How to define humus, not to be confused with hummus which is a food paste made with chickpeas, is something every gardener should be able to do, albeit loosely. It's the secret to a vegetable garden that really performs, both in terms of nutrition and good taste, but also abundance.
It has its origin in another similar word, humification. When organic plant and animal matter falls on the ground, tiny microorganisms feed on it, and in the process it is decomposed into minerals, nitrogen and other nutrients.
Some of this organic matter is resistant to the action of these microorganisms, instead forming humus which becomes part of the permanent structure of the soil.
This process of humification can be sped up in a compost heap, especially one that becomes very hot, and also in a worm farm which has a very high concentration of these microorganisms.
One component is a naturally occurring chemical called humic acid that facilitates the absorption of water and nutrients by the roots of plants, greatly increasing yields without more fertiliser.
In short, soil that is rich in this stable humus, is seemingly far more fertile, even though it may not have more of the inorganic elements found in typical earth supplements.
Humus has a dark, spongy appearance, looking for all the world like rich, fertile soil; which, in fact, is what it is.
Wikipedia defines humus as the dark organic matter that forms in soil when dead plant and animal matter decays, with in addition many nutrients, especially nitrogen.
It's all about the organic matter in soil that makes plants take off.
Humus can be further enriched by the addition of manure, from animals, in our instance by chickens. They love to feed on the compost heap, hunting for worms and other microorganisms too small for our eyes to see, dropping their faeces into the pile of plant and even kitchen waste that every home produces.
Cow dung, horse and sheep manure, of course, both have their merits, enriching your humus pile.
Worm farms are particularly beneficial for enriching your humus; the definition of enhancing your soil really is endless.
Vermi-humus does more than improve the fertility by adding humic acid, and increased nutrients like nitrogen; it also improves the soil structure making it soft and crumbly.
All those helpful microorganisms further improve your soil and, unless it's been sterilised may well contain eggs from the worms which then hatch and further add to the soil.
The worm castings are particularly beneficial for your plants. And the vermi-leachate, often called worm wee even helps by protecting your plants against disease.
So, can you now define humus, or do you at least have a pretty good idea what it is? Really it's the major difference between the vegetables that you can grow in your garden, and those grown by commercial farmers; it's all about healthy plants, free from pesticides and inorganic fertilizers, freshly picked and tasting out of this world.
You simply cannot purchase fresh lima beans like these. They are unbelievably delicious and nutritious in any dinner. We even have them in eggs Hilton for breakfast sometimes; legumes stay with you the whole day, banishing those nasty hunger pangs that make us reach for a candy bar or cola.
They add a 'satiety' factor that continues long after the meal.
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