This road – becomes a ‘trail’ – for now…

Soil scientists are still learning how the diverse sets of microorganism populations go about producing humic substances. They know what it is, and what it does – just not a full understanding of how it’s produced.

They know that humic substances can last for millennia – and addition of them into soil/dirt improves quality of soil and plant life. But science has not been able to synthesize it – because it ‘happens’ from plant matter, inside microbes. So far, cannot be replicated by scientific experiment – which means production of humus through composting must remain, for the time being, a science-based ART form.

No two compost piles are alike, and from my experience, no two composters are alike either. But each composter is THE expert of their own pile.

Take special note, that in all this presentation, there are no ‘cautions’ about possible “over usage” of humates. Not even as a foliar spray, although dilutions may be needed to reduce particle accumulation on leaves (which might restrict photosynthesis) if residues from spraying compost tea become too thick. While not likely, signs of such issue should be known to the gardener – and in any case, a quick flush with a hose spray will eliminate any such problem. Humic products are safe to use.

You should know by now, what kind of marvelous results to expect, when applying humic-based products to soil. So if your expectations are not met, you know to look elsewhere for probable causes such as pH or CEC. Or start with addressing a possible fungal issue if symptoms are found on plants.

To determine quality of compost, a variety of measurements and/or testing is recommended. Microbe population diversity and density Carbon content of feedstock Humic substance content Plant nutrient values Oxygen content Temperature Moisture pH And ,any others. Which test, and when to apply a test are qualitative questions – that apply to each individual situation.

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But back to the subject – the environment in which microbes can best ‘do their thing’. The internal environment of a compost pile. Microbes have very short life spans. Some only live for less than one minute. So a highly reproductive environment is necessary. Adequate FOOD; WATER and AIR. And minimum DISTURBANCE. But some disturbance is necessary to:

  • Aerate – exchange built-up carbon dioxide for oxygen
  • Moisturize – balancing the air/water ratio
  • Mix – feedstock ingredients (C:N)
  • Cool – sometimes necessary for survival of some microbe populations when feedstock becomes too hot.

What is ‘minimum’?

Again, a qualitative question – that applies to each individual situation. Bacteria need time to establish colonies. Fungi need time to establish hyphae networks. Based on current research, the recommendation is not more than twice monthly – but before oxygen is depleted.

Temperature and moisture content are the two primary ‘indicators’ in this equation – for a newly-built pile. And after the first turn of the pile. After that, monitoring temperature is helpful once some experience is gained, but is no longer a primary indicator. Because mesophilic temperature ranges do not fluctuate to the degree that thermophilic ranges do.

Because of reduced temperature in a mesophilic pile, closer temperature/moisture monitoring is necessary. And keeping good records of measurements and test results.

When to measure or test, also needs to be determined by every expert "keeper of the pile". Temperature – from the day the pile is constructed, and every 3-4 days thereafter (twice weekly) Moisture – every week.

As a pile progresses in maturity, experience is the main attribute that must be relied on to address issues. That is where a local ‘network’ of people who compost, will become the most important resource for comparisons and assistance with testing.

All network members are encouraged to communicate issues encountered and solutions they applied, along with results. No amount of ‘book learning’ will substitute for practice.

Each network member should be active in assisting other members and their neighbors to learn more about their own composting process. Every compost pile is different. Every member is unique in their understanding of the process and how they go about performing it. Together, we can contribute to the important relationship of proper use of human organic waste disposal issues. Together, we can make a positive impact to improve our community.

© Robert C. Moore ~ All Rights Reserved

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