Thursday, July 26, 2007

Organic Matter: Humus

When we refer to organic matter in the soil, we mean the humus that the soil has. There is more organic matter in the soil that is not humus, like: rottening leaves, all kind of solid element that we can still recognize as such.

But, What exactly is humus? Humus Definition: I'll give an example to understand it better: When a leaf falls to the ground, it's immediately atacked by fungy and bateria mainly responsible for it decomposition. The result is the following:
  • A part of the leaf transforms into mineral nutrients (nitrogen, potassium, etc)
  • The other part becomes humus. The same process ocurs in any other organic matter that we may add to the soil, for instance, animal waste, compost, etc. All of them are attacked by organisms and they produce mineral nutrients and humus as well
  • If the leaves weighs 2 grams the percentages would be as follows: 0,1 becomes humus and the rest minerals
  • As the years go by, that same humus will also become minerals, but that process can last around 3 years
Humus is a very special anb beneficial substance for plants. It has some qualities that contribute to the following properties to the soil:
  1. Provides airing to the soil, improving its structure
  2. It retains water and mineral, otherwise they would wash away with the rain
  3. Provides mineral nutrientes for the plants as it decomposes (nitrogen, potassium, etc)
  4. Humus also has some other less-known benefits. It produces something like growing boosters that the plants can absorb, favouring nutrition and resistance against diceases: vitamins and plant growing regulators
How do I tell how much humus my soil has ?

Taking some of the soil in our hand, telling by the structure and color, we can diagnose how rich (or poor) our soil is in humus. The most accurate method is taking a sample to the lab. Most soils range between 1 and 3% of humus. Soil from woods may have up to 5%. In order to increase the humus level in our soil takes time. It takes years. For instance, if we add animal waste, around 10% of this matter becomes humus. Bear in mind that no all plants prefer to live in a soil with a high humus composition (desert plants).

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