Brewing Tea for British Wine

Paul Dovey is farm manager at the 300 hectare, Lake House Estate where he has a mix of beef, sheep and arable enterprises.

In 2015 Paul won the Paul Singleton award for his project investigating the effects of seed treatments and varietal difference on farm-saved wheat seed. The same year, Paul planted 1.5 hectares of vineyard, and then two years ago he started using compost tea on his vines. It has been going well and he plans to pick his first crop this year

Paul is using a small, 100 litre brewer from Martin Lishman that was kindly loaned to Paul for the duration of the trial, and a sprayer to apply the tea. The sprayer is also used for other sprays, but he doesn't think there are any negative contamination effects because the other products he uses with the sprayer also include ‘live’ products. Originally, Paul made his own one-year matured compost. Now though he's finding it difficult to find the time, so has been using bought-in compost.

"I make the brew 24 hrs before applying it. Applications are only from March to the end of October. The vineyard is dormant over winter. Between the vineyard rows I have mixed grass and natural regenerated grass cover. I also grow dedicated chicory and sainfoin – basically because I had a bag left over so thought I would give it a try. The chicory has long tap roots that I think will bring up different nutrients and it’s quite vigorous. This competitiveness will help against the vines later – it’s good to have some of this to take excess vigour out for fruit ripening."

He tends to rotate his applications between one week of plant protection products and then one week of nutrient foliar spray. "It’s hard to say if there has been a clear effect as I spray everything without a control area. I believe in it, which is why I spray the lot.” Visitors have commented that it looks very healthy, as has the agricultural advisor, who advises on vineyards including organics. He knows a lot of farmers that use compost tea because they’re organic.

Interested in compost tea?

As well as Paul's vines, at Hemsworth Farm, Sophie Alexander has been using compost tea on her organic oats and in Cambridgeshire, Stephen Briggs has been using it on his wheat and apple tree agroforestry system. On 13 March, an open meeting is being held for members of the compost tea field lab, and anyone else interested in compost tea. The meeting will discuss the trial as a whole over the last three years, and discuss what any next steps could look like.

13 March | 10.30 to 14.00 | Organic Research Centre, Berkshire | Free but limited spaces

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