Pennsylvania is for…..Snake Oil?

This year at the Philadelphia Flower Show there were a few groups talking about compost tea.  Meadow Brook Farm, a farm owned by the Pennsylvania State Horticultural Society is one, and another is F2, a company that provides “Scientific Soil Management”.   Apparently they do things that are good for the soil, though the “method” section of their website is a little too vague for me.  They also offer pictures of the results they’ve had with compost tea on a few different projects.  The one that was most interesting to me was the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway.  You can see it here.

Look at the boxwood comparison and you tell me why the compost tea didn’t do a darn thing.   Look at the grass comparison while you’re at it.

Throughout the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society’s website there are all kinds of opportunities to find out how to make and use compost tea, including courses at Meadowbrook farm.  Now that Elaine Ingham is at the Rodale Institute (Which is in Emmaus Pennsylvania) they have all kinds of classes on it there too.  Even Longwood Gardens is Getting into the act (scroll down and click on the compost tea link).  So what I want to know is, why have the Compost Tea Gods invaded my home state of Pennsylvania?  What makes the keystone state so attractive to people who want to promote snake oil?  I just don’t get it.  Is it the cheesesteaks?  Maybe the scrapple?

No, I’m pretty sure it’s the Rolling Rock….or maybe the Yuengling – America’s oldest brewery (their Black and Tan is one of the best beers in the US – second only to anything brewed by the Surly company).   Yeah, that’s gotta be it.

10 thoughts on “Pennsylvania is for…..Snake Oil?”

  1. In the tradition of the Pennsylvania Dutch, to not waste anything “everything but the oink” is used, scrapple is the leftover scraps of meat after hog butchering, unsuitable for sausage, mixed with cornmeal and some other stuff. More here:

    Now ask me about “hog maw”.

  2. I believe that these pictures were taken at very different times of the year. I suppose there are people that would fall of this bait and switch. I am sad that Rolling Rock is no longer my after gardening beer since is was bought and production moved away.

  3. ahhhhh- politically correct academic disingenuity once again uncovered. Is there no virture left in the commercial world. Alas I never was a fan of compost tea…. but Scrapple is another matter…. never could stomach souse though.

  4. Wow. And we wonder why so many people have no problems completely dismissing anything ‘scientific’ that they don’t like. I feel like I have to be so vigilant – just to not be hoodwinked by stuff like this! And this is just compost tea!

  5. Jeff, It’s disappointing to see you publish such an unprofessional article. Making blanket statements that compost tea is snake oil is to categorically reject centuries of anecdotal knowledge and decades of peer-reviewed research to the contrary. While it’s true that not all compost teas are created equally, and some are little more than brown water, it’s just plain ignorant of the facts to be so dismissive of an entire practice — especially one that’s so affordable and sustainable.
    Paul J. Tukey, founder
    The SafeLawns Foundation

    1. Paul, I’m going to let Jeff respond to you himself, but your comment is so far off base that I need to address it as well:
      1) There is NOT “centuries of anecdotal knowledge” that supports the use of aerated compost tea. That’s the type you and the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society recommend. Non-aerated compost tea, in some cases, does have some potential (and requires no special equipment or special ingredients to make).
      2) There is NO peer-reviewed science that shows aerated compost tea has any consistent value for any measurable response. I’ve reviewed this literature for over 10 years, so I feel confident in calling myself an expert in this regard.
      3) Spending thousands of dollars on equipment, ingredients and application of a completely unsubstantiated product is neither “affordable and sustainable” unless you are referring to sustaining business for the compost tea industry.

    2. Hi Paul, Thank you so much for stopping by! As a scientist it’s my job to reject anecdotal knowledge as essentially useless — and in terms of the peer-reviewed research, please let me know which articles you’re looking at (Linda Chalker Scott’s list of compost tea articles is where I start). I’m certainly aware of some articles that imply that compost tea might be useful. Unfortunately this is rarely field research. I’m also aware of peer-reviewed articles that show compost tea failing, and articles that show that compost tea may well harbor pathogens. In other words, I see nothing that shows that compost tea can be relied upon in anything approaching a consistent basis in the field, and I see data showing that it may carry pathogens — so I recommend against it — and I call it snake-oil to drive home the point. That said, would you be interested in engaging in an online discussion on Google Plus on the topic? We could include whoever you wanted — up to say three people — and I could include three people (plus one more as an MC). Might be fun — it would be broadcast on youTube. Thanks for considering it! Drop me a line at if you’d like to give it a shot.

Leave a Reply