Now that this current project is wrapping up, (you can find the final report here)
I wanted to let you all know there is another vermicompost based grant in the works. As always, we are looking for more vermicompost/tea participants . This grant is going to be more focused on the microbial ecology of vermi-tea and it's application to crops/soil health. It will also be a collaboration between The Urban Worm Company with Steve Churchill and Troy Hinke, Bryan Reed at Mesa University as our agricultural expert, and myself.
You can sign up by dropping me an email or providing your name and email address at the bottom of this interview with Steve. He did a great job helping me summarize the project, so it might be worth a read if you got lost along the way.
Another note: I recently applied for a small business grant to start a small lab (Aggrego Data) to continue this type of research. After all of the COVID complications this seems like the only way forward. Eventually, we will offer a DNA sequencing and analysis service, but I am primarily focused on continuing research and education grants.
Lastly I want to touch on some of the vermi-tea data we already have, but was not really highlighted. Lets just focus on the "Tea" column below. You can see there are several genera of organisms that are enriched that we will go over. Reminder genus (genera plural) is one level above species.
Lets start with the most abundant organisms and work our way down. #1 is Pseudomonas at 11.8%. There is a ton of literature out there on benefits of Pseudomonas species promoting plant growth. One of the main benefits is these organisms produce what's called a "siderophore." These molecules are excreted from cells and help solubilize minerals and other nutrients so they are biologically available. This has huge implications for phosphorus availability for plants as most phosphorous is locked up in the soil. This is especially true here in a lot of Colorado soils. You can read more in this article.
Second in abundance is the genus Flavobacterium. These organisms are also highly associated with plant roots and the degradation of carbon. This article states "at early stages of plant growth, 70 % of the rhizosphere isolates carrying enzymes involved in carbon turnover were characterized as Flavobacterium, suggesting that they play a crucial metabolic role during initial stages of plant growth."
Acinetobacter is the third most abundant, and again they have been identified to promote plant growth. They have primarily been overserved to produce gibberellins - plant growth promoting hormones. They can also fix nitrogen, and solubilize phosphate. Read more here and here
Fourth most abundant genus -Massilia. You guessed it, known plant growth promoters. They have been seen to rapidly colonize seeds and early roots of cucumber plants. Interestingly, they also seem to enhance arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) colonization of roots leading to increased nutrient accumulation and salinity resilience. Read the articles here and here.
The final genus I want to cover is Chryseobacterium found at 3.8%. This is another group of organisms known to solubilize phosphate. A 2018 study done with pepper plants demonstrated that plants treated with this organism not only yielded more fruit but also suppressed Phytophthora blight.
Overall it seems pretty crazy that such an assortment of beneficial organisms can be relatively easily enriched from a complex vermicompost community. The goal of this next study is to better understand how reproducible this is between different vermicomposts and what are the most important factors when making tea. We will work with different agricultural produces to quantify plant growth/yield, disease suppression, and soil microbial communities.