to safen the nitrogen because it neutralizes the salt, so it's not as detrimental to your soil biology. You can put on the soil and basically you won't kill an earthworm if it lands on it, it'll neutralize the salts that much. And it's an organic matter substance, so it's safe to work with. Neutralizes the salts, it runs through all my equipment great. So we started using humic, yucca. We started solubilize in our own boron, we introduced kelp into the situation. We are adding chitin. Chitin comes from hard shell fish and hard shell bugs. It's actually a natural insecticide, so we run extra chitin in-furrow on our corn as our insecticide.
So we went away from insecticides, we went away from fungicides, and this year over half the corn we planted is non-GMO, completely naked, untreated seed. It just looks like corn out of the bend. And we actually coated that seed with biology and then we put it in-furrow and that structure looks awesome. No bugs feeding on it without insecticide, which I was told you can't do. So someone tells me I can't do it and I feel passionately that I think it can be done, then I'm going to try it. So that was kind of a concern with some seed guys. It was like, "That ain't going to work. You can't plant naked seed. The bugs will eat it." It's like, "Well, is there enough beneficial bugs out there to keep the bad ones in check?" Or, let's put a product on the seed that doesn't kill bugs, but maybe keeps them away.
Well, chitin comes from hard shell fish, hard shell bugs, like I said, and so bugs won't eat it or they're less likely to eat it. Plus, chitin is a food source for fungi, which is what we want. So it's like a lot of benefits to it. It is a little bit expensive, but it's not nearly as expensive as insecticide. So we started running that. We're going to do a foliar pass with our biology that'll have some chitin in it too, just to keep bugs off the plants. Plus, I was reading that you can spray molasses on plants and bugs won't eat the plants if they got molasses on them. So we did some of our foliar pasture last couple days, I threw molasses in, pound or two per acre, which is really cheap. When it comes to molasses, you do not want livestock molasses because it's got propionic acid in it, which propionic acid keeps it from molding and getting fungi on it.MIchaela Paukner:
Oh, sure.Ryan Gibbs:
So what I got, I actually sourced my molasses through AgriBio Systems and it's pure cane molasses, no preservative on it, so you got to keep it out of the sun in a cool place. You don't want it sitting in the sun and hot, it'll grow otherwise, but it doesn't have preservative on it, so that does not hinder my biology because I don't want to put a molasses down that's got an antibacterial fungal agent on it when I'm trying to feed my bacteria and fungi. But molasses has got so much more than sugar in it. It's got calcium, it's got sulfur, it's got manganese. It's got just a whole slew of micronutrients in it. You can't buy micronutrients anywhere else in a jug cheaper than what you can molasses. It's super cheap and you'll literally only need a pound or two per acre, so you're talking less than a dollar or a dollar an acre. Where can you buy that anywhere else? You can't.
And I like it, it's safe to handle. It mixes well. People think of molasses like, "Oh, that thick, gloop, gloop stuff?" And I'm like, "It is thick, but we're not just spraying molasses. We are putting it with water." When you look at one pound in 15 gallons, because we're running a 15 gallon per acre rate, that's like nothing. And I like it because it keeps the foam down in my tank, feeds my biology, it mixes well. And when you spray your field and you walk outside, you're like, "It smells like candy out here." It's got a good smell to it. So it's got a lot of benefits. I like using molasses. We've actually toured the facility down there, AgriBio Systems in Jacksonville, Illinois, and they farm and they also sell product. They're doing a lot of cool things. They're doing this compost extract on a scale way larger than mine.
We're talking thousands of acres those guys do, and they sell a lot of good products. Like I said, I get my molasses from them. I'm not trying to promote a business or nothing, I'm just saying that's where I get that from. Humate, I get it from Singular Agronomics. It's good quality humic, it's really affordable. So a lot of places out there you can source some of this stuff, a lot of stuff you can make yourself. So I'll make it, it gets run through a big self-clean irrigation filter. This is 120 mesh. Most guys are running 50 mesh on their planters. So we never had any issues with plugging anything up on any planters.
I noticed personally on my planter, and I think part of it was because I was adding fish hydrolysate with it, after 50 acres, I had a little bit of stuff gumming up on my filter. So I'm usually filling up every 50 acres anyways, so I just unscrew the filter, tap it, clean the stuff off, put the filter back on. Another thing, like I said before, I like about it, it's safe to handle so I don't have to have rubber gloves on to pull the filter off. It's not toxic, so if it spills on the ground next to a corn plant, it's not going to have a dead spot there. Like I said, you could dump a five gallon bucket out in the field and it won't kill nothing. You take five gallon bucket of starter fertilizer, dump it on the ground, you're going to have a dead spot there because it's so salty and there's so much, it's such a hot fertilizer that it just smokes everything.
So that's what I like, pull it off quick. It only takes five minutes. I'm filling anyways, so while it's filling, I just unscrew the filter, tap, tap. Put it back on, go plant, never have an issue. We never plug no orifices, no nothing. Works awesome, but that's kind of the savior right there is that irrigation filter. So what I'll do is I'll pump it and there's a little red deal on here, all of a sudden this starts popping out. That tells me that this is building up pressure and it's not pumping through, so I open the bottom of this and I turn this. I just crank it like this and it self cleans. And so I got a hose going to that tank right there, so that way it doesn't go down the drain or it's not going to waste.
We'll take that, we'll go water trees with it, we'll go dump it out in our pasture. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just the bigger sediment stuff that couldn't get through the filter. So by doing that, we have a product that looks like muddy creek water. It looks like Mississippi creek water. It's filtered, it's screened, run it through the planter, run it through the sprayer, you're good to go. When it comes to microorganisms, you want to be able to see sunlight through the filter, otherwise a lot of microorganisms and fungi can't get through or they will get damaged in the process of filtering. So like this screen in there, you can take that, hold it up to a light in the shop and you can see the light through it, so I know that holes are big enough. I don't know if I'd go much smaller mesh or micron size than that, just because I don't want to be detrimental to my soil biology.MIchaela Paukner:
Yeah, right.Ryan Gibbs:
Yep. Pressure. You want to run less than 60 PSI pressure on your planter or sprayer, so my sprayer, we're typically running 35, 40. Once you get over 60, that amount of pressure will actually smash and kill organisms over 60 PSI.MIchaela Paukner:
Oh, okay. Are you having to agitate it when it's in your sprayer tank?Ryan Gibbs:
Nope. We just put it in there. Hell, we've let it sit overnight. We've let it sit 3, 4, 5, 6 days-MIchaela Paukner:
And it's fine.Ryan Gibbs:
... and it's fine. But typically, if I got my planter parked outside and it's been five or six days, I will dump it out, flush my planter lines with water because I can hook a garden hose onto it and then I will make a new batch and go plant. This stuff is cheap enough to make, it's like we got 20 gallons in there we didn't use and we got rained out or something, or we went to go spray for three days, come back, we'll just pull the planter out in the pasture or out in the field, crank the valve open, dump 20 gallons out in the ground, go make some new stuff. The little bit it cost us that we're dumping out, and I usually dump it out in a place that will benefit anyways, like a pasture or something-MIchaela Paukner:
So it's not really going to waste.Ryan Gibbs:
>... it's like it's not really going to waste, we're just putting it somewhere else. And we noticed, I had a guy I made some for, he got rained out and comes back to me two to three days later, we put it under the microscope, looked at it. I said, "You still got fungi, you got bacteria. Still looks good." We did a micrometer test on it. We were still, I want to say he was 2.5:1 fungi to bacteria, which you want to be more than 1:1 fungi to bacteria with this. The whole point of this is making a fungal dominant compost extract.
So if you go to pull a timber soil sample, the fungi to bacteria ratio is probably going to be 1:1 or greater. It might be 2:1 or 3:1. You go pull a soil sample out of a field and it'll be 0:100, no fungi, all bacteria dominated. We did ours and our soil was 1:55 fungi to bacteria, and I'm like, "This is awful." And Zach Wright at Living Compost Labs, he's like, "I've seen way worse. This is really not bad at all, Ryan. You've actually got 1:55." He said, "Most samples, if someone sends me a sample of soil that's heavy tillage, heavy chemical, they are 1:100 or worse. Literally no fungi, it is all bacteria," so he's like, "This is actually not bad."MIchaela Paukner:
Thanks to Ryan Gibbs for today's conversation. We have a video of Ryan explaining his process of making compost extract at no-tillfarmer.com/podcasts. Just click on the article for this podcast for that link, and make sure to watch for part two of this conversation, in which Ryan goes deeper into the extract methods he uses and how he uses sap analysis to make nutrient management decisions. Many thanks to Sound Agriculture for helping to make this no-till podcast series possible. From all of us here at No-Till Farmer, I'm Michaela Paukner. Thanks for listening.