Soil Building

com•post |ˈkämˌpōst|
noun: decayed organic material used as a plant fertilizer.

The real question is how does organic matter decay? If it weren’t for microbiology, a vast world of invisible decomposers we would be living on a pile of rotting meat and vegetation. But we aren’t. Soil organisms consume organic matter and convert it into available nutrients that new plants access for their growth. It is the digestive system of the plant. It is the base layer of the circle of life. Just as blowing on the fire speeds the burning we can encourage a rapid aerobic compost process that tends to promote a more healthy and advanced community of organisms. The addition of these organisms to our soil system moves the general health of our soils to a more advanced state of succession and a mmedium for the plant communities we desire.

Educating about Soil Carbon at SMI



Soil carbon sequestration offers one of our best chances of reducing green house gases in a cost effective way. On top of that it provides a myriad of other benefits; preventing droughts and floods, increasing ranch yields, and boosting biodiversity in the place where it counts most, the soil.

At SMI, we do our best to boost soil carbon, but as a society we are just starting to learn how to do that. Even before we can learn how to increase organic matter we need to learn how to properly measure it.

We were glad to have Peter Donovan out to SMI’s Petaluma property to perform and teach his preminent method to folks from a half dozen different agencies and non-profits.



2012 Glen Ellen Data

SMI has been establishing baseline data for the Glen Ellen property.

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Report for Production of Compost, Compost Tea, and Native Grasses at SMI 2010-11


Three batches of compost were made using the recipe in the SMI compost manual. These batches were made in October 2010, March 2011, and April 2011. The first batch was made of shredded material while the other two batches were not. We found there was no difference in the process between these two preparations. It is much less work not to shred the material.

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Thermal Compost Feedstock for Compost Tea Production

Matt Weger and the SMI staff demonstrate how to make Vegetative Thermal Compost for use in Compost Tea Production.

October compost making event

Three 1.5 cubic yard hoops were constructed and filled with composting raw materials. Raw materials include rice straw, orchard grass, alfalfa, oak wood chips and leaves. This compost is ready for use now.

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Leaf Litter and Thatch Exp Update

After 5 weeks there has been no significant difference between the control and the one time treatments in both the oak leaf litter and the harding grass thatch bins. Here is a picture taken at 5 weeks…page down and compare to the initial photo…

Thatch and Leaf Litter Trial (Week 5)

The next phase will begin with a once a week treatment following the initial amounts of compost, compost tea and water. (see 1-3 listed below). I will continue this until total decomposition.

1.    Control Bin – this bin will receive 4 cups of water with each treatment session (to establish the same amount of added moisture as the Tea Bin)
2.    Tea Bin – this bin will receive 1 cup of compost tea mixed with three cups of water evenly distributed over the top layer of thatch and leaf litter.
3.    Compost Bin – this bin will receive 2 cups of compost and 4 cups of water with each treatment session (the 4 cups of water is to establish the same amount of added moisture as the Tea Bin)

Comparing teas made with different amounts of Fish Hydrolysate

Here’s the update:

Comparing teas made with different amounts of Fish Hydrolysate

Thus far I have completed three rounds of testing for each amount of Fish Hydrolysate, which are no foods, 150ml, 250ml, and 500ml.  My observation is that our fish hydrolysate product improves fungal activity and increases total fungal biomass, though both have a fair amount of variability.

Please note that this sheet is not directly comparable to the sheet analyzing different amounts of Turf Pro, as the compost mix used was slightly different for each trial.


Compost Preactivation and Extraction Trial with Fish Hydrolysate

Here’s a fun look tracing some compost from when we built the piles, through preactivation, and into a liquid extraction.

Compost Preactivation and Extraction Trial with Fish Hydrolysate

Recent compost preactivations

Here are the results of two recent compost preactivations.



Recent tote results

Here are the results from a couple of recent compost totes made here at SMI. These links will take you to the process sheets we use that show the ingredients and the results of our tests.

Notice that the first tote was made with several types of fungal foods, and the second one was made with all of the same composts, but with no foods added.

As always, comments and observations welcome.



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