Microbial Communities: Root of All Good

• Our “oldest” windrow which was constructed in August is still “hot” with an average temperature of 120 F and areas (hotspots) that are at 135 F. we are waiting for the temperatures to drop to 110 F or less so that the compost can be spread in the orchard as soon as possible. This windrow has been composting for slightly over 3 months. We are trying to limit composting time to under 3 months. However, this is not easy to achieve because the woody materials and green manure (leaves) that are brought to the farm by local arborists are not identical (different trees, different plants) and contain natural substances that have different decomposition rates (some longer, some shorter). However, this windrow looks like it is very fungal because several varieties of fungi are growing on top of it and it is rich in mycelial mats. This will be confirmed as soon as possible by a biological and chemical analysis. We had a fair amount of rain recently and the windrow will have to be turned one more time before it is used in the orchard because there are potentially anaerobic pockets here and there, due to the added weight of the water.

• As soon as we have the next dry period, we will build a windrow that should produce compost that is less fungal than the compost used around the fruit trees. This compost will be used for the various vegetable gardens that are being started at Frog Hollow. We will attempt to tailor this compost to various different vegetables by using appropriate starting materials and applying a tailored compost tea to the windrow.

• In spite of the fair amount of rain we received recently, the worms did not get flooded out of their composting beds. It looks like it will take much more water to completely soak the worm beds to the point of affecting the worms (they could try to leave the beds or drown). It also suggests than the water holding capacity of the partially decomposed material in the worm beds is pretty high (due to the action of the worms).

• In the last blog, it was mentioned that we have to prepare planting holes for about 700 new trees (that were removed over the summer). The holes will be filled with thermophilic compost and worms (Eisenia fetida) will be added to these holes. We are repeating an approach we used earlier this year on a bigger scale and with more controls (to be described in a later blog). Compost (thermophilic and vermicomposts) have well documented impacts on soil and plant associated microbial communities. We hope that well managed/processed compost and vermicompost (biologically active) will influence the performance of Frog Hollow fruit trees and their associated microbial communities. There is some evidence that shows that compost derived communities persist for long periods of time in association with plants. For example, a recent study on tomato seed germination, showed that greenhouse germination followed by transplantation in soil followed by crop performance in the field was strongly affected by the choice of organic amendments. Germination and growth of the tomato plants was strongly affected by composts (thermophilic and vermicompost): seedling germination rates were above 90%, biomass at transplantation was higher than with other amendments and vermicompost amended plants had unique rhizosphere communities. Using our limited results and the hypothesis developed in this tomato study, we will continue our approach and described it in more detail in a subsequent blog.
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