Tarrant County Master Gardener Association
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The importance of the vitality of our soil cannot be overemphasized when trying to maintain plant health. Taking care of the environment in which the root system grows is essential to growing productive plants and avoiding plant problems. Nature has been maintaining the vitality of the soil since the beginning of life on Earth through the process of the decomposition of organic material.


A basic understanding of the factors involved in this decomposition will enable us to become more successful backyard composters. A major portion of this decomposition is accomplished by microbes (single cell microorganisms), which breakdown organic matter into compost and eventually humus. Microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi release enzymes that breakdown complex organic compounds into simpler compounds, which they can absorb as nutrients. These microbes are primary decomposers and are but the first step in a food chain that are eaten by other organisms, until we can actually see decomposers such as maggots, pill bugs and earthworms (the ultimate composting machines).


These organic decomposers are liberators of the nutrients that allow plants to grow strong and healthy. These nutrients are so ideally adapted to plant needs that they are far better soil enrichers than human engineered fertilizers. Soil microorganisms are everywhere and could amount to as many as nine hundred billion in just one pound of fairly decent soil.


As living beings we require several things in order to exist, such as, food, water, air, and space in which to live. Obviously plants have these same basic requirements, as do microbes. These microorganisms only need four things to keep them satisfied and growing in their decomposing activities;


1. Carbon is their primary food source. Since all organic matter is carbon based, it is easy to see how any thing that was once living is fair game for their activities.

2. Nitrogen is required as a protein source to allow these microbes to grow and multiply. Again all organic matter contains some degree of nitrogen.

3. Water

4. Air


All of these requirements are supplied in nature and in future articles we will see how we can imitate nature by promoting the faster decomposition of organic material in our backyards, with the objective of improving the vitality of our soil.

COMPOST HOW NATURE DOES IT (Second in a Three-Part Series)

Serious about Soil
By Charlie Shiner, Master Gardener - Compost Specialist