Issue #001 - Biology Rules ...
And Biology Loves Compost

Here in High River, Canada winter is still very much with us. Today it is snowing and the temperature has dipped to a bone chilling -28 degrees celsius.

It's been a long cold winter. A badly broken arm has kept me from both computer and compost pile since November. While I'm finally back to my blistering 28 words a minute two fingered typing, the compost pile remains neglected down a slippery snow and ice covered path.

What's New?

Bokashi Composting - I have a new section of the site that focuses on bokashi composting. This is a two stage process. In stage one kitchen scraps are fermented right in your kitchen in a five gallon bucket. The promise is that all food waste can be handled by this system including meats, cheeses and those greasy noodle leftovers without ever developing an obnoxious smell.

So far so good on the test front. There is a sour kind of smell but I don't hate it. I love that everything the kitchen creates is handled and that the buckets are big enough that it will be some time - I'm thinking 6 - 8 weeks - before I'll have to empty a bucket into a small hole in the garden. Given the state of my arm this is very good indeed.

Thinking About... Is It All Chemistry or Is It Biology?

"How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?"
Albert Einstein

In helping my son study grade 10 science I've had a chance to review my chemistry and biology.

What is seductive about chemistry is that it seems so knowable, so neat and tidy. It has rules that the elements of the periodic table seem more than willing to follow. Everything has its slot and should a slot be empty a blank square is added and soon filled by the expected scientific discovery. At the moment I believe we have 116 elements.

Biology by contrast, is messy. Soil biology is not only messy but also mostly invisible without a very good microscope. With that microscope you'll discover an intricate civilization.

James B. Nardi, in his book Life in the Soil - A Guide for Naturalists and Gardeners, introduces readers to an intricate and beautiful world beneath our feet. Nardi's book introduces us to:

  • eight classes of microbes,
  • eight types of animals without backbones or jointed legs
  • 11 types of arthropods other than insects
  • 44 categories of insects
  • 7 types of vertebrates other than mammals and
  • 8 categories of mammals
Each of these different categories of life holds a cornucopia of species. In the first class of microbes, that of bacteria, Nardi reports on a 1990 Norwegian study to estimate the number of bacteria DNA's in a sample of forest soil which were at least 30% different from each other. From their analysis of a gram of forest soil they concluded that 4,000 to 5,000 species were present. Bear in mind that the genetic difference between humans and chimps is only 2-3%.

Indeed, soil biology is a wonderful, mind boggling mess. Evan Eisenberg, in his book The Ecology of Eden, says...

"The soil is less a factory than a souk, a Casbah, a flea market, an economic free-for-all in which every scrap of merchandise – second-hand, seventh-hand, busted salvaged, patched – is mined for its last ounce of value."

Which brings me back to chemistry. Most soil testing reports on chemistry giving the levels of various plant nutrients you will find in the soil. Most recommendations are also chemically based - adjust the soil pH, add certain amounts of nutrients. From the chemists point of view the problem and solution are chemical.

Biology Rules and Biology Loves Compost

What is much closer to the truth is that it is the biology in the soil that makes nutrients available to plants. Most of the actual weight of a plant is made up of carbon and hydrogen freely available from the air and water. Only minute amounts of other nutrients are needed. It is far easier for the plants to eat the food that comes to them via the interaction of bacteria and fungi with protozoa, nematodes and others, than by any chemical plant food we may add.

The truth is most soil will grow a decent crop by just adding a layer of compost & watering correctly. The compost does three things.

  • First it adds organic matter to your soil which creates a habitat for the soil food web.
  • Second it boosts the population of soil organisms in your garden.
  • Lastly, and probably least importantly, it acts as a relatively low nutrient fertilizer.

Upcoming Issues - Thanks to You

Soldier Fly Composting - I had a note from a reader about this method of composting. I'm keen to learn more about it. Seems the soldier fly larvae eat the wastes you are composting. The product - fat juicy larvae - are potential food for pets and livestock.

Contributions From You - I will open the site up to your stories in the next week or so. I received an excellent and very long letter from Elizabeth some time ago about her experiences which you will find on the site.

Look for the next Compost Pile on the first day of Spring.

Priceless Advice!

Subscribe to
Our Free Ezine

The Compost Pile

Enter your E-mail Address

Enter your First Name (optional)


Don't worry -- your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you The Compost Pile.