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Things everyone should know about compost but probably don't

 
gardener
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Link to List of Bryant RedHawk's Epic Soil Series Threads

I am a proponent of compost, I love to make it, to use it and to build new piles that will turn into it.
I have read a lot about compost over the nearly 70 years I've walked the earth mother, most of it is well meaning and great advice, but they all leave out some particulars that my own research has pointed out.

Compost is always talked about in terms of types of organic matter that you want to put into your heap (or pile or what ever you like to call it, I even knew a person that named their heap of compost).
Almost never do those who write about compost heap making remember to bring up soil as a component of a good compost heap.
Soil can be thought of as a buffering agent for compost, it already (hopefully) contains many of the microorganisms needed to turn a bunch of leaves, twigs, grass clippings, fruits and vegetables, manures into compost.
Soil has another, very important buffering job and that is preventing much of the carbon that is otherwise lost to the atmosphere in the forms of CO2 and CH4 through the bacterial actions that work on our organic matter to create compost.

How important is this soil?
Without soil layered in with all the other layers of browns and greens, manures and vegetable materials up to 3/4 of the carbon initially contained in those materials will return to the atmosphere.
Since we want to sequester carbon to keep it out of the atmosphere, rivers, lakes and oceans, letting up to 3/4 of it go to those places is not good at all, it defeats one of our purposes of making compost in the first place.

How does this happen?
In a good compost heap bacteria and other organisms eat the materials we put into the heap to make our compost, the very act of eating means our microorganisms produce by products (farts and belches) like carbon dioxide and Methane gas.
With no soil minerals to bind with these gasses as they filter up through the heap, they end up escaping that heap and floating up in the atmosphere.
The minerals in soil, along with the more stable humic materials grab hold of these molecules of gas and molecular bonding holds the carbon from sticking with the oxygen, that means O2 escapes to the atmosphere and  not the carbon.

Are you with me here?
Since we want to keep all the carbon possible from getting into the atmosphere, rivers, lakes and oceans, we need to do things that lead us to that end point.
Keeping it trapped by mineral molecular bonds is our best, easy method.

How you layer up a compost heap has a lot to do with how much carbon can opportunistically escape.
Since most heaps are on the ground, that becomes our first soil layer.
This one will reap many benefits simply because it is under the compost heap proper and lots of nutrients are going to travel down by gravity, carried by the water that keeps the heap moisture level where we need it to be.
Then we want a layer of browns followed by a layer of greens (including vegetable waste) then we want a layer of soil (or dirt since it will turn into soil) and we want to repeat this layering all the way to the top of our heap that will become compost.
Capping a compost heap with a last layer of soil (or dirt) makes sure there is one last chance to capture the carbon atoms trying to escape as CO2 or Methane (CH4).
Some will make the great escape but more will stick around because of the minerals bonding with the carbon than if we didn't have the soil to provide those minerals.

Of course if you make more additions after the initial build, you want to remember to make sure that cap of soil is put back in place.

Redhawk

I've priced bags (40 lb.) of "garden soil" and it is usually under 3 dollars, I've used this (dirt really because I didn't find any organisms in the bags I bought) to build heaps when all my own soil was in use already.
So, if you don't have soil to dig up and use in your compost heap, try buying a few bags, the soil layer doesn't have to be thick like a layer of browns or greens, it just needs to be there, it will mingle in and around the spaces of the layer below anyway.
The cap layer is just as important as those middle layers of soil, perhaps even more important since it is just before the escape zone.
 
pollinator
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Dr. RedHawk, I appreciate you sharing your research. I had been feeling pretty discouraged about my garden this year and feeling like I have made no real progress. As I break new ground in expanding the garden, I compare the soil between the old and the new areas and I realize things are better than they were.

I plan to put your advice to work and see how fast the new section improves. Thank you so much.
 
steward
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Do you have any thoughts about making compost in a rotating cylinder?  Adding more than a small amount of soil would make the contents rather heavy, and then spinning the cylinder would be harder.

I have two different cylindrical composters, one at our house and one at our previous house, now rented out.  I'm managing both (I visit the compost tumbler at the rental property once a week and give it a spin, add some more carbonaceous material, pull out citrus peels, etc.)

My main goal, honestly, is to pull as much waste as possible out of the urban waste stream.  I currently don't have a good system for sifting the compost - I just apply it to my raised beds and often cover the compost with mulch so it looks better.
 
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Thanks for the info! For various reasons I figured it'd be good to cover the top of my compost heap, but my issue is that I fill it up very slowly. It's difficult to keep a layer of soil on top.

It's a 4'x4' heap that gets kitchen waste, yard/garden/propagation waste including soil, dog waste, and small woody debris. I've had it setup for almost a year and it's just about 2/3rd full.

Because we slowly add things in, usually making a deposit once or twice a week, it's hard to have enough wood chips/shavings, dirt, or grasses to cover the pile. We make a point to cover it when there's lots of dog poop near the top and/or when it's hot and wet in the summer. So far we've used ~4 cu. ft. bags of wood shavings when we don't have stuff from our yard to cover the heap with. At least those 4cu.ft. bags last for a while and only cost ~$3, but we still end up leaving the pile less 'topped off' with woody debris than it should be.
 
pollinator
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Great! I have been wondering how much carbon was going back into the air, and also Nitrogen....
3/4 is a lot, so we need to do something indeed!

How thick should the layer be? My guess is to not see the layer underneath, so as to block enough pathways... But the successive layers might be enough to compensate?

This is a more "heavy" work, soil weights! I hate doing compost only for this reason... What do you think about burrying? Ok, even more work, but then we have soil! I usually have a trench in a place in the garden, that I fill and cover. Like 50-60 cms. A work all the time on the go...
 
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If you compost in a closed bin, I thought almost no methane escapes.
It condenses on the lid, where colourful microbes proliferate.

Soil is a great way to secure liberated nutrients, but I imagine it's mineral composition and pH affect how well it can bind the flow of chemistry.
If soil is good, then a mix of char and soil must be great at absorption.

In lieu of soil, maximising your 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, is a way to provide a physical barrier - a matrix of carbon to obstruct and diffuse the draw-down of nutrient.
 
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Is there a benefit to the compost of storing more carbon?
 
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I don't think whatever these mobile byproducts of the living components of the soil release, are going to bind to well to silica, particles are too big.  I'm not sure about silt.

But, graphite (a form of solid carbon) and "activated charcoal" both have a rich history of interacting with all kinds of mobile species.  A particular class of interactions are involved when things "intercalate" into graphite.  Graphite tends to behave like layers of sheets, strong bonding in the sheet and weak bonding between sheets.

Clay particles also tend to be stacked in thin layer, as they tend to be shaped like plates (or frisbees).  And you do see intercalation with clays.

So I can see those farts and belches working with solid carbons in the soil and with clays.  In the case of emitted carbon dioxide adsorbing on the surface of either, and by some magic the O2 part breaking free and escaping to the atmosphere, I have some misgivings.  I would be happier with something like a bacteria separating the O2 from the C in CO2.

Somebody brought up condensing methane.  The boiling point of methane is -162C, I don't think it is going to condense.  It may dissolve in some aqueous phase, but you would probably need surfactants or other non-polar constituents to give the methane something to interact with.  Adsorption on graphite probably happens.

But, if someone can come up with a mechanism to somehow turn rain and dew into something more complex (like the addition of soaps/surfactants), what might be a better model to think of for silica, silt, clay and solid carbons; is the reflux condensor in distillation.  Mobile gaseous phases will be trying to get to the atmosphere, but they interact with the complex liquid coating solid particles in the soil as they rise, much like what happens in distillation.  And for a soil, you  probably could just assume an infinite number of plates.

---

My compost bin and compost piles aren't doing so well.  I am just starting to find things to compost, and inevitably I will get mostly green or mostly brown.  But, I have lots of clay, so I can start adding that to my compost.

Bryant, I've enjoyed reading most of the things I'e run across that you've written.  Thank you.

Thank everyone else who has participated, or who will participate.  A concensus of 1 doesn't help much when trying to teach yourself something.

---

The tiny add I seen before posting was about home being 127.0.0.1 (aka localhost).  I often used to put root@127.0.0.1 as my email address for sites that insisted on an email address, it doesn't work as well now as it used to.
 
pollinator
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Some of my thoughts on this topic:
In the initial description Red Hawk lists the initial layer of dirt or soil under the pile. If this is accessible [ like 2 bins that i have that have a small door at the bottom] you can shovel out some of this and place it on top then cover that if the bin dose not have a cover. If the material being added is dry watering through this top soil compost layer serves several functions, activating the new layer, holding moisture and serving as a trap for the gasses especially the carbon and carbonated particles held by water surface tension.
Wood fire ashes can be a component of a soil layer but do not dump ashes into a pile because they will tend to just become a rock like clump.  Stir them into soil or sprinkle them loosely into a dry brown layer.
Composting in a trench accomplishes the goal very well.  The admonition is not to mix your carbon material in your garden soil because it ties up the nitrogen compounds so the plants can't initially get to them but that is what you want to do when making compost. That is hold those nutrients in a living matrix until you feed it  to your plants. Just remember the trench is making compost it is not yet compost or soil.
Pathway composting anyone?
 
Gordon Haverland
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Wood ash tends to be quite basic (high pH), and many carbon dioxide capture processes run at high pH.

But, if bacteria or fungi are also tied into those processes, I don't think a person wants to go to too high a pH.  Diluting the ash in other stuff will tend to reduce pH.

---

Thinking about surfactants, got me thinking about all the kinds of plants that deer supposedly won't eat, but probably do when your back is turned.  Some plants have points (spruce for example), sharp edges (many grasses), are sticky (latex sap) or are perfumed (the deer would be easy to track by scent by predators of deer).  But most of the plants I've studied on the supposedly deer won't eat lists, are plants which are in some sense toxic.

In this list, is a broad group of plants where at least one component of the plant is a saponin (a soap).  Aboriginal peoples often used these plants to capture fish, they would pound the plants in water to produce a soap in the water, which tended to stun fish downstream, which they could more easily collect.  Would adding plants containing saponins to a compost bin help in capturing some of these mobile phases?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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One of the fastest methods for creating compost is the tumbler composter. These can be hand made of plastic barrels and pipe fittings along with a few pieces of threaded pipe or they can be made of the same fittings and plywood for the ends and 2x4's for the drum part or they can be store bought.
In these systems you can't cap the heap since it will be turned once a day, but you still want to have at least one shovel full of mineral soil in there for the same reasons we want to use soil in an outdoor heap.
The other commercial bin is a standing box, you build the compost heap inside the box so you will use less soil (because the sq. area will be smaller than an out door heap).
Trenching compost is also a method that since it will be surrounded by soil, you can bypass the inclusion of soil as you pile the materials into the trench before burial.

pH in most heaps will be somewhere in the 6.8 to 8.9 range, higher than pH of 9.5 and you will not have the different bacteria numbers we really want to see, you will instead end up with just a few species of bacteria trying to do all the work.
Usually in a heap there will be around 100 different species of each type of bacteria working away, eating the goodies they prefer.
Limiting their numbers, while it will work, is not particularly the best for making good, organism rich, compost.

The only plant materials I never include in a compost heap are those which contain Urushiol, since this compound is very persistent, not breaking down easily, I prefer to not give myself a rash when transporting my compost from heap to garden.
All other plant materials are fair game when it comes to the compost heap.

If you are adding any sand, which is our easiest source of silica, you also need to have some other type of soil, silica is relatively inert as far as chemical reactions with other molecules, that is why it is used in many filters along with an activated carbon layer or layers.

Carbon (as in char that you want to become biochar) is best added in small amounts in every layer as you build your heap (it doesn't matter if you are using a tumbler or other commercial type container, you can still use char).
In most compost heaps the char is ready and organism rich at the same time the compost is ready for garden use.  
The exception is the high heat, manure pathogen killing heaps, the heat created to kill the pathogens slows the population of many of our desirable bacteria and other organisms, so the cool down period is when the char will be able to support the microbiome organisms.

Burying compostable materials (trenching in) is a great way to localize your compost, and it can be planted in or around almost as soon as you complete the burial.
It is however best to give newly trenched materials a week to sit so they can begin the breakdown process as the microorganisms migrate into the new materials.

Redhawk
 
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Xisca Nicolas wrote:What do you think about burrying? Ok, even more work, but then we have soil! I usually have a trench in a place in the garden, that I fill and cover. Like 50-60 cms. A work all the time on the go...



Sounds a bit like hugelculture without the wood. Ie I used to build trenches for compost alone (or rather with paper or cardboard to absorb water instead of wood underneath the vegetable matter) until I discovered hugelculture.

True, the composition process will draw nitrogen from the surrounding soil but in the soil decomposition should be pretty quick. Although I guess the speed does depend on climate/time of year.
 
Helen Butt
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:

The only plant materials I never include in a compost heap are those which contain Urushiol, since this compound is very persistent, not breaking down easily, I prefer to not give myself a rash when transporting my compost from heap to garden.


Redhawk



Which plant materials contain Urushiol, Redhawk? I’ve not heard of Urushiol before.
 
Helen Butt
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When I first started composting I read about putting soil in the heap but had no notion of why this was recommended. I guessed it might be to do with adding organisms that would help make compost but good to know that it might sequester carbon as well. The latter is something that had bothered me about compost-making - all that carbon (as well as methane) being produced!

If I’ve understood correctly, clay soil is a better addition that sandy soil? And wood ash acts in a similar fashion to soil re carbon sequestration?
 
gardener
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Helen Butt wrote:
Which plant materials contain Urushiol, Redhawk? I’ve not heard of Urushiol before.



Urushiol is the substance on plants like Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Sumac that causes the skin rashes in people like me. Congratulations on your impervious skin.
 
pollinator
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Hi Bryant,  I would appreciate some sort of link or reference to the research  to be able to understand  the actual process of minerals reducing CO2 production .


 
Helen Butt
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Joylynn Hardesty wrote:

Helen Butt wrote:
Which plant materials contain Urushiol, Redhawk? I’ve not heard of Urushiol before.



Urushiol is the substance on plants like Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Sumac that causes the skin rashes in people like me. Congratulations on your impervious skin.



I think more lack of opportunity to find out ☺️. Thanks for the reply, anyway!
 
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Helen Butt: it is also in Pistachios, cashews and mangos. yes to a less extent but it is there.
 
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Thank you dr Redhawk for a most enlightening post! Would I be correct in assuming that a similar logic applies to wormfarms?
 
gardener
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Natasha, I can't speak from Dr. Redhawk's perspective but I did read his posts again with worms in mind. I would have no worries about adding worms to the composts he described. In fact, that is exactly how I've raised them in the past. Started a fresh batch here at the new place just a couple weeks ago. Free range worms. If they have easy food they won't leave. They will actually multiply quite rapidly. They also do very well on just cow manure & used chicken straw. I would avoid using the tumbler method due to the fragile nature of worms. Thermophilic (hot) compost can kill the worms too so be cautious about that. Use a cold method. Worms need at least a little soil to help their process. They have an organ similar to a chicken gizzard & the grit helps them grind their food. My opinion is that compost is excellent but vermicompost is better. Go for it!!!
 
Helen Butt
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Judy Jackson wrote:Helen Butt: it is also in Pistachios, cashews and mangos. yes to a less extent but it is there.



Thanks, Judy. I will most definitely have come into contact with Urushiol then!
 
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The bible of composting - 1007 pages
 
Natasha Abrahams
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Thank you Mike! I will start adding some soil to my wormfarms. Your words lead me to believe that a little seasand will do them no harm also?
 
Mike Barkley
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I would suggest rinsing the small amount of sea sand first to make sure it is not too salty for worms.
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Okay, I love this post. I believe what Mr. RedHawk is referring to is the recalcitrant nature of carbon in robust organic soils, or the entire point of biochar, which is NOT char, to clarify to whoever said that. Char does not have the same capacity as biochar, even the blank slated biochar that is fresh out of the oven, according to studies. Pulling from Albert Bates "The Biochar Solution," good biochar can have 150-200x the carbon surrounding soils have, and significantly more microbial activity to match, as it creates a coral reef effect once inoculated into compost and moved to the garden. I hope to come to understand the subject more myself...

I just wanted to include a few ideas that might contribute to this post. I very much so like the shotgun technique of inoculating compost piles by adding in soil, as mentioned your post. However, I can't help but think perhaps people should be adding in powdered CFU microbial products which also guarentee certain microbes. Of course, you could just go to a local forest and get soil from there. I use powdered products for my sheet-mulches and they work wonders.

Another thing, I like the cap suggested for the top of the compost pile to prevent carbon from escaping in gaseous form. The whole study is fascinating to me. I'd like to suggest also a layer of straw, leaves, or other seedless mulch on top of the soil cap as suggested in Toby Hemenways "Gaia's Garden" in the section on bomb-proof sheet-mulching.  I think this would help because the top layer of the compost pile can desiccate, which would greatly reduce the organic matter in your soil cap. I am currently avidly studying the detritusphere, or the fastest developing, uppermost layer of soil, which is also the saltiest layer, one which fascinates me greatly. I hope to come to understand no-till's and/or biochar's promises when it comes to managing this complex zone and becoming sustainable by design.

Just as a fun idea, I've read from Paul Stamets that the garden giant (king stropharia) mushroom aggressively colonizes compost piles, making it an excellent gardening ally, since mushrooms vastly increase the recalcitrant nature of carbon in soil and also increase cation exchange capacity greatly via an increase in oxygen. I personally hope to work with lepiota or king stropharia fungi in the future to compost grass and other stuff.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Johnny, Let me try to help your understanding.

Biochar is a carbon matrix which is left behind once all the other organic matter has been removed (cooked to death in other words) char that is in this state will sound like breaking glass when broken (the tink).
char only becomes biochar once it is biologically active, that is, it has bacteria and fungi taking up residence in the many pits and pipes that pieces of wood used to carry fluids (sap) and the exoskeleton parts of the cells, these parts are made of lignin and this lignin structure is all that is left in a proper char product.
all the different microorganisms look for places to call home, whether or not they need one, the lignin structure gives them places to live and move about in as they search for food items. For us this means we can transport a vast quantity of this microbiome to any spot we need it or want it and we can incorporate it just by putting the "biochar" (biologically acive charcoal) into the soil. It is important to understand that the whole biochar movement came from the discovery of soils in the amazon jungle that contain large quantities of burnt wood and other "trash" and the name for such soil is "terra preta".

While I do agree with people purchasing "amendments" that they can not find for free, unless some amendment contains organisms or minerals not found locally (already on your land) that are needed for better bioactivity, such expenses might not be a best use of funds.
This is not supposed to add costs to gardening or farming but to make use of as much that is already there as possible in a more productive way. If your soil is indeed missing either minerals or some organisms needed for your plants to thrive, then those you will need to add.
The only way to know of these missing items is to inspect through a microscope and do counts then extrapolate those counts so you have data that matches the area you are dealing with (a garden plot or farm plot).

Toby liked to mulch everything (I do too) in the case of making compost in a soil capped heap it makes sense to prevent that soil from eroding (just as you want to do in any garden or farm field) so indeed any sort of mulch will do that job. (I use old, discarded carpets to cover my heaps, it lets rain through but holds the soil caps in place with out being subject to sudden wind gusts removal.

No till is a  method which regulates the amount of intentional disturbance of a field or garden plot, soil develops more bioactivity when undisturbed, so the less we turn the soil, the better populated that soil becomes.
No till makes use of chop and drop techniques where the remains of what we grew are simply cut down and left in place to decompose and infiltrate the soil from which they came.
It is a form of recycling where most "modern farm techniques" tend to remove all minerals and kill all the microbiome that create soil.
Excessive tilling (such as most farms perform to get a nice fine particle seed bed) turns soil into dirt since these actions expose the entire top soil layer to UV light rays, which kill our desired microorganisms, thus they turn soil into dirt which is all the minerals minus the soil microorganisms.

Redhawk
 
Johnny Maximilian
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Thanks again Mr. Redhawk for a very informative post, all pieces included. I see you have an excellent understanding of the biological (or organic) chemistry of compost piles. This is an area of research I have just began breaking into the past few  years, one in which really got me into gardening. I realized in my recent research recently however, I have become extremely interested in the inorganic or salty part of compost, those which are predictable and do not change over time such as biology does. Both inorganic and organic chemistry are closely tied together in agronomy however...

Thank you for your notes on biochar, I found it very interesting. I realize now I mispoke, although I feel there should be a name for the empty porous to be biochar seperate from char not suitable to be used in compost. This is why I called even empty biochar "biochar" because it has the potential to hold life and is built for life, while other chars may not be. However, perhaps only the end product is "biochar," but then you might as well just call it "terra preta" at that point, right?

And yes, understanding that the biochar idea stems from Amazonian soil analysis is important in understanding the concept, particularly because the Amazon rainforest is a human-made garden and the best example of what biochar can do. Also important, pulling from the biochar book I referenced, other than understanding that carbon content is the backbone to the terra preta (dark earth) recipe, is that the recipe remains a mystery, and has been found to contain "burnt clays, human and animal excrements (rich in phosphorous and nitrogen), hunting, fishing, and cooking refuse  such as animal bones and tortoise shells (rich in phosphorous and calcium), ash reside from incomplete combustion (rich in carbon, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous), the biomass of terrestrial plants (compost, rich in nitrogen and carbon), and the biomass of aquatic plants (reeds and algae, rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous)." It's a mystery! One of the leading soil scientists in the field, Bruno Glaser, emphasizes that many of the interactions between the char, soil, and the microorganisms only come with time. In particular, the role of burnt clay in the recipe is not understood. He goes on to say the biochar could take 50 to 100 years to behave like terra preta, as the microbes transform the substrate into dark soil. While the recipe may be a mystery, we know it is a powerful way to restore climate balance, we have strong evidence of that. We can literally put the planet into another small ice age with biochar technique. However, climate change as a whole implies a whole lot more than just sort of neutralizing radical weather changes from human activities on our planet. We have to start from the earth up to achieve any sort of climate balance, and that's going to transform everything about globalization and industrialization.

And thank you for the advice on obtaining microorganism information in farming (particularly the part on composting, no-till and microscope research)... No wonder it's so expensive to get soil biology tested. It sounds very tedious. I guess I have been switching planting locations so frequently I have found the powdered CFU products to be very useful for quickly inoculating new soils with the populations of microbes I know I need to be working for me... But I realize some people may already be breeding their own already with permanent beds or forestry or have access otherwise to the colonies locally and for cheap. I spent 5$ on powdered CFUs and have inoculated a 500 square foot plot covered in free horse bedding with a lot of leftover powdered product, and I consider this reasonable allocation of funds for developing a new gardening sight. I grew excellent quality crops to show for it, via refractometer measurement anyway. I also purchased some expensive amendments at some point in that project, so those contributed too. My main goal right now is actually to figure out the proprietary blend for the best amendment I've ever used, soluble amino acids derived from soy protein. Like you said, the goal of good composting technique is to save money and recycle gardening materials, so hopefully I can figure out how to make this expensive product a commonplace recipe that can be made from many sources of common composting protein sources. I have a couple months at my current location potentially, so I am attempting to test around 12 variables attempting to create a spoon-fed home-made amino acid blend. If I am successful, I will have a gourmet product for perhaps half a buck per pound rather than 20-30$ per pound.

And I realize I mulch a lot as well... When I can get good free mulch that is! I imagine this might have to change as I try to market garden, simply because I can't imagine mulching an intensive greens production site because of how much time it would take to seed it properly. However, mulch is an ultimate tool otherwise and for the home gardener :D
 
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Johnny Maximilian wrote:Also important, pulling from the biochar book I referenced, other than understanding that carbon content is the backbone to the terra preta (dark earth) recipe, is that the recipe remains a mystery, and has been found to contain "burnt clays, human and animal excrements (rich in phosphorous and nitrogen), hunting, fishing, and cooking refuse  such as animal bones and tortoise shells (rich in phosphorous and calcium), ash reside from incomplete combustion (rich in carbon, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous), the biomass of terrestrial plants (compost, rich in nitrogen and carbon), and the biomass of aquatic plants (reeds and algae, rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous)." It's a mystery! One of the leading soil scientists in the field, Bruno Glaser, emphasizes that many of the interactions between the char, soil, and the microorganisms only come with time. In particular, the role of burnt clay in the recipe is not understood. He goes on to say the biochar could take 50 to 100 years to behave like terra preta, as the microbes transform the substrate into dark soil. While the recipe may be a mystery, we know it is a powerful way to restore climate balance, we have strong evidence of that. We can literally put the planet into another small ice age with biochar technique. However, climate change as a whole implies a whole lot more than just sort of neutralizing radical weather changes from human activities on our planet. We have to start from the earth up to achieve any sort of climate balance, and that's going to transform everything about globalization and industrialization.



We know that the origins of Terra Preta were from village "waste dumps", these were burned when they got too large and the resultant ash and not quite turned to ash components were then spread out and then the dump was used again. Over a period of probably 100-500 years the area first discovered during the Spanish invasion had grown to about 250 acres in size and with a depth of approximately 4 feet. This relatively tells us they created a lot of "trash and garbage" which they burned. Analysis shows pottery shards, animal and fish bones, manures, and many other commonly used items were burnt in the dump burns and then spread out over the soil. Terra preta holds far more water than the surrounding clay subsoil in the first areas of discovery. While we still don't know as much as we would like when it comes to how the soil got to the point where it will replicate itself, we do know how it works with the minerals and microbiome.

There are currently several "experiment sites" that are attempting to replicate the discovered terra preta. As mentioned by Glaser, it is the interactions that we really want to understand, much of this might be found to be far more linked to electrical interactions through lightening strikes and above surface electrolysis reactions. Electrical pulses will travel very quickly and for very long distances in terra preta, far more so than in "normal" soil, which is most likely a function of the fungal network and the bacterial network within these soils.
 
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Very interesting Bryant. All I know is their farms might have been over half of the cause to the Little Ice Age, so I wanna know what they had going on. I like that you emphasize their use of trash in their recipe. If you could, would you mind unpacking what you said about what we know about minerals and the microbiome but not about how the Terra Preta replicates itself? What do you mean by replication, and what do we know about how the terra preta minerals and microbiome?

For the next piece as well, would you mind explaining your idea about lightning strikes and above surface electrolysis reactions some more? Particularly the bit about fungi.

Thank you for the interesting info.
 
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Hi Bryant;
Have you ever (or any permie here ?? ) checked the research and method described and proposed by David Johnson from New Mexico state university?
It amazes me the simplicity of this method  and the “lazy” approach of doing as little as possible (Paul would love the Lazy part!) No-Turn System + aeration tubes +automated watering + worms doing the turning when added after the thermophilic phase .. for any permie interested, this looks awesome!

I think including the suggestions here by Bryant, the adding of soil layers, capping pile with soil, Biochar considerations etc would make this the “Awesomest Maximus”  :-o of all the systems!


Building it:



And for the hardcore geeks that want the FULL 52' lecture:



 
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I have followed Dr. Johnson's work with great interest and I think it's a great aerated compost system although it does require a bit more work to get it started. The Johnson-Su bioreactor is very similar to municipal composting systems run air through buried, perforated hoses or vent systems except his is aerated passively and can be created with cheap materials and scaled up easily. Additionally, the fact that this compost just needs to be applied once is intriguing. I guess once the cover crops are in rotation, it'll keep the fungi and bacteria thriving.

There's a Johnson-Su facebook group that's really good. Someone, in France I think, has built up a pretty large one. I seriously hate facebook but I hold my nose to visit that and one other farming group because I can't find any other forum with as many posts.

Although I love the Johnson-Su design I don't have the space in my yard for it so simple mulching with wood chips and cover crops will have to do for now. I imagine mulching and using highly fungal compost, along with diverse cover crops--which is what his BEAM system is, if I recall--will get my small garden there eventually. His methods have really improved his New Mexico caliche soil fast and if I had the space, I'd definitely do this.

Side note: he was a home builder for most of his life then went back to get his bachelor's at age 50 and later his Phd. He's inspiring to me in more ways than one!
 
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Greetings Carlos and Dr. Redhawk,

"I think including the suggestions here by Bryant, the adding of soil layers, capping pile with soil, Biochar considerations etc would make this the “Awesomest Maximus”   of all the systems! "  

Sounds good. Carlos--I have checked into Johnson's activities and he is on to something--and so are you and Dr. Redhawk! I'm fairly familiar with many types of composting, but Johnson's seems to be a bit of a better beast for various reasons. I encourage any readers to check out the longer video about Johnson and any other online info that's related. Especially interesting were his controlled studies of using different types of composts--including his own--to grow peppers. As any compost sage knows, all composts are not equal, and Johnson's appear to be superior. I'm diving in this spring!
 
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bob day wrote:Hi Bryant,  I would appreciate some sort of link or reference to the research  to be able to understand  the actual process of minerals reducing CO2 production .



I don't believe I said anything about CO2 production.  

What I refer to is the ability of a soil layer to hold back the immediate release of CO2 to the atmosphere, which gives bacteria time to make use of more of the CO2 and CH4.
Minerals can react with CO2 if the minerals are in an ionic form or when there are certain bacteria present that can process, through enzymatic action, CO2 and attach the C to available mineral atoms. (the formation of CN03 or KNO3, or ZNO are examples)
One of the most interesting events is when there are bacteria respiring CO2 and other bacteria are breaking the C off for their own use.

Redhawk
 
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Johnny Maximilian wrote:Very interesting Bryant. All I know is their farms might have been over half of the cause to the Little Ice Age, so I wanna know what they had going on. I like that you emphasize their use of trash in their recipe. If you could, would you mind unpacking what you said about what we know about minerals and the microbiome but not about how the Terra Preta replicates itself? What do you mean by replication, and what do we know about how the terra preta minerals and microbiome?

For the next piece as well, would you mind explaining your idea about lightning strikes and above surface electrolysis reactions some more? Particularly the bit about fungi.

Thank you for the interesting info.



Interesting idea about a Rain forest helping to cause the Little Ice Age (what is known at this stage is that prior to any ice age a global warming event occurs, this ends with a stoppage of the main warm water currents and that is what causes the cool down to start).

It has been documented at the main Terra Preta sites that if the Carbon Rich soil is removed from an area and non carbon rich soil is put in it's place that within a short time (2-5 years) the non carbon rich soil will become carbon rich and have all the same qualities of the original Terra Preta.
The theory is that farmers creating TP would then take some of their created carbon rich soil elsewhere and let the space repopulate itself with new terra preta. Since it sounded rather improbable several experiments were carried out to 1. see if this was true  and 2. determine how this mechanism worked.
The study is still ongoing at this time, but they have concluded that it is possible that it is only a movement of already existing carbon rich soil being spread by bacterial and fungal movements.
 
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hau Carlos, while being familiar with Dr. Johnson's work, I have not devoted any time to exploring it.

I do agree with your thoughts of combining his methodology with my approach, would you be up to giving that suggestion an experimental trial?

Redhawk
 
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Carlos Gomezvelandia wrote:Hi Bryant;
Have you ever (or any permie here ?? ) checked the research and method described and proposed by David Johnson from New Mexico state university?
It amazes me the simplicity of this method  and the “lazy” approach of doing as little as possible (Paul would love the Lazy part!) No-Turn System + aeration tubes +automated watering + worms doing the turning when added after the thermophilic phase .. for any permie interested, this looks awesome!

I think including the suggestions here by Bryant, the adding of soil layers, capping pile with soil, Biochar considerations etc would make this the “Awesomest Maximus”  :-o of all the systems!


Building it:




And for the hardcore geeks that want the FULL 52' lecture:





There were a lot of good notes in these videos (I watched both because apparently I'm a hardcore geek). I particularly liked David Johnson's notes on the nitrogen and carbon cycles in soil, and his explanation of CO2 controlled release. Concentrating on the CO2 release part, I found these notes to be really particularly interesting because I have been thinking about how CO2 release beneath plants from the soil affects plant growth. When presented with luxurious amounts of CO2 (to a point), plants will grow significantly faster., assuming soil and lighting and plant health is okay to start. However, we of course want to limit this CO2 release in organic gardening. This is why I think allying with specific fungi is such a good idea. By specifically selecting the mushroom worked with, such as the King Stropharia, one can increase plant growth 400-500%, undoubtedly because of the increase in CO2 release from the selected fungi, among other properties it has appropriate for gardening. Referencing Paul Stamet's "Mycelium Running" there. Of course, the best way to go about selecting your strain is to look at what is growing in your local ecology first. If there isn't anything there, then there are lots of mushrooms you can select from forests or other local mushroom producing areas or from certain companies even. If you select a local species (or a few), then run gardening trials, because certain fungal allies can also decrease plant growth, such as the often used oyster mushroom, pleurotus ostreatus, which can decrease yields by 40% (from Stamets again). I believe this is due to calcium lock-up, a common problem with certain mushroom producing fungi. However, as mentioned, certain species have been shown to increase yields greatly, so obviously not all mushrooms lock up calcium in soils.
 
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"Interesting idea about a Rain forest helping to cause the Little Ice Age (what is known at this stage is that prior to any ice age a global warming event occurs, this ends with a stoppage of the main warm water currents and that is what causes the cool down to start).

It has been documented at the main Terra Preta sites that if the Carbon Rich soil is removed from an area and non carbon rich soil is put in it's place that within a short time (2-5 years) the non carbon rich soil will become carbon rich and have all the same qualities of the original Terra Preta.
The theory is that farmers creating TP would then take some of their created carbon rich soil elsewhere and let the space repopulate itself with new terra preta. Since it sounded rather improbable several experiments were carried out to 1. see if this was true  and 2. determine how this mechanism worked.
The study is still ongoing at this time, but they have concluded that it is possible that it is only a movement of already existing carbon rich soil being spread by bacterial and fungal movements."

I meant to respond to this but I had some back pain so I was wandering instead... I just wanted to say thank you Dr. Redhawk, that was a very information rich comment. I really like that experiment. It makes sense that below ground "contamination" can contaminate new stuff put on top! After all, that's the way to feed mushroom patches... Only one question left. I am still curious about your comment on fungi and above ground electrolysis reactions earlier. I found that piece to be the most interesting, personally. Would you mind going into a little more detail on that?  Thanks again Dr. Redhawk.

Also I meant to quote Dr. Redhawk above. I hope that's clear (not my comment).
 
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Just wanted to say thank you, before I read all the comments. I seem to remember that advice from the 70’s, but have not been using soil in my compost, just because I’ve forgotten and don’t remember it being mentioned afterwards.
Crap, guess it is back to the wheelbarrow for me😢
 
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Sorry it took so long to get back to this thread.

About the fungi and electricity.

Fungi respond to the electrical impulses that plants give off sometimes in conjunction with a release of exudates, by letting these impulses travel along the mycelium threads, this seems to signal bacteria and other organisms that are far away to come to where the signal originated.
This means that many more bacteria can come to service a plant than what would be in the immediate vicinity of the plant.
Fungi also respond to the electric charges that we call lightening in much the same way, so far I have been able to record the event and the strength of the charge but I still have to find out the maximum distance and which if any bacteria respond.
It is also possible that along with a lightening charge dispersal there could be a response to the accompanying ozone which is created by the lightening.
Since I am in the process of the work, I really can't say much more at this time.

Redhawk
 
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Bryant Redhawk wrote:

Almost never do those who write about compost heap making remember to bring up soil as a component of a good compost heap.

It's worse than that Dr. Redhawk. I remember reading at least two sources of composting instructions saying specifically to *never* add soil to one's compost heap. Since I've never been very impressed with my composting efforts, we're going to try your way!  Thanks!
 
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