In this series of articles on humus we’ve highlighted the four main reasons why humus is depleted in our soils, including conventional farming’s failure to protect the microbes that live in the soil. For too long there has been complete disregard for the fact that soil is a living system. There is such an extraordinary diversity of life in healthy soil that includes multitudes of species we have not yet named. In addition, even the world’s top soil scientists understand precious little about intricate workings and interactions in this fascinating ecosystem.
It is completely impossible to create stable humus without microbes. It is the microscopic life, the beneficial bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa and many other tiny organisms that transform organic matter into stable humus. Therefore, the farmer needs to take an active role in protecting microbes by providing food and shelter. The greatest threats to soil micro-life are chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides; as well as the lack of organic matter in the soil and the practice of tillage.
There are many ways that a farmer can help to protect and encourage microbes, including:
- adding humic acid to the soil, as this is a microbial food
- providing broad spectrum nutrition that goes beyond nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) to ensure that the full range of micro-nutrients that supports life is available
- providing other beneficial food sources such as basic sugars (molasses), kelp, fish emulsions and aloe vera
- making use of diverse cover crops that provide both food and shelter
- using compost teas enriched with microbial food sources
- practising biodynamic farming, including making full use of the biodynamic preparations
How to get more microbes in your soil
If you don’t have much life in your soil, you can make use of inoculants that introduce microbes. There are three main ways to do this:
- Aerobically – combining microbial food sources with a compost tea and then aerating it causes a bloom of life and provides a broad spectrum inoculant
- Anaerobically – effective micro-organisms (EM) can be cultivated in anaerobic conditions and fed on molasses
- Specific microbial inoculants – there are many different living sources available from bacteria, beneficial fungi, to viruses. Most of these are specific in what they do and can fit well into a holistic approach.
These inoculants can be sprayed in the vineyards before cover crops are mowed down to mulch and they help to give nature the best possible opportunities to create stable humus.
Biodynamic preparations which work in conjunction with the farm’s energy systems also play an important role in sustaining abundant communities of micro-life. We’ll be going into these in more detail in this series of humus creation articles.