A Healthy Diet for the Empire Fulton Ferry Lawn
March 21, 2012
An aerial view of the Empire Fulton Ferry lawn. Tarek Hatab Metron Inc.
Last week Brooklyn Bridge Park released millions of microscopic organisms onto the lawns of Empire Fulton Ferry. But don’t be alarmed, these organisms are completely safe and a main ingredient in the organic compost tea that is regularly applied to the park’s lawns. Instead of applying inorganic fertilizers to our lawns, compost tea is an effective and healthy alternative to traditional fertilizers.
One major component of compost tea is protozoa, a term that applies to many single-celled, small organisms. These tiny creatures are often classified by how they move: flagellates have flagellum, ciliates have cilia, and so on.
It may seem odd to pour millions of these tiny organisms on Brooklyn Bridge Park’s lawns, however, they're good for the soil because they produce nitrogen, a primary nutrient for healthy plants.
Plants rely on nitrogen-fixing organisms to survive, thus, competition for protozoa is fierce. Plants exude certain nutrients through their roots, primarily sugars, to attract the bacteria and other organisms that the protozoa eat. In fact, some plants use the majority of the energy they manufacture through photosynthesis to attract these soil organisms, making sugars and sending them out through their roots. As trees age, they spend more and more of their energy on exudates (compounds exuded through plant roots), theoretically to make the soil more favorable to their seedlings.
Although plants require protozoa for a healthy growing environment, not all protozoa are beneficial—there are "good" protozoa and "bad" protozoa. “Good” protozoa are aerobic and part of a healthy ecosystem—they live off oxygen and supply nitrogen and other nutrients to the plant. "Bad" protozoa are those that invade the root system when the soil gets too compact and loses its oxygen. These protozoa are anaerobic, meaning they live in low oxygen environments. When the soil gets anaerobic, the “bad” microorganisms can out-compete those who can only thrive with oxygen. Methane then builds up and can make the soil smell like a swamp.
Below is a short video of the good protozoa in our Tea Compost. The big organisms flying around are ciliates, the medium size ones are flagellates, the small vibrating organisms are bacteria, and the thin strands are fungi.
Video courtest of Ecological Landascape Management