Composting as An Antidote to Soil Abuse

Farmer Al spoke at the International Green Industry Hall of Fame conference April 4. His talk, titled “Compost; the new rage in sustainability," described how composting and vermi-composting is performed on-site at Frog Hollow Farm.

It will be instructive to follow the talk slide by slide in future blogs because it gives a clear overview of how composting is managed by Farmer Al and MLF Soil Consulting.

The image above shows the type of soil that is predominantly found at Frog Hollow. It is called clay loam: roughly speaking, it is a mixture of equal percentages of three types of particles (clay, silt, sand). This kind of soil holds nutrients very well and also has high water holding capacity. This slide emphasizes the fact that soil is the heart of the system at Frog Hollow. It drives the biological, physical and chemical processes.

Composting at Frog Hollow helps solve the world’s garbage problem, helps return some of the nutrients to the soil and is also a pleasure. By composting we create a hospitable environment for many of the soil’s decomposers so that they can move in and carry out the same tasks that they carry out in the orchard. Once the decomposers have arrived, the conditions in the compost pile encourage them to multiply.

This image shows the carbon flow in the soil food web: who gets the carbon from whom, who eats and who gets eaten. The carbon flow in a compost pile is similar to the one in the soil. Every microbe/animal in this slide must be present and must perform its function properly for the compost food web to function as required. We measure the numbers (and biomass) of the bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes to check how well the compost is progressing. We do this by counting the microbes using a microscope and also we measure the temperature of the compost (heat is generated when microbes multiply). 














Why do we use the microbes listed above as tools/indicators of the health of the compost? These microbes multiply very fast, are very abundant and they are the primary decomposers (they set the speed at which the compost piles will become ready to be spread in the orchard). In a square meter of soil, there are 10 trillion bacteria, 10 billion protozoa, 5 million beneficial nematodes and the fungi are measured in meters. On the other hand, various insects amount to perhaps 5000 and there may be one or two frogs. Since small microbes are relatively stationary (they don’t move around as much as frogs or birds), they are easier to count. Finally, the small microbes live in close proximity to the roots of plants and this way the nutrients they produce are readily available to plants. For these reasons, the small microbes are used as tools to analyze compost piles.

The vast mosaic of compost/soil life needs decomposers (very small creatures) as well as predators (big guys), all subsisting in an exquisite state of balance and sustaining one another.

Next week we will continue with the slides and we will have more to say about vermicompost teas.

Christophe Kreis MLF Soil Consulting PhD, Molecular Biology/Developmental Biology, University of British Columbia, Canada.
Christophe is co-founder of MLF Soil Consulting with his wife Monique. He started his career in basic medical research and after various positions in academia and industry Christophe slowly returned to his first passion Soil Ecology and Microbiology. It is his belief that human health is tied intimately to soil health through the production of healthy food. For this reason MLF Soil Consulting is committed to help farmers improve the management of their soil through composting, vermicomposting and biological analysis of microbial soil life.

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