Less agriculturally-minded folk than Mitchell Posin might mistake the sign on South Road advertising compost tea for a joke, something dreamt up by kids searching for the world’s least appealing beverage to flog by the side of the road.
In fact it is there to promote the result of three years’ trial and error by Mr. Posin, the co-owner Allen Farm sheep and wool company: an organic fertilizer solution for the bespoke ecology of Martha’s Vineyard.
“I’ve got it now,” says Mr. Posin of his heady brew, produced in 250-gallon batches and sold to landscapers, arborists and hobby gardeners across the Island.
He’s been fussing with ingredients, including air, heat and choice of compost extracts, to develop a superior weapon in the perennial battle to render fertile the sand-rich and weather-beaten landscape of the 100-acre farm Mr. Posin runs with his wife, Clarissa Allen.
To spread a quarter-inch of standard compost across an acre of land takes a dump truck. Mr. Posin’s brew can do it in 50 gallons. A drop of tea about the size of a period at the end of a sentence contains a whopping 250,000 to 500,000 earth-nourishing bacteria, protozoa and fungi.
Mr. Posin spreads his tea from a purpose-purchased vehicle, with the right-sized tires moving at a certain speed and a boom sprayer to finely administer the potent spray. But, says Mr. Posin, even unceremoniously dumping the tea onto a vegetable patch from a bucket will have a positive effect.
“It’s like the world’s on fire, whether you’re growing a tree or a blade of grass,” he says.
Mr. Posin’s aerobic compost tea (ACT) is pumped with air until the moment of sale. Mr. Posin lends out jugs for carrying the tea, which is priced at $6 per gallon, from the Allen farm stand. A full jug works for 5,000 square feet of earth for a heavy cover, he says.
From then the buyer has six hours to put the tea on the ground.
“They’re dying from the time the jar is sealed,” he explains.
In the tea, Mr. Posin is growing in vast amounts the same nutrients that occur naturally here in far smaller numbers. “It’s hard to get that thick, thick swath of grass here,” he says of Vineyard gardening. “Because it’s no snow cover [in winter], drought in the summer, and the sandy soil — it’s hard for that biology to exist. So the biology is stressed all the time. All the wind and frozen ground. And the biology is so small, they can’t protect themselves. It’s not that they can go for a [expletive deleted] stroll and find some shade.”
The tea contains agents dedicated to bonding the various textures of soil and sand in the earth to make the sand more crumbly and bog like.
There’s certain bacteria in there whose job is just to make slime,” he says. “It can get so intense with the biology that you can’t tell where the grass ends and the plants begin.”
Mr. Posin acts as a dealer for North County Organics and mans a stall at conferences for the New England Sheep and Wool Growers association, activities that put him in contact with the authorities on fertilizer.
He does his compost research in the quiet months on the farm in January and February.
“I annoy my wife by staying indoors,” he said.
He admits the roadside sales pitch for his product could be a little clearer.
“I have people coming in expecting to sit down with me for a tea,” said Mr. Posin. “But it’s good, they’re learning.”
This column is meant to reflect all aspects of agricultural activity and farm life on the Vineyard. To get in touch with Sam Bungey, please call 508-627-4311, extension 120, or e-mail him at email@example.com.