By Christine Hill
Sick plants, depleted lawns and cracked ground can all be indicators of unhealthy soil. Instead of dousing it with chemicals, Hilary Noonan recommends a dose of microbes in her Mad Hatter Compost Tea.
Noonan, owner of Mad Hatter Compost Tea, utilizes elements of landscape architecture, soil science and regenerative design to create systematic problem-solving applications with compost. The success of Noonan’s compost tea comes from its respect for microbes and just how important having the right ones can be for your soil’s health and resiliency.
“Learning about the dynamic system that should be in healthy soil is amazing,” said Noonan, who has a masters’ degree in landscape architecture.
Noonan’s pursuit of knowledge drove her deep into the intricacies of soil science microbiology and into a practical application of this knowledge: compost tea. Compost tea is not a fertilizer, but a natural delivery system of microbes that revive the nutrients already present in the soil. The tea is brewed for 48 hours and is made especially for the specific needs of a client’s lawn, garden, plants or tree. After a small period of recovery from chemical fertilizers, Noonan said lawns will see the positive results of a tea drench within two weeks.
“One thing people should know about going organic, when you go from synthetics to organic, it’s like putting your plants in rehab,” said Noonan.
The negative effects of chemical fertilizers surface before you see healthy change. Chemical fertilizers are like steroids, Noonan explains. Initially positive results are seen, but they are only at the surface level. Because of the salt content in synthetic fertilizers, lawns on synthetics require more water. This makes the soil more prone to cracks and erosion. Compost tea revives plants and lawns at the microbial level, which provides a sturdy foundation that is ready to flourish and hold more water.
Noonan applied the beneficial effects of compost tea to the Roanoke Neighborhood garden of Joan and Jerry Riffel to help Joan transform her backyard into a thriving display of healthy, organic plant growth.
Riffel’s luscious garden is an example of, “making beauty with biology,” says Noonan. The garden was recently featured on the Master Gardeners of Greater Kansas City Tour in June.
Riffel was leaning towards going organic when she designed the layout of her backyard, but enlisted Noonan’s help when she started to see problems with her conifers. Noonan applied compost tea to Riffel’s yard, and the results are readily seen in the rich growth and beauty of her intricate garden and lawn.
Beyond lawn beautification, compost tea can also be applied in ways that combine engineering with soil biology.
At Cars Gone Wild, a car dealership in Blue Springs, MO, Noonan helped solve an erosion problem using techniques of engineering with biology and compost tea. A hillside next to the dealership was having erosion and storm water problems causing water and mud to cascade into the dealership’s parking lot. The hillside had large craters spanning five feet long, and plant growth was stilted. After leveling the soil, an application of a double strong drench of compost tea, and erosion control material from Missouri Organic, the hillside is now stabilizing, greatly improved, and sprouting grass.
“Soil structure comes from the microbes,” says Noonan.
Unlike conventional erosion control techniques, Noonan’s techniques start at the smallest structural level and allow nature to aid in its own revival.
“There are so many things in our culture that have distanced us from landscape, that we tend to be tourists, instead of seeing the natural world as a dynamic system that we are a part of,” said Noonan.
With soil science and compost tea, the point is to treat the natural world with nature in a way that is chemical free.
For more information, email Noonan at [email protected].