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Preparing for The Winter: Coming Up Is A Beautiful Vegetable Garden

• Humic acids produced in compost and vermicompost are a very important and interesting topic but this discussion will again be postponed till next week.

• Construction of windrows in the second compost area at Frog Hollow has started. There will be three new windrows each with a length of 180 feet. The farm workers have a lot of wood stumps and branches to cut and shred with the Vermeer shredder. The local landscapers bring in a lot of branches, leaves, pine needles and grasses. The branches and wood stumps have a very high carbon to nitrogen ratio ( C:N) which means that there are mainly decomposed by fungi and some types of actinobacteria. These materials have to be shredded into small pieces to accelerate decomposition. Fresh and young leaves contain a lot of nitrogen but as they are piled up in residue piles the proteins and nucleic acids that contain the nitrogen are attacked by bacteria and a lot of the nitrogen is volatilized. Leaves then turn brown and the C:N ratios become high. Pine needles contain a lot of terpenes and these compounds take longer to degrade. Grasses when young and fresh also have small C:N ratios that become high when the grasses age.

• As was described last week, a lot of fruit trees (about a thousand) that were not productive enough were cut down at Frog Hollow and they will be replaced by replants. There was no place to put the stumps and the branches because the compost areas were filled by the landscape materials. Some of these woody materials had to be burned on-site (wood ash can contain high levels of calcium carbonate which can act as a liming agent). We hope that next time we can apply some of the techniques developed by Paul Stamets (renowned mycologist) and decompose the woody material quickly on site by inoculating it with fungal mycelium. The fungi can be of local origin as well as commercial varieties such as oyster mushrooms. The fungal mycelium retains moisture and breaks down the lignin in wood. The decomposed woody material will then be added to the compost piles and even the compost piles will benefit from the added fungus.

• Farmer Marlene and farmer Kristin have been preparing the vegetable Winter Garden by amending the soil with thermophilic compost and vermicompost. This week a second batch of compost tea dominated by bacteria but rich in other inhabitants of the soil food web (fungi, protozoa, beneficial nematodes) was added to the soil to speed up the biological activity in the soil and to keep it healthy. Samples of the soil around the various vegetables that were planted were removed and will be analyzed in terms of the biology and in terms of the chemical nutrients. We will be monitoring the soil food web throughout the winter growing season and of course the health of the various plants will be compared to the activity of the soil food web.

Author: 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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