There are various forms of carbon ranging from Coal which is a substance to carbon in a system which is Carbon in process. In Biodynamics, different chemical elements are described as different ethers. For instance, nitrogen is the energy ether, hydrogen is the tone ether, and carbon is the life ether. Plants, animals, humans – we are essentially all carbon-based! Hence the reason why carbon is the Life ether and why we are focusing on Humus the ultimate form of soil carbon. It is really the link between the chemical elements and soil life!
Humus is a Latin word meaning ground or earth that refers to the organic matter in the soil that has reached a state of stability where it will break down no further, and it could remain in that state for centuries. It is the second largest reservoir of carbon on Earth, the oceans are the largest.
Humus plays the key role in sustaining the living communities in the soil that are essential for healthy plant growth. Unfortunately, conventional farming has focused on artificial fertilisers which literally burn up(oxidise) the humus in the soil, destroying the micro-life and making it necessary to add larger and larger amounts of chemical fertilisers for crops to grow. Tillage is also a big contributing factor to the depletion of humus in soil. Worldwide, there has been a huge reduction in humus in agricultural soils, Organic matter analysis in show that it’s sitting at 25% of what the levels where 100 years ago! Thus, carbon that should be sequestered in the soil for the creation of more life has been lost.
Organic matter in the form of plant and animal matter is in a constant process of transformation. Raw plant and animal matter becomes active humus as micro-life digest it, eventually transforming into stable humus which is what every conscious farmer wants in abundance in the soil. It’s key to remember humus is organic matter but not all organic matter is humus! The benefits of humus are many, including:
- The conversion of raw organic matter to humus provides food for micro-life so that a robust community of life can thrive
- Retention of minerals – Stable humus complexes minerals and prevents losses, Humus has a CEC of 250
- Humus can store these nutrients and keep them safe from being leached out by water
- Draught resistance – Humus can absorb 80 to 90% of its weight in water which assists the soil in withstanding drought condition, which is critical is water-stressed South Africa
- Humus helps to maintain an ideal pH by buffering high acid or alkaline soils
It is for these reasons that Avondale’s BioLOGIC® practices include the creation, management and protection of humus in our soils. We will be exploring these topics in future articles, so watch this space!