Your soil needs humus
To convert leaves, grass clippings and kitchen scraps into humus, you’ll need to begin composting
Humus is the life of your soil. Without it, soil is inactive and unable to produce plants, grass or flowers. Humus is the loose, crumbly material that results from the decay of organic matter — leaves, grass clippings, garden waste, peatmoss, spanish moss, kitchen scraps, or any such material.
Humus is important because it retains moisture in the soil, loosens the soil permitting better aeration and drainage, and encourages the increase of soil organisms which help make nutrients available to plants. It adds body to light soil and loosens heavy, sticky soils.
In the past, humus was assured in soil by the addition of barnyard manures. Since you probably don’t live on a farm or have a horse, cow or goat, it is important to make your own humus through the process of composting.
Garden wastes in the form of compost are a source of humus that most gardeners fail to use, even though it is easy and effective to do so. Nearly every garden has room for a compost bin hidden by shrubbery or even a compost pile hidden somewhere in the yard. Here, leaves, grass clippings, weeds, spent flowers and vegetable plants and even vegetable waste from the kitchen may be thrown into a compost heap.
If you are using a pile, it can reach a height of 4 or 5 feet, but keep the top flat or indented so that it catches rainwater and stays moist enough to continue breaking down. If the season is dry, you can wet the pile now and then with the hose.
You can speed up the process of composting by turning your compost pile, or tumbling your compost bin. When the compost is loose and crumbly and the materials that went into it have lost their identity, then the compost is ready to go in your soil.
The time to make compost varies with the materials used, the weather, the amount of stirring and other factors. Once you have finished compost, spread it 1 or 2 inches thick over your soil and work it in thoroughly. You’ll be amazed at how much better your plants will grow.
Looking for information on composting? Visit our main page and see everything else we have to say about the subject.
What about compost tumblers?
Browse compost bins and other lawn and garden supplies at Clean Air Gardening.
- 13 Extraordinary Benefits of Humus To Improve Soil Fertility
- 13 Reasons Why Humus is Important for Soil
- 1. Nutrient supply
- 2. Water holding capacity
- 3. Cause soil aggregation
- 4. Improves soil structure
- 5. Prevention of erosion
- 6. Prevents leaching
- 7. Have a buffering effect
- 8. Increases the oxidation of complex organic substances
- 9. Improves poor soils
- 10. Increases Soil fertility and acts as a food to microorganisms
- 11. Increases cation exchange capacity
- 12. Humus increases soil temperature
- 13. Maintains the nutrient cycling process
- Drought and the importance of humus creation
- Evergreens in Compost Increases Acid Soil
- Evergreens in Compost Increases Acid Soil Levels
- The Daily Evergreen
- WSU providing organic compost for local farmers
- Hang on for a minute…we’re trying to find some more stories you might like.
- Email This Story
- Garden Myths – Learn the truth about gardening
- Humification – The Process of Creating Humus
- Humus – The Secret to Great Soil
- How do You Increase Humus?
- Can You Have Too Much Humus?
- Does Humus Exist?
- REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE CASE STUDY
- PUTTING LIFE BACK INTO THE SOIL – HUMUS COMPOST
- FARM FACTS
- ABOUT MILGADARA
- PREVIOUS PRODUCTION PRACTICES
- MAKING THE CHANGE
- RESTORING THE SOILS
- PINE HILL TRIALS
- SOIL OUTCOMES
- PRODUCTION OUTCOMES
- THE VALUE OF HUMUS
- Humus Soil 101
- How to create healthy soils for your garden
13 Extraordinary Benefits of Humus To Improve Soil Fertility
The foundation of any food system is the availability of healthy soil. Healthy soil is one which contains decomposed organic matter or compounds that are undergoing the process of decomposition to produce humus. Furthermore, such soil produces healthy crops that in turn provide nourishment for the well-being of consumers. Crops obtain their nutrients from both organic matter and minerals. The organic matter is essentially what is termed as humus – healthy soil component made up of animal and plant residues that decompose to nourish the plants or improve soil fertility.
Humus is hence considered the backbone of crop production as it has a major role in their growth. Most soils used for agriculture contains approximately two to ten percent of organic matter. And, even in such a small percentage, they are still very important. This means the soil is living and has a special ecosystem. A healthy soil, therefore, contains organisms that convert decaying matter, minerals, and dead matter into plant nutrients. The rate of biological activity or decomposition depends on the supply and type of organic matter.
Also, soil fertility is as a result of chemical activities and exchanges of nutrients between the soil, water, and the decomposed organic matter. As such, this not only defines the role of humus in the soil but also its benefits. Here are some of the extraordinary benefits of humus to improve soil fertility.
13 Reasons Why Humus is Important for Soil
1. Nutrient supply
Organic matter contains nutrients that are released after the breakdown by soil organisms. Studies indicate that two to three pounds of sulfur, 4.5 to 6.6 pounds of phosphorus oxide and 20 to 30 pounds of the macro-element nitrogen are released by every percent of organic matter found in the soil.
These elements released by the decomposed organic matter help in vegetative growth of a plant, amino acid production, support, anthocyanin formation, and chlorophyll production among other important functions that produce a healthy plant. Humus also supports the soil micro-organisms such as fungi, protozoa, bacteria, and algae among other species such as earthworms and insects that create a living component (soil ecosystem) which aid in the breaking down of nutrients.
The organisms break down the organic matter in the soil by ingesting and mixing them with the soil minerals the availing the nutrients to plants that are later consumed by primary consumers and up the food chain by humans.
2. Water holding capacity
For the soil to be healthy, it must have enough moisture. It must also have a good water retention capacity according to different crop requirements. Organic matter provides the soil with the capacity to retain water. It acts like a sponge and it has the capacity to hold water, approximately 90 percent of its own weight. Water being held by the organic matter is readily available to the crops when needed.
3. Cause soil aggregation
Soil aggregation is formed by clumping together of soil particles. Organic matter has the capability of causing the soil particles to clump together due to its adhesive properties to form soil aggregates. Soil aggregation improves soil structure which is also a property of healthy soil.
4. Improves soil structure
Soil structure is the aggregation of soil particles in different patterns. A good soil structure is an indicator of healthy soil. One of the most significant factors affecting soil structure is the presence or absence of humus.
A soil with a high percentage of humus aggregates easily and, therefore, maintains a good soil structure. A soil with a low percentage of decomposed organic matter has poor structure and cannot support maximum crop production.
5. Prevention of erosion
The universal loss of soil equation data indicates that an increase in the overall decomposed soil organic matter from a percentage of one to three reduces erosion by approximately 20 to 33 percent.
Humus increases water infiltration which in turn helps in preventing surface runoff. Moreover, soil with a high amount of humus has a stable soil aggregate which makes it hard for the particles to be eroded by agents of erosion such as wind and water.
6. Prevents leaching
Healthy soil is composed of minerals and nutrients required by the plant. However, due to adverse weather patterns among other factors, these nutrients and minerals can be leached to deeper depths where the crop roots may not reach, making them unavailable for soil use. But with the presence of decomposed organic matter, leaching is reduced.
The process of humification involves action by microbes which secrete a sticky and gum-like mucilage. This mucilage is important in the formation of the crumby structure or tilth of the soil. It adheres the soil particles together and improves the aeration of different soils. Likewise, it increases chelation – a process where excess nutrients are bound to the decomposed organic particles of the humus and in turn prevent them from being leached.
7. Have a buffering effect
Different crops grow in soils of different pH levels. In this regard, good and healthy soil is one which can provide the optimum pH for specific plant growth, which is only possible when there is adequate humus in the soil. What is more, soil microbes thrive best in optimal soil pH. Humus has a buffering effect on the soil and prevents too much acidity or too much basicity.
Studies have also established that soils with a high percentage of humus are able to moderate the level of pH which allows plants to grow under optimum conditions as changes in the pH lead to low crop yields.
8. Increases the oxidation of complex organic substances
The decomposition process of organic matter has a direct impact on the oxidation process of complex organic compounds such as the lignin-like humus. These compounds are broken down into simple sugars, amino sugars, aliphatic, and a type of acid referred to as phenolic.
These compounds are further broken down into microbial humus or biomass that are then transformed into humic assemblages after reorganization and further oxidation. The humic assemblages are the humic acid and the fulvic acids, which are crucial in binding to the metal hydroxides and minerals in the clay.
9. Improves poor soils
Humus has the ability to change the property of any given soil. Sandy soil, for instance, has poor water holding capacity, high drainage, and less soil microorganism and nutrients. Clay soil, a second example, has large aggregates that have good water holding capacity but with poor drainage and aeration.
Adding humus to sandy soil will increase its water holding capacity, increase nutrient concentration, and reduce leaching. Increasing the amount of humus in clay soil can help improve aeration, reduce water holding capacity, and increase nutrient content. Humus would also reduce the density of clay soils through the separation of its particles and allow air circulation as well as water permeation.
Further, the reduction of clay soil density can be done by mixing it with sandy soil. In fact, clay soil with a low amount of humus is virtually impenetrable due to its dense nature and if dry, it becomes difficult to work with it. Furthermore, the humus would also improve other soil aspects such as pH.
10. Increases Soil fertility and acts as a food to microorganisms
Fertile soil is a soil that contains all the required nutrients in proper proportion for maximum growth of plants. Such soil has a good structure, texture, profile, optimum levels of pH and temperature, and all the necessary microbes.
A soil that is fertile is regarded as healthy for plant growth but it’s only termed fertile if it has humus. Therefore, humus plays a major role in soil structure, drainage, and pH moderation among other important soil characteristics.
11. Increases cation exchange capacity
The colloidal nature of humus helps it to increase the soil’s cation exchange capacity. The exchange makes the soil capable of storing nutrients through a process called chelation. During rainy seasons, the cations can be easily leached but with the presence of humus, they are held in place.
12. Humus increases soil temperature
Another important aspect of healthy soil is its ability to maintain optimum temperatures. The brown or black (dark) color of soil humus increases the retention of warm temperatures. Microbes also work better in warm soil and this means that the addition of humus would help in providing them with the warmth required.
13. Maintains the nutrient cycling process
The breakdown of soil organic matter into humus by the microorganisms using it as food through humification and mineralization provide nutrient for plant growth. Waste product and dead organisms are also broken down, providing nutrients for plant growth. After these plants are grown, they are fed on by animals and their remaining matter decomposes to form more nutrients for other plants.
This process is continuous whereby plants absorb nutrients to grow, they are eaten by animals, animals then deposit waste while some die, and they finally decompose to form nutrient. This cycle is the basis of healthy soil that can sustain crop growth and the survival of all animal species.
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Drought and the importance of humus creation
South Africa is suffering from a drought and many farmers are experiencing crop failure, or decreased harvests. Never has the condition of our soil health been more important.
Ensuring that the soil is balanced and can provide all the nutrients required for healthy plant and micro life has always been a key factor in biodynamic agriculture.
Avondale’s ethos, Terra Est Vita or Soil is Life is of the utmost importance during times of drought. Creating stable humus helps to maintain soil moisture, nutrient retention and overall soil health. In times of drought it’s absolutely imperative to have stable humus in your soil.
Have a look at the previous posts on Humus for more in-detail specifics on Humus creation here. Creating this stable humus through the natural rhythms, the use of Biodynamic preparations, cover cropping and other tools available establishes a wonderful buffering sponge-like effect which in turn helps our soils and crops cope with the extremes of our climate.
We are very positive about the quality of this year’s harvest despite the extreme conditions and we truly believe that, working in conjunction with Mother Nature, we can continue to produce the extraordinary wines for which we are known.
Evergreens in Compost Increases Acid Soil
I just read “Make Organic Compost for Your Garden” in which she said to “go light on evergreens” when building a compost pile. Now I’m antsy about my asparagus.
When I moved to my present home in Maine last fall, I faced truly dreadful soil: an inch of slimy, acid red clay resting on bedrock, all on a 30 degree slope. To create growing beds, I used what I had most of, evergreen boughs, layer upon layer of mostly white spruce, alternating with lime and clay. Then I planted my healthy, seed-grown, compost-fed asparagus plants on these built-up beds and added a nitrogen fertilizer. I also planted seven fruit trees on the same mounds.
My questions: Can I expect good results? Should I replant this spring, adjusting the soil composition?
Evergreens in Compost Increases Acid Soil Levels
It sounds as if you have two major problems. The first is that your beds sit on bedrock, which prevents your plants from developing the deep root systems they need for optimum growth. Asparagus crowns are usually buried eight to 12 inches deep, and fruit trees are planted even deeper, depending on the root ball.
The second problem is the soil’s pH. Heavy applications of spruce and fir would make your acid soil even more acid, drastically inhibiting the bacterial growth needed for decomposition and stunting germination in many plants as well. Asparagus and most fruit trees prefer a pH between 6 and 7; I suspect yours is lower.
I haven’t seen the site, of course, but if I were you, I’d probably start over. First, try to find a garden site that’s lacking in bedrock. Then incorporate as much well-aged compost as you can, made from a variety of less acid ingredients — straw, hay, manure, weeds, grass clippings. (Or you can buy ready-made compost.) Keep working this into the soil, and over the years you will see a difference in aeration, tilth, pH, and general health. Third, I’ve found that working sharp sand into clay soil makes a real difference. Finally, have your soil’s pH checked, and then ask your local agricultural agent how much lime to apply for that reading.
I realize that all this sounds like an awful lot of work and goes against the ideal of using on-site materials, but it may be what it takes to cultivate plants that like neutral or alkaline soil. You might also want to consider raising acid-loving crops — such as grapes and most berries — which are better adapted to your area.
— Susan Glaese, head gardener
The Daily Evergreen
WSU providing organic compost for local farmers
Mixture comprised of bedding from campus animal care facilities
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WSU providing organic compost for local farmers
WSU Professor Lynne Carpenter-Boggs discusses the benefits of compost and how it helps agriculture and soil quality on Wednesday in Johnson Hall. The university still provides its original compost blend.
BENJAMIN MICHAELIS | THE DAILY EVERGREEN
WSU Professor Lynne Carpenter-Boggs discusses the benefits of compost and how it helps agriculture and soil quality on Wednesday in Johnson Hall. The university still provides its original compost blend.
BENJAMIN MICHAELIS | THE DAILY EVERGREEN
BENJAMIN MICHAELIS | THE DAILY EVERGREEN
WSU Professor Lynne Carpenter-Boggs discusses the benefits of compost and how it helps agriculture and soil quality on Wednesday in Johnson Hall. The university still provides its original compost blend.
CHERYL AARNIO, Evergreen reporter
November 15, 2018
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An addition to WSU’s compost facility nearly two years in the making means the university will now offer a certified organic mix for local farmers and garden enthusiasts to nurture their crops.
All compost is organic in the sense that it is composed of carbon and hydrogen bonds from animal and vegetable matter. But the word has taken on a different meaning as well when referring to a product’s exposure to artificial chemicals, said Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, professor of soil science and sustainable agriculture.
To have an organic certification, WSU had to make sure its compost met many pages of regulations, she said.
“In organic system, it’s very specific that you’re trying to avoid synthetic inputs and things like herbicides and toxins,” said Rick Finch, manager of WSU Facilities Operations Waste Management.
The Eggert Family Organic Farm previously used WSU’s compost until about 2009, when the organic certifier of the farm brought up issues with the materials in it, Farm Manager Brad Jaeckel said.
When the farm stopped using WSU’s compost, it stopped using compost completely and plant fertility dropped, Jaeckel said.
Now that WSU’s facilities are organically certified, the farm once again uses the compost.
“We really try to be sustainable with our production and one of the ways to do that is to source compost locally made,” Jaeckel said.
The certified organic compost is more nutrient-rich than the previous product, Jaeckel said.
“It’s a better product for vegetable production,” he said.
Before the addition, local farms were having issues finding certified organic compost, especially at a good price, Carpenter-Boggs said.
Emily Barber, a recent graduate and organic agriculture major who interned for the project in 2017, worked with researchers and other WSU faculty and staff to figure out how WSU could meet organic certification standards.
“We basically just had to have a paper trail of where all the materials were coming from and make sure that no non-allowed materials were making it in there,” Carpenter-Boggs said.
WSU was already testing its compost for metals and microbiological safety, and the Washington State Department of Agriculture just needed proof the university was testing its compost, she said.
Finch knew where the materials came from, but some certification procedures required very specific details for the WSDA’s regulations, Carpenter-Boggs said.
“It was very frustrating because you really didn’t know what wanted,” Finch said, “and you think you have one issue to address. You provide them the information to address that, and then it raises more, and it was like you were chasing something you could never catch.”
The main materials used to make the compost is animal bedding and manure from the animal care facilities, he said.
Treated wood is one thing the WSDA does not allow in its organically certified compost, Finch said.
Now they separate the processed wood, which is wood that is used for construction or demolition, from wood that comes from pruning and trees, Finch said.
The WSDA was also concerned with the plastics and other contaminants coming from the dining centers. Biodegradable plastics like the ones used for forks or cups in the dining halls are not allowed in accordance with regulations, Finch said.
While some local farms have started using its certified compost, WSU still sells more non-certified compost. Many places that use the compost are not farms and do not feel a need to switch, Finch said.
Garden Myths – Learn the truth about gardening
You have probably heard that humus is an important part of your soil, but few people know what it is and why it is important. There are many myths about humus that need to be cleared up.
It turns out that humus may be the most important thing in soil: more important that dew worms, and organic matter, but it gets so little attention. This post will have a closer look at humus to better understand how we should be gardening to create and maintain humus rich soil.
We are talking about humus, not hummus!
Before I define humus, let’s look at some similar terms that add confusion to the story.
This term is used to describe an upper level of soil – that dark black layer, such as in “that humusy layer of soil’. Although the dark color is probably due to humus, humus is not a layer in soil. There is no such thing as a ‘humus layer’.
This term is floated around the net and it is not clear what it means. Is it soil with humus in it? Most soil has some humus so why not just call it soil? It is a term that should not be used.
Humus = Compost
In agriculture and gardening the term humus is sometimes used to describe well aged compost. You can buy bags of stuff labeled ‘humus’ at gardening centers, but this is just mislabeled compost. This is an incorrect use of the term. Compost is plant material that is slightly decomposed. Even aged, well-rotted compost is still only slightly decomposed. Have a look at this post for more on this topic; Compost – What is Compost. Once added to your garden compost will continue to decompose for several years. Compost is NOT humus.
Fulvic acid, Humic acid and Humin
These are terms referring to different sub-parts of humus. They have specific scientific definitions and should not be used in place of the word humus. From the point of view of gardeners these terms should not be used.
Humification – The Process of Creating Humus
The best way to understand humus is to understand how it is formed. Dead plant and animal material consists of organic matter. Organic matter is a catch all phrase used to describe a wide range of molecules including starches, proteins, sugars, carbohydrates, amino acids etc. When organic matter starts to decompose these molecules are broken down into smaller and smaller molecules by the micro-organisms in the soil (mostly bacteria and fungi). This is a complex process and the gardener does not need to understand the details of the process. What is important is that most of the useable chemicals in the organic matter are extracted by the micro-organisms and are eventually made available to plants.
At some point, all of the good stuff in the organic matter is used up and some molecules remain that can’t be used by micro-organisms or plants. This remaining material is called humus. It consists mostly of carbon and so it is still organic, but micro-organisms just can’t decompose it any further. Humus is so stable that it can persist in the soil for hundreds of years.
Humus consists of very large complex carbon based molecules. More recent research suggests that it might actually consist of smaller molecules that are conglomerated into large complex systems. Scientists still don’t understand humus completely.
Humus is very important for your garden – I’ll explain why in the rest of this post. The gardeners job is to increase the amount of humus in soil.
Humus – The Secret to Great Soil
Think of humus as being a big sponge that can hold up to 90% of it’s weight in water. This water holding capacity of humus is why humus rich soil will remain moist for weeks longer than soil without humus.
Humus has a negative charge which means that many of the nutrients plants require stick to humus, including ammonium (source of nitrogen), calcium, magnesium and phosphorous to name a few. The humus sponge holds onto these nutrients and prevents rain from washing them away. When a plant root comes in contact with it, the plant root is able to remove the nutrients from the humus sponge. The process is a bit more complicated than this, but you can think of humus as being a slow release source of fertilizer for your plants.
Perhaps the most important reason for having humus is that it is responsible for aggregation. Aggregation is what makes soil loose and very friable, improving the structure of soil. Better soil structure found in humus rich soil makes it easier for plant roots to grow by providing them with better access to nutrients, water and most importantly oxygen.
How do You Increase Humus?
Humus is left after organic matter decomposes. Each time you add organic matter to the soil, it will increase the amount of humus in the soil. It is a slow process but if organic matter is added each year, the amount of humus will continue to increase.
You can use any type of organic matter. I believe that the best organic matter to use is the one that costs the least. This is not strictly true, but a low cost usually means that the material has not been overly processed and it has been trucked a shorter distance. Both of these are good for the environment. Use the material that is locally available.
Manure, compost and wood chips are great choices. Just add your organic matter as a mulch and let nature incorporate it into the soil. Never rototill or dig it into the soil since this practice destroys soil structure.
As far as I know you can’t buy humus. Every product that I have looked that calls itself humus, is just some form of compost. I guess someone might be able to buy soil from a forest that has been in place for 100 years. That soil will certainly contain humus–but it is not just humus.
Can You Have Too Much Humus?
Healthy soils contain 2.5 to 5% organic matter, by weight (5 -10% by volume). This number does not include the humus amount. Too much organic matter can be a problem for soils so adding huge amounts of organic matter in order to build humus quickly is not a good idea.
In gardens like shrub boarders and flower beds where you are not harvesting crops, a small annual addition of organic matter, say a 2″ layer, is all that is required. In vegetable gardens where you are harvesting crops and taking nutrients away from the garden, you can add a bit more but not huge amounts. You can add too much organic matter which will cause all kinds of problems.
I have not really answered the question–can you have too much humus? I am not sure. Since humus is created very slowly, I would not be too concerned about having too much.
Does Humus Exist?
This section was added March 2016.
I wrote the above in 2013, and at the time it was the latest information available. In December of 2015, a new study was published that drastically changes our understanding of humus. It concludes that humus does not really exist. Humus is created when soil is treated with a pH solution, but it never occurs in soil.
For a detailed review of this finding, have a look at Humus Does Not Exist – Says a New Study.
1) Photo Source: Middle East Delights
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Humus, nonliving, finely divided organic matter in soil, derived from microbial decomposition of plant and animal substances. Humus, which ranges in colour from brown to black, consists of about 60 percent carbon, 6 percent nitrogen, and smaller amounts of phosphorus and sulfur. As humus decomposes, its components are changed into forms usable by plants.
Read More on This Topic soil: Organic content …partially decomposed biomass, is called humus. This solid, dark-coloured component of soil plays a significant role in the control of soil…
Humus is classified into mor, mull, or moder formations according to the degree of its incorporation into the mineral soil, the types of organisms involved in its decomposition, and the vegetation from which it is derived.
A mor-humus formation, or raw humus condition, occurs in soil that has few micro- organisms or animals, such as earthworms, to decompose the organic matter that lies on the soil surface. Below this surface-litter layer is a distinct, strongly compacted humus layer; a layer of mineral soil underlies the humus. Fungi and small arthropods are the most common organisms. Mor soils are usually acidic (low pH) and are characteristic of coniferous forest areas, especially in cold regions and at high altitudes.
A mull-humus formation is characteristic of hardwood forests, deciduous forests, or grasslands in warm, humid climates. The porous, crumbly humus rapidly decomposes and becomes well mixed into the mineral soil, so that distinct layers are not apparent. Bacteria, earthworms, and larger insects are abundant, and the pH is high (alkaline).
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A moder-humus formation is intermediate between mor and mull extremes. Moder is sometimes known as insect mull because its distinguishing characteristic is the presence of many arthropod fecal pellets. Chains of these pellets bind plant debris and mineral particles together into a netlike structure. A moder formation contains more organic material than a mull formation, but this material is not as well mixed with mineral components.
Humus is valued by farmers and gardeners because it provides nutrients essential for plant growth, increases soil water absorption, and improves soil workability.
REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE CASE STUDY
PUTTING LIFE BACK INTO THE SOIL – HUMUS COMPOST
Bill and Rhonda Daly are producing sweet smelling and fertile soils after investing in understanding their landscape and producing humus compost to attain profitable biological agriculture.
FARM FACTS | INTRODUCTION | PROPERTY BACKGROUND | CHANGING PRACTICES | SOIL MANAGEMENT | WATER MANAGEMENT | VEGETATION MANAGEMENT | PRODUCTION | OUTCOMES
20km east of Young, NSW South West Slopes
ENTERPRISE: Crops. Sheep. Compost.
PROPERTY SIZE: 1182 hectares
AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 600 mm
ELEVATION: 386 m
MOTIVATION FOR CHANGE
- Health concerns and disillusion with ‘chemical’ farming
- Development and application of humus compost
- Focus on soil structure, biology and mineral balance
- Legume under-sowing of crops
- Innovations commenced: 2001
- Restored soil health
- Increased wool staple strength and lambing percentages of up to 150%
- Increased crop yields with reduced inputs; pest and disease free
- Established compost business with client base of over 2000
Bill and Rhonda Daly transitioned from a farming system that was well known to them but causing a deal of discomfort, to one that is building the natural resource base and delivering great personal rewards. The Dalys rely on an extensive understanding of the potential of the landscape, in particular a profound respect for their soils. In ‘reading’ what is happening on their property, through the health of their animals, pastures, cropping activity, soil, water courses and vegetation, they now find they can be proactive in their management and anticipate what needs to be tackled to achieve their aims. This is a big step from their approach to farming prior to 2001 when they acknowledge that they were essentially reacting to weed and pest problems, increasing inputs with limited productivity gain and sensing that they were doing more harm than good to their environment.
Bill and Rhonda have invested in educating themselves in grazing management, minimum till cropping and, in particular, the role of humus compost in promoting beneficial soil life. Production increases were experienced within six to nine months of adopting changes on their property. The Dalys have now included a commercial composting operation on their farm and have helped others establish their own composting operations in over 42 regions across Australia and New Zealand. In addition to providing diversity in their income stream, the results from using humus compost on their farm are clearly positive and for all to see.
The Dalys are the fourth generation on Milgadara, which is located about 20 minutes outside of Young, NSW. The 1182 hectare property has a south westerly aspect and the landscape consists of soft rolling hills. Their north eastern boundary is bordered by the Douglas Range which forms 200 hectares of the property.
The open country is lightly timbered with trees consisting of stringy bark (Eucalyptus macroryncha), white box (Eucalyptus albens), yellow box (Eucalyptus melliodora), red gum (Eucalyptus blakelyi) and rough-barked apple (Angophora floribunda). Thirty hectares have been reforested to form shelter belts for stock and increase biodiversity for protection of native fauna.
Prior to cultivation the landscape had outcrops of eucalyptus with native grasses such as red grass (Bothriochloa macra) and wallaby grass (Austrodanthonia spp.). Pastures comprised annual rye grass (Lolium multiflorum), sub clover (Trifolium subterraneum), some phalaris and cape weed (Arctotheca calendula), and species diversity was low. There was relatively low weed pressure, only a few thistles, marshmallow (Malva parviflora) and cape weed. Army worm, red legged earth mite and other pests and weeds were sprayed with chemicals for control.
The property relies on natural rainfall and dams for water supply. There are natural underground water streams, accessed by windmills and bores.
PREVIOUS PRODUCTION PRACTICES
Fertility was just geared to growing a crop, not sustainably managing the soil to improve overall fertility for future generations.
Prior to 2001 Bill and Rhonda ran a mixed farming enterprise of a self-replacing merino flock, prime lamb production and backgrounding of steers. They used set stocking and their regime included autumn lambing and early spring shearing.
Crops were managed as a rotation of oats, wheat, lupins, wheat, and canola, using four passes of cultivation and sowing with a tyned instrument. Fertiliser programs were based on using 100kg of mono-ammonium phosphate (MAP), 100kg of anhydrous ammonia gas and urea a hectare and stubble burning. Rhonda describes that production practices were reliant on “an overuse of chemicals”.
“This business model led to the mining of our natural resources, destruction of soil structure – greatly diminishing the capacity of the soil to support soil life – as well as making roots unable to penetrate and deliver nutrients to the plant. Minerals were imbalanced and there was low enumeration of microbes”, remarks Rhonda. “Fertility was just geared to growing a crop, not sustainably managing the soil to improve overall fertility for future generations.”
She continues, “Lack of diversity did not allow for natural cycles. An increase in applied fertilisers led to a ‘watery’ plant, increasing both pest and disease issues. There were declining fertility parameters, particularly soil humus and ever-increasing soluble minerals inputs. Ever-increasing amounts of chemicals were being used to control weeds, disease and pests. Nutrient lock-up, leaching and evaporation of nutrients were all occurring”.
In time, the Dalys reliance on inputs of fertiliser, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, resulted in increasing problems of more weeds, diseases and pests and correspondingly, low yields and profitability. There was a total dependence on feeding the crop and pasture rather than recycling nutrients and fixing atmospheric nitrogen.
Bill and Rhonda suffered increased personal stress due to the higher impact from drought, lower yields and animal health problems. They both note that it was “a downward spiral”.
MAKING THE CHANGE
Healthy waterways are now a feature on Milgadara.
The Dalys initially began questioning the direction of conventional farming in the mid 1990s. In searching for alternative approaches, Bill attended a bio-dynamic course in 1995. However, bio-dynamics was considered very ‘new thinking’ and it was not until 2001 when Rhonda was diagnosed with chronic meningitis and heavy metal poisoning that their questioning of what they were doing came to a head. The Dalys say that it was, “A guided message ‘to heal the soil and help others’” that was the catalyst for change.
A combination of thoughts contributed to their desire to change their practices. These included concern about how much farm waste was being burnt rather than being utilised to produce fertiliser for use back onto local soils; disillusion with chemical farming and ever increasing fear surrounding its use; and a sense that they were being sold more ‘bandaids’ to fix things that did not work, rather than address the underlying cause of the problem.
Rhonda says, “We needed to get the eco back into agriculture, not agribusiness. Fundamentally we were greatly concerned about the future sustainability of our farm and children and wanted to adopt a more ‘holistic’ approach”.
Their overall approach was founded on achieving success on three levels – environmental, financial and social – and they now strive to achieve this balance across everything they do.
RESTORING THE SOILS
The soils on Milgadara are granodiorite soils, with sandy loam and a cation-exchange capacity (CEC) varying from three to seven. Soil organic matter had previously been measured at 1.5 to 2.5%.
Due to over-tillage and other conventional farming practices, soil humus levels had declined to a point where soils had become compacted and lifeless. A hardpan had been created at a depth of around 20cm. Low ground cover and the tight compacted soils created runoff and low water infiltration. Contour banks were built to stop excessive runoff and erosion. Practices such as stubble burning and the use of nitrogen gas resulted in no visible signs of earthworms and soils did not smell sweet, meaning low microbial activity in the soil.
In March 2001, 14 soil tests of cropping paddocks were undertaken and independently analysed. The results indicated that the soil nutrients were imbalanced.
SOIL NUTRIENT BALANCE 2001
The Dalys undertook extensive education to understand how to balance soils, creating greater soil pore space for oxygen and water, enabling the chemical and biological aspects to function to their potential. This also provided an understanding of the function of trace minerals in enzyme production and animal health. Their expertise in ‘reading’ soil health had begun.
Further study was undertaken in the United States in the Advanced Composting System (Humus Technology®) to produce humus compost and extracted compost tea from local waste.
This set the new direction in overall farm management.
Cropping management was overhauled to change to ‘thoughtful tillage’ or No-Till, stubble retention, reduction and buffering of soluble ‘down the tube’ fertilisers, introduction of Microbial Liquid Injection system and introduction of biological fertilisers and inoculums.
The Dalys moved away from monoculture crops on the 350 cropped hectares of the property, and instead began under-sowing legumes such as clover under crops to supply nitrogen. A focused effort was made to reduce chemical use. Instead, they considered what had led to the problem and what might provide alternatives to using chemicals.
SOIL NATURAL BALANCE
The key innovation implemented intended to restore humus back into the soils and restore the natural biological balance to soils. Rather than what seemed to be a total focus on the chemical dimension of soil fertility, they set about developing humus compost to build productive soils by impacting all three aspects: chemical, physical, and microbiological.
The Dalys follow a specific process in making their compost. Compost materials are combined to ensure a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 25-30:1. This ratio enables the correct temperature and carbon dioxide cycle, ensuring pasteurisation of any e-coli, salmonella and weed seeds. Feedstocks are tested for heavy metals prior to use and excluded if measurements are too high.
Application rates of humus compost for broadacre farming are around 500kg a hectare. The improvement in soil structure and plant health does not come from the quantity of compost applied, instead, it is a catalyst that supports natural system functioning. The humus compost application rate for vineyards, fruit production or vegetable production is greater, at two tonnes a hectare as these crops have higher requirements.
Soil on Milgadara has a vastly improved structure, mineral and biological balance.
Rhonda points out, “Humus improves soil structure by aggregating soil particles and stimulating soil microbes to do the same. Improved structure allows air and water to enter the soil, and allows roots to access more water and nutrients”.
“Humus buffers the reactions of minerals and nutrients in the soil, preventing losses through tie up, leaching and volatilisation. Minerals are made available to the plant and microbes in the right quantities, leading to healthy balanced plants and efficient use of inputs. Humus also reduces the effects of salts and toxic chemicals in the soil.”
Rhonda describes the humus compost as being packed with a diverse range of soil microbes, along with their food source and their home. The Dalys have experienced that, with a little encouragement, the soil microbes perform a wide range of functions that will improve crops and pasture health – nutrient availability, nitrogen fixation and disease suppression.
The success of their compost regimes on Milgadara enthused the Bill and Rhonda to establish a commercial composting operation, YLAD Living Soils. Involving up to two full time compost makers, the Dalys now have a client base of over 2000 people.
PINE HILL TRIALS
Pine Hill is a paddock on Milgadara that runs off the Black Range with a westerly aspect. The light sandy low CEC soil (CEC 4.03) prior to the trial was compacted, lifeless with low fertility. Pastures were vey sparse and of low nutrient value to animals.
Within two years of spreading YLAD Compost Mineral Blend, using the YLAD Down the Tube granular fertiliser blend at 94kg/ha and biological liquid injection and full stubble retention, the soils have now become soft and well structured with no hardpan, and with visible earthworm and fungal activity. Independent soil tests indicate that mineral balance has improved. The sown pastures are thriving and full of nutrition.
Since 2002 Milgadara has seen a significant improvement in soil structure to a tilthy, well aggregated soil with higher humus levels. Rainfall that is received penetrates further into the soil profile and is retained in the soil for longer. Any excess now flows through the profile without taking nutrients with it. This provides a strong example of how water can be best conserved and used by plants and animals where it falls, reducing the amount lost to run off or evaporation. Increased infiltration and retention is also important, as average rainfall in recent years has varied from as little as 187mm in 2006, to 680mm in 2011.
Rhonda says, “By balancing soils with humus compost mineral blends we have been able to achieve the ideal mineral balance, creating aggregated living soils. As humus has the greatest magnetic attraction to minerals known to man, when minerals are blended with humus compost, nutrients do not leach or lock up but stay available for plant uptake”.
“The addition of trace minerals is essential for enzymatic reactions in the soil. Overall mineral balances have nearly reached ideal balance. Earthworm activity has increased and visible signs of soil fungi present. Soils are now sweet smelling and stubble residues are breaking down rapidly. Organic matter levels have increased to two to four per cent.”
“The cation-exchange capacity of the soil has increased creating a greater store of nutrients.”
Left: Crop stubble is now retained to be broken down on the soil. Right: Soil fungi at work
Pasture diversity in the sown pastures.
Complementary to their education on soil and humus compost, Bill and Rhonda attended the Resource Consulting Services (RCS) course on stock management and grazing practice. Now, in addition to the overhaul of the cropping management, closer monitoring of pasture is now performed to determine stock movements. The Dalys run a self-replacing merino flock on Grogansworth bloodlines and undertake prime lamb production using crossbred ewes and merino ewes with Dorset Sire. Lambing has now been changed to early spring with shearing in late winter. Bill and Rhonda also background weaner cattle from time to time.
The carrying capacity of the farm has increased. Lambing percentages are up to 150% in cross bred ewes and 120% in Merino ewes. Staple strength of wool has improved with nothing measuring under 36 Newtons per kilotex (N/tex). Wool buyers are now sourcing the Daly wool due to its increased quality.
Bill points out, “We now have more diverse pasture species, including bi-annual and perennial. Species include cocksfoot, fescues, perennial rye, lucerne, clover, plantain, and chicory. With rotational grazing management pastures are now becoming stronger and more diverse with less weeds”.
With the reduced use of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, an increase in the biodiversity of beneficial insect populations as well as native fauna has been observed. Mulching of weeds prior to seed set has reduced weed pressure. Soil structure improvements have changed the environment making the conditions not conducive to certain weeds, particularly tap rooted weeds. There is now minimal spraying for weeds, only to manage annual rye grass in cropping, and no spraying for pests.
The Dalys cite some of their other production highlights as:
- Producing crops with less soluble fertilisers with higher yields and higher quality.
- Crop yields have increased with no spring application of urea, however protein levels are higher than under the previous conventional approaches of the 1990s.
- Canola yields up to 3t/ha and 47% oil using only 14 units of N as well as biological nitrogen fixing products.
- Wheat crops now yielding 5-6 t/ha with less fertilisers.
- Independent trials have shown an increase in biomass, tiller count, yield and protein using microbial liquid injection at sowing.
- No signs of disease in any crops, no striped rust, black leg, rhizoctonia or sclerotinia.
- No pests or insects that are causing damage or reducing production.
THE VALUE OF HUMUS
We succeeded through courage, passion, trial and error and never giving up.
The Dalys experience has demonstrated the ability of humus compost to restore and expand biological activity in the soil, further enhancing the physical and chemical properties while reducing soluble fertilisers and chemical inputs. They believe that improving their soils has been their major achievement.
In 2011, the overall profits of the business had increased over 30% in the previous twelve months. Bill notes, “With nine years of drought from 2001 to 2010 the business profits were still increasing each year. More enjoyment is now gained from farming”.
The commercial compost operation.
The opportunity to help others in understanding how their farming enterprise can be enhanced and how to bring soils to life provides a sense of fulfilment for the Dalys. The social importance and community benefits that come from the ability to produce more nutrient dense food with less soluble fertilisers and chemicals is also a satisfying outcome.
“If necessary we could totally produce all required fertiliser inputs on our farm, for our farm, by turning local waste into humus compost. Knowing we can be self reliant is very satisfying”, Bill says.
A lot has been invested into the management changes at Milgadara, and learning the technology to produce humus compost and humus soil fertility has required concerted effort. Education has continued over the past ten years and would amount to over $100,000 including over 15 trips to the United States for study, and courses including RCS, Soil Foodweb and Nutri-Tech Solutions.
Humus Compost – the finished product.
“By increasing our knowledge we have been able to pass on ‘know how’ to other farmers at much less cost to them”, Rhonda notes. Bill and Rhonda introduced Humus Technology® into Australia in 2006 and have now set up 42 composting operations throughout Australia.
On farm, Bill and Rhonda have also invested around $150,000 in purchasing an Aeromaster PT-170 Compost Turner and Water System to establish their commercial composting operation.
One of the biggest challenges to Bill and Rhonda has been having the courage to stay true to their beliefs regardless of others’ opinions. “We succeeded through courage, passion, trial and error and never giving up.”
Performing trial work to evaluate the benefits of the system and innovation was important. “Ideally we would have started earlier and not bothered about buying more land to expand, just improving what we currently own to increase productivity”, Rhonda notes.
The Dalys would encourage others to consider the benefits of nurturing soil microbiology for increased production. They strongly acknowledge the benefits they have attained through creating their own fertility product from local waste residues to support local food production naturally.
“We could not be happier with the improvements and successes we have introduced. Of course changed management practices have enabled all systems to work together”, Rhonda says.
“By allowing plants to grow and reach their full potential without forcing them has shown profound benefits that can be adopted by all farmers around Australia in any enterprise.”
THIS CASE STUDY WAS PUBLISHED IN SEPTEMBER 2012 AS PART OF THE SOILS FOR LIFE INNOVATIONS FOR REGENERATIVE LANDSCAPE MANAGEMENT PROJECT.
DOWNLOAD THE FULL PROJECT REPORT OR CONTACT US TO ORDER A COPY.
THIS is about recipes: Not cold-weather sorts for soups and stews but those for soil mixtures. Time was when the old-fashioned soil recipe — one-one-one, that is equal parts of loam, sand and leaf mold — was highly recommended for just about every kind of indoor plant that was grown in a pot. If cactuses or succulents were to be potted, then the amount of gritty sand was increased a bit. Or if humus-needing plants, like ferns or African violets, were to be potted, then another portion of humus (leaf mold) was added.
But these ingredients are hard to find now, and gardeners make do with the commercially packaged mixtures, the peat-like soilless mixtures developed by many of the agricultural colleges and favored by many growers. These mixtures without soil have their pluses: They are lightweight, easy to use and suitable for a wide range of plants. Most of them contain peat moss as a source of humus and perlite or vermiculite, inert ingredients made of expanded mica that retain moisture and provide some drainage. Most of these soilless mixtures do not contain any fertilizers, but some do.
Packaged soilless mixtures have dominated indoor horticulture for the past decades. The old soil-mixture recipes have nearly been forgotten, because most plant growers did not have access to the ingredients. But many environmentally conscious gardeners are now recycling, and those fallen leaves are ending up in compost piles. As a result there is a ready supply of leaf mold, humus, organic matter or whatever you might want to call it. It is a generous free supply well worth using. Besides, when this wonderful stuff is added to potting mixtures, it does make the pot plants grow just a bit better.
Sieving is the first step in using compost, which is primarily decomposed leaves. But it has other ingredients, too. Not all the leaves, twigs, plant stems and clippings will be decomposed fully, and the screening will keep some of this rougher, textured material out and provide a finer humus for mixing. The sieves or screens can be purchased through many mail-order houses or can be homemade from old screening. The material that is left over is put back on top of the compost pile, to decompose further. One of the dividends of this task is the glorious fragrance. If all of the humus is not used immediately, it can be kept in a large bucket for storage.
Humus Soil 101
Firstly, humus is not actually type of soil, but is rather a form of mature compost. It can be made either through a composting process or can be found in nature, such as in the rich topsoil found in some forests. Humus is one of the most nutritious planting materials around and is used for planting as well as for treating soil.
It is important to note that the gardener’s definition of humus and the scientific definition are actually very different. For example, if you were to visit your local garden supply store and examine a bag labeled ‘humus,’ it would likely only have that name because the bag would contain compost, formed through rapid decomposition of organic materials.
Technically though, humus is organic matter that can no longer be broken down; in other words, it is ‘finished compost.’ Fully humified organic matter is uniform in its appearance as a dark, spongy, jelly-like substance. True humus has an amorphous structure and is so broken down that it may remain amorphous for a millennium or more.
Benefits of Humus
Humus is effective due to the high levels of nutrients and beneficial microbes it contains. The process that converts raw organic matter into humus feeds the soil population of microorganisms and other creatures, thus maintaining high and healthy levels of soil life. Humus can also hold the equivalent of 80 to 90 percent of its own weight in moisture, increasing the soil’s capacity to withstand drought. The structure of humus enables it to act as a buffer against soils that are too alkaline or acidic, and the dark color even helps to warm up cold soil in the spring.
Drawbacks of Humus
If there’s one thing humus lacks in the gardening world, it’s that it’s still primarily an additive. Despite how effective it can be, it’s not generally used as a planting solution.
Creating Humus Through Composting
Composting attempts to repurpose yard waste such as grass cuttings and household waste such as coffee grounds, vegetable peels and cores, old bread, and newspaper. If a material is deemed compostable, it’s added to the compost mound and mixed in with the exiting material so that active microorganisms and air are spread throughout the pile. Decomposition occurs faster when the compost is mixed often. In addition to plant nutrients, composting allows concentrated growth of beneficial organisms, including bacteria and fungi, as well as ground dwelling insects and earthworms.
Humus is Alive
Humus is not just soil, it’s a community of living things. Organic matter is a breeding ground for many types of microbes, including bacteria and fungi that break down plant material, and for other microorganisms that help a plants’ roots absorb necessary nutrients. Earthworms have long been known to loosen the soil for plant roots. Recent research indicates that earthworms may serve to eliminate unwanted pathogens from the soil as well.
Ingredients of Humus
Healthy humus contains everything a plant needs to thrive. Nitrogen and oxygen are present in abundance, along with various amounts of potassium, magnesium, and other minerals. In all, humus contains more than 25 minerals and nutrients that plants need for proper growth.
As stated earlier, humus is just an additive at the end of the day. Other basic gardening soils like clay soils, sandy soils, and loamy soils are all planting soils that react differently with humus.
One cubic foot of clay every 3-4 months will help infuse trace metals and other inorganic compounds. Clay will also naturally regulate the acidity of the humus soil.
Peat is found in low-lying areas, especially in swamps, bogs, and areas are frequently flooded and drained. Sediments and minerals are picked up by water and then settle into the low area, concentrating highly fertile soil into small spaces. Peat is sometimes called humus but composting is the more accurate way of producing humus, which is generally used more as a soil
NOTE: Humus cannot support healthy life on its own. It should make up only a certain percentage of ideal soil.
To add humus or other compost into your garden soil, spread out a wheelbarrow full for every 10 square foot section of the garden and mix it in with a potato rake. More humus can be added as desired or available, and the amount here is a generally a minimum guideline.
Soil can be mixed with a tiller, but emerging research indicates that tillers are too efficient and cause the soil to dry out, leaving it vulnerable to wind and rain erosion. Although it takes longer than a tiller, using a simple trowel to mix and churn the humus into the soil is the most effective method.
How to create healthy soils for your garden
A healthy soil is the first essential step to growing healthy plants.
Healthy soils are full of organic matter and humus, teeming with beneficial microbial activity, earthworms and an abundance of nature’s wonderful little helpers. Plants growing in rich, healthy soil are vibrant, full of vitality and health, having few or rare problems with pest attack, diseases or nutrient deficiencies. On the other hand, plants grown in soils with little organic matter and poor microbial activity are much more likely to suffer those problems. Such plants are not as healthy and generally have less brilliant blooms; in the case of fruit and vegetables, quality and quantity is poorer.
So the key to growing healthy plants is first to build up a healthy garden soil!
SO, HOW DO WE BUILD A HEALTHY GARDEN SOIL?
Very simply, with compost (a good, mature compost), animal manures, organic fertilisers and more compost. Then mulch the garden well and continue to do so. Nature does this. Take a look at some soil in a forest or bushland and observe that the soft, crumbly topsoil is full of organic matter. All the leaves and plant material fall onto the soil, forming a layer of natural mulch. This natural mulch is constantly breaking down into rich humus as more and more organic matter falls on top, constantly replenishing the soil and forming part of a natural cycle.
WHAT IS HUMUS AND WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?
Humus is the end product of broken down (decayed) organic matter. Humus is an essential component of healthy soils that has many great benefits. Below is detailed just some of the great benefits of humus and why it is so important to be constantly building humus levels in our garden soils.
- Humus dramatically improves soil structure
- Humus has exceptionally high water-holding capacity
- Humus supplies a very rich source of plant nutrients
- Humus has an incredibly high nutrient storage capacity
- Humus has excellent insulating properties against both heat and cold
- Humus helps to buffer soil pH to an optimum range
- Humus allows more oxygen to enter the soil, increasing root growth
- Humus increases water penetration into the soil
- Humus increases plant root ability to grow deep into the soil, developing a stronger and more rigid root and plant structure
Overall, the development of humus in the soil will greatly increase gardening success, reduce watering needs to a minimum, grow much more healthy, vibrant and lush plants that are less stressed than plants grown in soils lacking organic matter and humus.
SO HOW DO WE BUILD UP HUMUS IN THE SOIL?
All we need to do is add plenty of compost, animal manures, organic fertilisers and mulch. Then let Nature do the work of building humus from these. Good matured compost will already contain humus.
Every few months or after a crop of plants has finished, add some more compost and mulch again. Mulches that break down are excellent. As they break down, they are also feeding the soil. By constantly adding a little at a time, you are helping to create a natural cycle within the garden. Your garden will use much less water and the soil will hold more moisture. The end result will be improved plant growth and health, with all the organic matter and humus in the soil.
HUMUS AND SOIL pH
The major importance of soil pH* is in relation to nutrient availability. The optimum range of soil pH is generally accepted to be between 6 – 7 for most plants. As pH increases above 7.5 or below 5.5, certain nutrients begin to lock up in the soil, becoming less available to the plant. Sometimes there is a lot of concern over soil pH, but it is an easy problem to overcome.
As we add compost and organic matter to the soil, this builds up humus. Humus has the amazing ability of storing nutrients readily available to the plant, as the plant needs them. Interestingly enough, as the soil builds more and more humus, the pH tends to naturally balance itself. This is a natural phenomonen. Even if organic matter has a high or low pH to start with, once it has been in the soil for a some time, it usually tends to balance itself. Keep on adding compost, organic fertilisers, animal manures and mulch and let Nature do her wonders.
If the pH of your soil is causing immediate problems, there are numerous products available which will help to correct the problem. Normally, if the pH is acidic, Dolomite or Lime is added to raise the pH. On the other hand, if the soil pH is alkaline (above 7), then applications of sulphur powder will quickly lower the pH. Full details of quantities to use and how to apply are detailed on the bags and packaging. If you have a specific problem with a plant or plants, ask your local garden centre or nursery for the best advice suited to your area and specific problem.
HEALTHY PLANTS STRESS FREE
Healthy plants very rarely have problems from garden pests and garden diseases. When plants are stressed in some way, such as lack of water or nutrients, they become much more susceptible to pests and diseases. But healthy, well-mulched soils with plenty of humus hold much more water, supply an abundance of nutrients as the plant requires them, allow plenty of oxygen to circulate around plant roots and contain healthy populations of beneficial micro-organisms and earthworms.
The end result – healthier plants, healthy growth, more flowers, better fruit and vegies and – very importantly – fewer pests and diseases.
Worldwide scientific research has shown time after time that compost can be very effective at preventing and suppressing plant diseases. Good, mature composts have been shown to contain qualities which help to suppress plant diseases in the soil, thus protecting them. Research trials indicate that plants growing in soils which have added compost suffered up to 60 – 70% less disease than the same plants grown in soils with no added compost.
SO WHAT IS THE BEST METHOD OF APPLYING COMPOST TO THE SOIL?
Well, we have found the best results from digging Searles Premium Compost and 5 IN 1 Organic Fertiliser into the top 5- 10 cm of soil or garden bed before planting. Not only does the compost provide an abundance of nutrients essential for healthy plant growth but it also greatly improves the structure of the soil with the ability to absorb water easily, hold more moisture for longer periods of time and allow essential aeration for good root growth and development. All this plus the addition of essential organic matter and humus to the soil already mentioned.
If you are starting a new garden, add plenty of Searles Premium Compost or 5 IN 1, about a 5 – 10 cm, thick layer over the soil and work down about 10cm with a fork or hoe. Remember not to work the soil too much if it is very wet; not only is this hard work, but it also may damage the soil structure. Also, if the soil is very dry, moisten it a little first. Moist soil is just right.
If you are growing annuals or vegies, add some Searles Premium Compost or 5 IN 1 after each crop. There is no set amount to add; the more you add, the better the end result will be.
After each application, or season, you may notice that the soil is constantly improving and becoming easier to work.
Weeds will be much easier to pull out as compost-rich soil tends not to set hard.
Also plant growth and plant health will constantly improve after each crop and you will need to add less compost each time for the same or better results. This is the beauty of compost. Compost is an excellent soil conditioner as well as fertiliser.
HOW DO I ADD SEARLES COMPOST OR SEARLES 5 IN 1 TO ESTABLISHED AND PERMANENT GARDENS?
With established gardens, it is very difficult to dig compost into the soil close to plants without the risk of damaging their roots, but this is easy to overcome. We have found great success in topdressing compost on to the garden bed using a no-dig method.
Moisten the garden bed first if it is very dry. Then spread Searles Premium Organic Compost or 5 IN 1 over the surface approximately 1 – 2 inches deep. Then cover the entire garden with a good, thick mulch using a material that will allow water to penetrate and which will eventually decompose itself, thus also adding organic matter to the soil.
Searles Premium Garden Mulch is a terrific mulch for this purpose. Sometimes, the soil may be very compacted and hard, and is not easy to wet. In this case, it would be beneficial to gently fork into the soil, not turning it but just gently loosening a little by rocking the fork back and forth. This avoids possible plant root damage from too vigorous digging. It also helps crack the soil open, allowing both water and air to penetrate. Then apply the compost and mulch as mentioned above. You may be able to chip the compost into the top few centimetres of soil away from plants, being careful not to damage any roots.
Now let Nature do the work. Earthworms are usually prevalent in most soils, even though they may not be seen. They have an amazing habit of just turning up when the conditions are right. And moist soil with plenty of compost and mulch provides excellent conditions for earthworms. These are wonderful helpers who do most of the work for us. They consume the organic matter and compost, carrying it down deeper in to the soil and depositing it as excreta in the form of worm castings (vermicast). Thus they enrich, condition and renew the soil, and create minute tunnels for air and water to penetrate deep down to plant roots.
By adding compost to our garden beds we are actually feeding the soil and allowing Nature to do the work. Through feeding, the soil becomes rich and healthy. Healthy soils grow nutritous and healthy plants full of vitamins and minerals. Try not to think so much of feeding the plant but instead think more in terms of feeding the soil and letting the soil feed the plants.
* The acidity or alkalinity of soil is measured on a ‘pH scale’ of 1 – 14, with acid soils at the lower end of the scale (less than 7) and alkaline soils at the higher end (greater than 7). A soil pH of 7 is considered neautral, neither acidic or alkaline.