Fox Valley: 920-730-3253
Southeast: 920-980-4928
28 Feb 2012
habitat for humanity fox cities

Building Successful Homeowners through Education

Providing low-income families with an affordable home addresses only part of the issue of poverty; in addition to building houses, Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity works to ensure that our first-time homebuyers become knowledgeable homeowners.

Families that partner must demonstrate that they have a genuine need for decent, safe and affordable housing, that they have the ability to pay a 0% mortgage, and that they are willing to partner with Habitat by committing to 300-500 hours of ‘sweat equity’.  Sweat equity hours can be met by working on their home, volunteering on the homes of other Habitat families and attending workshops and education sessions.  As a part of their sweat equity, all the adults in our partner families are required to complete over 55 hours of homeowner education.

Habitat for Humanity makes these classes a requirement because we know that education and preparation is the key to self-sufficiency.  Of the 55 hours, about 30 hours focus on financial literacy and financial preparedness, including understanding their mortgage, establishing monthly budgets, planning for a financial emergency, etc.

Since our families are mostly first-time homebuyers and are often the first in their extended families to live in their own home, we also conduct classes that help them transition into homeownership.  The topics addressed in this track include how to be a good neighbor, community relations, and home maintenance.  It is with the help of our family partners, mentors and class facilitators that Habitat can offer such an extensive range of topics to get our families ready for financial stability, and Habitat is blessed to have so many experts in their fields lend their expertise to our families.

Their new yard is often the first time Habitat families have had a yard, and typically aren’t familiar with lawn maintenance or landscaping.  Backyard Organics has stepped in to help our Habitat homeowners with getting their new lawns established, and is donating their services for all our 2011 families.  The purpose of Backyard Organics is to create a safe environment for families, pets and the planet.  Backyard Organics uses safe, earth-friendly methods for weed control, soil conditioners and also offers soil manipulation and testing services.  Backyard Organics utilizes the principles set forth by the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), and was the first organic land care business accredited by NOFA.

For 2011, there are 14 Habitat families, which is an increase from 2010.  Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity would not be able to increase our ability to provide decent homes in a holistic manner without the generosity and support of our wonderful volunteers and partner businesses like Backyard Organics!  

09 Feb 2012
nurturing healthy soils

Healthy Soils with help from Compost Tea

For the past year you have read our articles that described what is happening in the soil and the potential problems that can occur if that “life cycle” is disrupted either chemically or through our own use of the land.  Today I would like to talk to you about a tool that homeowners and gardeners can use to help get back your healthy soil – compost tea.

Brewing high-quality compost tea with consistent results is a challenge (much like brewing good-quality coffee or beer), which is why it’s critical to source the highest-quality compost and nutrients as well as utilize the best equipment and processes that will not harm the biology.  Brewing compost tea can be as simple as a five-gallon bucket and compost processed from home or as complex as a 250-gallon brewer, bio-assay tested compost, and an assortment of nutrients and soil additives, which is the approach that Backyard Organics™ takes.  In addition to the technical design of the equipment and the science behind the formulations, timing of the applications is critical.  Compost tea is a live, active, aerobic blend of microbes, which are rapidly expanding and can become unfavorable if they run out of nutrients and become anaerobic. Applying compost tea with the first 48 of a finished brew cycle is critical to receiving a quality product.

A good-quality compost tea has a quantity and diversity of microbes.  Compost teas that achieve high quantities and a good diversity of bacteria, fungi, nematodes and protozoas are able to combat a larger variety of symptomatic issues.  Each community, each neighborhood and each yard have unique soil needs.  Having a high count and a diverse group of microbes ensures consistent results.  Also, applications within a yard can vary, which is why it’s important to be able to understand the differences between a fungal-dominated need versus a bacterially dominated need.  For example, certain grasses prefer a more bacterially dominated compost whereas certain trees and shrubs prefer more fungal activity. This is why it’s always important to test your soils prior to applying amendments.

Verified benefits of compost tea

  1. Improves soil structure and porosity – creating a better plant root environment
  2. Increases moisture infiltration and permeability, and reduces bulk density of heavy soils – improving moisture infiltration rates and reducing erosion and runoff
  3. Improves the moisture holding capacity of light soils – reducing water loss and nutrient leaching, and improving moisture retention
  4. Improves the cation exchange capacity (CEC) of soils
  5. Supplies organic matter
  6. Aids the proliferation of soil microbes
  7. Supplies beneficial microorganisms to soils and growing media
  8. Encourages vigorous root growth
  9. Allows plants to more effectively utilize nutrients while reducing nutrient loss by leaching
  10.  Enables soils to retain nutrients longer
  11. Contains humus – assisting in soil aggregation and making nutrients more available for plant uptake
  12. Buffers soil pH

In addition to the numerous biological benefits, compost tea also has a practical side that can greatly benefit the homeowner.  Compost tea, whether you brew it yourself or have someone apply it for you, can be applied as a foliar feeder.  Feeding the leaves of plants, shrubs and trees, efficiently uptakes nutrients, stimulates the plant rhizosphere and acts as a protector against harmful leaf diseases.  Also, compost tea is much easier to spread and faster acting than compost with the same biological benefits of a compost top dressing application (we would still recommend compost application if your soil is lacking organic matter).

Here is what a few experts in the field have to say about compost tea:

“Aerated compost teas are the latest in scientific organic research today. In many ways, aerated teas offer greater immediate benefits than classic compost, manure or other homemade foliar teas” – The Garden Web

“Good tea is worth the trouble to brew because it can transform your lawn and garden” – Paul Tukey, author of the Organic Lawn Care Manual

“Compost tea is one of the inputs on the horizon that will change the way we deal with several of the management aspects of growing high-quality turfgrass, either in your backyard, on your town’s parks and athletic fields, or on commercial and institutional properties” – Chip Osborne, Osborne Organics

Dr. Elaine Ingham, a leading researcher and founder of the Soil Food Web organization, sums the benefits of compost teas up best … “The use of actively aerated tea, when applied under a proper management regime, returns beneficial biology to the soil.  This in turn rebuilds a soil food weed which, reduced dependency on fertilizers and pesticides, improves plant growth and reduces disease, significantly reduces water use, reduces toxicity and encourages the healthy establishment of healthy biology” – Dr. Elaine Ingham, President and Director of Research at Soil Foodweb, Inc.

Backyard Organics™ firmly believes in the benefits of organic land care and agrees with Chip Osborne and experts in the field who believe that compost teas will be one of those “tools” that will change the way we deal with land care in the future.

Todd and Tara Rockweit are owners of Backyard Organics, LLC, Wisconsin’s first organic land care business accredited by NOFA, one of two organizations in the country that accredit Organic Land Care Professionals (AOLCPs). Backyard Organics also supplies a variety of natural and organic products for people, pets and prop­erty. To read more about our products and service, or to submit a question, please visit us at www.backyardorganics.net, e-mail us at info@back­yardorganics.net or call us at 920.850.7450.