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WHAT IS COMPOSTING?


Composting of organic wastes is an old art, probably as old as man's tilling of the soil. the good gardener never entirely lost sight of it. The scientific age with its teachings of mineral deficiencies and fertilizers looked down on composting for a while, only to discover in time that without organic matter in the soil minerals alone will not solve the problems.

Composting without a bacterial starter is found all through history. It would be ignoring scientific progress if we were not to investigate the use of bacterial culture especially suited to this purpose. Those familiar with the practice of fermentation in science and industry know very well controlled fermentation works economically and successfully to produce end material excelling in quality.

Thus, composting has evolved to become a new skill to be learned. The rules of small composting in the home/gardner or on the farm have been well publicized in recent years. Practice has also shown that when scientific procedures are used, the compost pile can rot down to a fine humus in half or less the time that was needed when following the old well trodden path. The purpose is to produce humus and to incorporate this humus into the soil. Humus as it derives from decaying plants, refuse and manure is not fertilizer in the sense of the word as it is used today. It should be realized that not all decayed or broken down organic matter is compost. Compost is more correctly defined as a digested, earthy matter having the properties and structure of humus. One argument from the plant food and fertilizer camp against the use of this material is that there is not enough compost humus available to sashays the needs of a modern intensified agriculture. This is true.

Organic matter is only a small fraction of the total material that makes up the soil-between 1% and 8%. Yet it is absolutely essential to the sustenance of the soil life and fertility. Organic matter refers to dead plant and animal residues of all kinds and in all stages of breakdown or decay. Inseparable from these decaying dead residues are the living microorganism that decompose, or digest, them.

Microscopic life forms (bacteria and fungi) in the soil perform this recombining process. The result is humus. The result is humus. Heat energy is liberated during the process and this is the warmth felt in the compost pile. Most of the decomposition involves the formation of carbon dioxide and water as organic material is broken down. As the available energy is consumed, the microbial activities slow down and their numbers diminish, the pile cools. Most of the remaining organic matter is in the form of humus compounds. As humus is formed, nitrogen becomes part of its structure. This stabilizes nitrogen in the soil, because the humus compounds are resistant to decomposition. They are worked on slowly by soil organisms, but the nitrogen and other essential nutrients are protected from rapid salability and dissipation.

Humus also acts as a site of nutrient absorption and exchange for plants in the soil. the surfaces of humus particles carry a negative electrical charge. Many of the plant nutrients, such as calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium, and most trace minerals carry a positive electrical charge in the soil solution and are thereby attracted and adhere to the surface of the humus. Some of the plant nutrients are not positively charged, such as phosphorus, sulfur, and the form of nitrogen that is available to plants. Fortunately, a good supply of these nutrients becomes available to plants through biological transformations in the compost pile and soil.

As plant roots grow through the soil in search of nutrients, they feed off the humus. Each plant root is surrounded by a "halo" of hydrogen ions which are a by-product of the roots respiration. These hydrogen ions also carry a positive electrical charge. The root actually "bargains" with the humus, exchanging some of its positively charged hydrogen ions for positively charged nutrient ions stuck on the surface of the humus. An active exchange is set up between humus and roots. The plants "choose" which nutrients they need to balance their own inner chemistry.