In our search to find out where our soil comes from and what it contains, we have divided it up into its various constituents and started to identify each part.
Soil, we now know, comes from rocks that have been weathered and ground down to smaller particles to make the mineral content.
Next we organize our organic matter.
Organic matter makes up the second largest portion of our recipe so it is vital we define it correctly so we can be sure of what we are handling and what we can add to our soil mix.
Organic matter or humus, originates from decayed plant and animal remains. On its own, it is a black unstructured mass and it works like a glue in binding all the other elements together. When bacteria gets to work on this shapeless compound, it breaks it further down to produce nitrates and other minerals salts essential for plant growth. Without it, all you have is dust. Deserts have a very low humus content. The mineral particles there ,sand, have nothing to bind them together and they just blow around . The other obvious effect of a lack of binding humus is water retention.
When we build our now common place compost heaps and create our own piles of rich organic humus, we add plant material in the form of kitchen waste . In the wild, in it’s natural state, trees lose leaves and bark, sometimes whole trees fall and decay. Plants germinate, grow, seed and die, some quicker than others but all adding their little contribution to the humus collective.
But the question on your lips is, where does the animal remains come into it?
Well, we are used to thinking of animals as large domestic creatures but the tiniest little insects that crawl through the leaf litter and eat their way through your compost heap will live and die and breed there too.
Some degree of animal remains come in the form of animal droppings too, commonly for the domestic garden in the form of farmyard manure.
The next ingredient in our cake mix is one you can’t hold in your hand or pour into the ground. You can’t weigh it are fill a wheel barrow with it but it means the difference between life and death to us as well as our plants.
How it works with the other parts of the soil and how we incorporate it will be covered in a future blog.