EcoVillage Resident Applies Compost Tea to Agriculture

Whether it’s pizza box composting, University Dining’s kitchen composting or Athletics composting during home games, NC State takes steps toward a more sustainable campus every day.

During fall of 2015, EcoVillage resident Andrew Harrell completed a capstone project about compost tea and its effects on fertilization. Now, another resident in the EcoVillage is furthering his research for her own capstone project.

Sarah Yim, a junior studying environmental sciences, is studying the application of compost tea in agriculture. Currently, she is comparing early scarlet globe radishes and Red Salad Bowl lettuce under different fertilization conditions — organic liquid, chemical granules, compost tea and control.

“With the village presenting different events and volunteer opportunities, I was able to explore many aspects of sustainability until I found one I was interested in,” Yim said. “It was because of the EcoVillage that I was able to find my passion for agroecology.”

As a second-year EcoVillage resident, Yim is required to complete a capstone project. The idea behind the project is for students to choose a topic they’re interested in and relate it back to sustainability. The assignment motivated Yim to pursue her research involving compost tea and agriculture.

“EcoVillage has a vast network to implement various programs and events,” she said. “Through it, I met my mentor. The Village has provided all the beginning components to the creation of this project: motivation, experts, and ideas.”

For her project, Yim received a $750 grant from the Undergraduate Research Offices, which awarded research grants for the academic year.

“My project is fully funded,” Yim said. “Once I finish the experiment and fully analyze the data, I will be presenting at the Undergraduate Research Symposium this April.”

Yim used the grant to buy supplies such as fertilizers, seeds and the brewer for the compost tea. Later in the semester, she plans to use the grant to ship soil samples to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture to check for significant differences in the soil’s nutrients based on its fertilizer. Yim intends to expand her understanding of soils and crops as a whole before finding a focal point for her research.

When she first came up with the idea for the project, Yim contacted Harrell. The two met last semester to discuss the project and his experiences.

“Compost tea is an undervalued resource, so I get excited anytime someone conducts research on it,” Harrell said. “Sarah’s research is similar to my project, but she definitely had more preparation and resources that, from the beginning, made her project more academic.”

Harrell predicts Yim’s project should yield some great data that will support compost tea application on the high-value crops that she is experimenting with. He has helped her revise a few aspects of the project she also emails him updates about the project fairly consistently. Harrell said he gave her all the tips he learned while completing his project.

“For instance, I shared several resources — both on-campus connections and online — the different types of compost tea and my brewing process,” he said.

Yim’s favorite part about the project has been watching the crops grow.

“It’s fascinating how a tiny seed that’s literally two centimeters can exponentially grow into a crop,” Yim said.

She said it also gives her a sense of pride, especially because when she was younger, she used to kill all her houseplants.

“Although it hasn’t happened yet, I know my favorite part will be at the end when I finish because then I get to eat what I grew,” Yim said.