Posts Tagged ‘soil’

Although chemical fertilizers give plants a quick,  lush growth boost they are soon depleted and actually leave the soil in a chemically dependent state.  The use of vermicompost as fertilizer adds living  micro-organisms to the soil and begins breaking down organic matter, making it nutritionally available to plants.  Surrounding and existing soil becomes  viable and sustainable; one begins to notice that the neighboring plants and yards improve as well.
When using vermicompost, mix it into the existing soil at the ratio of 5-15 % (vermicompost to soil), improvement doesn’t increase after 20%. With new plants, place a handful of vermicompost in the bottom of the planting hole. If vermicompost is not mixed into soil, but left on the surface, it quickly dries out and becomes crisp and useless.

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by: David Emmerson, LCCHS Science Teacher and Solana Center Master Composter

Kitchen waste, yard clippings, paper, coffee grounds, and other organic materials that are produced in the home are all considered “biodegradable”. This term has a positive connotation, especially to us environmentalists. It means that they can be broken down into their raw materials by a variety of living organisms such as microbes (helpful bacteria, protozoa and fungi), earthworms and many different arthropods. Many of our choices at stores are based on purchasing materials that will biodegrade or “rot”.  The theory is that the materials will then be reincorporated as plant nutrients and find their way back into the food chain in a healthy ecosystem.

Leslie turns a Biostack compost bin.

In the United States and in many other developed countries, we over-produce and generate a lot of waste. We have become a throw-away society, keeping our homes neat and tidy by either rinsing things down our drains or putting wastes in plastic bags out on the curb where it all goes out of sight, out of mind. The illusion is that we have solved our problems and shouldn’t worry because the waste will biodegrade on its own. We sometimes further the cause by putting “green” waste into special bins to be picked up separately to be kept out of landfills. However, most of us don’t realize is that almost all of the biodegradable material that we flush, rinse or throw out is going to end up breaking down in an anaerobic environment either as sewage sludge or in most cases in landfills. The separated green waste most often gets used as ADC, “Alternate Daily Cover” to top off the day’s trash which is then layered over the next day, so it gets buried anyhow. Locally, the cities of San Diego and Oceanside have composting facilities where green waste collected at the curb can be taken to be composted or mulched. But if you do not live in those cities or in an area where composting facilities are available, you do not necessarily keep it out of the landfill by separating it.

When organic material decomposes without oxygen, the microorganism can only partially break it down. One of the major end products of this type of decomposition is methane gas (CH4). Methane makes up a little over half of the gas that comes from landfills. Global methane emissions from landfills are estimated to be between 30 and 70 million tons each year. Most of this landfill methane currently comes from developed countries, where the levels of waste tend to be highest. The EPA indicates that methane is about 10% of the green house gases released in the US each year. But it is 72 times more effective (over a 25 year period) at contributing to global warming than the better known greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2). Landfills are the second largest source of human-related atmospheric methane, almost one fourth of the methane we release now comes from landfills. Landfills provide ideal conditions for methane production, with lots of organic material and anaerobic conditions. The huge amounts of waste that are buried in landfill sites means that methane is produced for years after the site is closed, due to the waste slowly decaying under the ground. Having the waste we produce at home shipped to landfills means further greenhouse gas produced from the fuel burned.

The Solana Center garden abounds from the compost ammended soil.

By properly composting kitchen waste and yard clippings you can ensure that the waste will not sit in a landfill producing methane. Instead, it will go to work at creating healthy soil and reducing amount of water runoff. Several very effective composting methods are available for domestic use, with vermi-composting (using worms) being particularly effective at quickly converting kitchen waste into good quality garden compost.

Even if you are not serious about gardening, you will improve the water retention of your soil and improve the health of the lawn, shrubs, trees or other landscaping if you turn your organic wastes into compost and put it back into the ground. Healthy soil is an important factor in protecting our water resources. Compost increases soil’s ability to retain water and decreases runoff. Runoff pollutes water by carrying soil, fertilizers and pesticides to nearby streams and sewer drains. Compost encourages healthy root systems, which also decrease runoff. Healthy root systems mean healthy plants and thus better growth and carbon sequestration. If we use compost, we can reduce or eliminate the use of synthetic fertilizers (which come from petroleum). Many people add fertilizer to flowers or lawns even if they are not gardening. Only a 5% increase in organic material quadruples soils capacity to hold water. Not too interested in back breaking work with a shovel to turn the compost into the soil? Don’t want to pay for a roto-tiller? Good news for you. It has been shown that simply top dressing soil with compost helps retain the mycorrhizal fungi nets that assist plant roots. It may actually be the most effective way to assist the plants you already have around your house.

Whether you are trying to grow award winning tomatoes or simply want to help the environment around your own home, composting is the thing for you. You will also contribute to the health of the general community in which you live and cut the amount of pollutants that go into the atmosphere from the wastes you’ve generated. Thanks in advance!

http://www.ars.usda.gov US Dept. of Agriculture website

http://www.ghgonline.org/index.htm a green house gas (GHG) website

http://www.epa.gov/ US Environmental Protection Agency website

http://www.globalchange.gov/ the US Govt. website for Fed. Research on Climate and Global Change

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Smaller pieces will break down faster in your compost bin.

Smaller pieces will break down faster in your compost bin or worm bin.

Shredding and grinding materials speeds up the process of composting. Smaller pieces will break down faster in your pile because it increases the surface area. This makes the material easier for bacteria to break down the material. You do not have to shred or grind your materials. The process will just take longer.

If you would like to speed up the decomposition process in your bin, here are some shredding/grinding suggestions from our Master Composters.

  • For outdoor materials place clippings in a large bucket and then use hedge sheers to chop the material before adding to the compost bin. Augers are also a helpful tool for shredding materials. For large pieces, like tree branches, chipper/shredders can be very helpful.
  • For kitchen scraps our Master Composters suggest simply chopping up scraps with a knife before adding them to your compost bin or worm bin. Some of our Master Composters take it step further and blend their scraps in a blender before adding the materials to the bin.

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There are some things that are biodegradable that are not recommended for your compost bin or worm bin. This includes meat, dairy, greasy foods, pet/human waste, and sweets. Biodegradable materials will break down into carbon dioxide, water and biomass within a reasonable amount of time in the natural environment. Some biodegradable materials may contain toxins.

Compostable materials are biodegradable, but with an added benefit: when they break down, they release valuable nutrients into the soil, aiding the growth of trees and plants. These products degrade within several months in an industrial composting facility or home composting bin/pile and produce no toxic residues. Products that are labeled ‘compostable’ must enter an industrial composting facility in order for it to fully degrade into organic matter. If your city doesn’t provide industrial composting, you can dispose of compostable products in your backyard or home composter, but they will take longer to break down.

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There are tons of microscopic bacteria and organisms living in the pile that are breaking down organic material into good humus. Generally speaking, bacteria are pretty harmful to humans. The wrong ones can definitely hurt you, and if in some cases could even be pretty serious. So what about the bacteria in your compost pile?

Here are a few illnesses that can be common among gardeners, farmers, and sometimes composters.

First is Farmer’s Lung. Symptoms are similar to those of pneumonia. It’s caused by bacteria and fungal spores that live in rotted hay (for the most part). If you ever have to deal with hay that has white or gray dusty patches, make sure to grab a dust mask. Change into clean clothes and wash the clothes you worked in when you’re done. If you are unfortunate enough to breathe in any of the spores, antibiotics can be prescibed by your doctor.

Next up is paronychia. It’s an extremely painful infection around the edges of fingernails. This happens when there are any cuts or abrasions around the edges of your fingernails (for example, from biting your nails) that bacteria can enter. Moisture compounds the issue. To prevent this, make sure your gloves do not have any holes in the fingertips and that they are always dry when you use them. If a glove becomes wet and dirty, it would be a good idea to put on fresh dry ones. Again, cases of paronychia can be cleared by antibiotics (minor cases often clear up on their own).

Histoplasmosis is caused by fungus that grows in bird and bat droppings. This fungus attacks the respiratory system and causes a respiratory infection. For most people, this is not a common problem because the immune system can ward off infection before it ever occurs. However, care should still be taken when dealing with large amounts of bird or bat droppings. If you think you’ve been infected with histoplasmosis, please see your doctor.

Finally there’s tetanus. It attacks the central nervous system and causes muscles spasms (starting in the jaw, hence the term lockjaw). Tetanus is caused by bacteria that are widely spread through almost all soil. In this case, prevention is more effective than treatment. That means make sure your tetanus shots are up to date.

All this information and much more can be found in The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin (2008).

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A new development of robotic super suits will now allow us to have a whole army of Earthworm Jims who can defeat evil and save the world from the clutches of doom. If only this were true.

We are not going to have super hero earthworms who can help us save the world. Or are we? Researchers and scientists from Purdue University have been conducting a study on the earthworm’s effect on not only the soil, but also the climate. Their main focus is studying the effect that earthworms have on forest chemistry by studying the carbon composition of soils with various levels of earthworm activity.

What they have found is that soils with high levels of earthworm activity tend to have carbon sequestered deeper in the soil. Bacteria cannot readily reach the carbon and degrade it – releasing it to the atmosphere. The earthworms eat the “litter” (leaves, surface decaying matter, etc) on the forest floor and then release the carbon deeper in the soil. Since it is harder to degrade this carbon, scientists believe this can lead to a buildup of carbon in the soil. This is preferable to having the “litter” stay on the surface of the forest floor and undergoing natural oxidation, thereby releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

Great. So why aren’t we throwing tons and tons of worms into our forests to help with carbon sequestration via soil? Well, like most things in life, this comes at a cost. Earthworms would leave the forest floor with a bare surface. A dark, bare surface would attract more heat (remember dark attracts heat, light reflects it?) and, therefore, dry out the soil a lot faster. Researchers believe this could effect things such as soil temperature and snowmelt.

Another problem is that earthworms could be eating microorganisms that aid in the distribution of nutrients in the soil. This would disrupt the timing of nutrient delivery.

Read the original article here: http://news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2008b/081029JohnstonEarthworms.html

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