Define humus

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 is the secret to a vegetable garden that really performs, both in terms of nutrition and good taste, but also abundance.

This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 12th August, 2019.

Define humus.
  1. Bernard Preston
  2. Starting a compost pile
  3. Define humus

By Bernard Preston

It has its origin in another similar word, humification. When organic plant and animal matter fall on the ground, tiny microorganisms feed on them, and in the process they are 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.

It's all about the organic matter in soil that makes plants take off.

Define humus

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.

Chicken manure

Hens in the compost heap where you can also see butternut growing.

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, all have their merits too, enriching your humus pile.

Worm farms

A worm farm is full of these nematodes that facilitate the decay of plant and animal waste to humus and nutrients.

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 this 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 has been sterilised, may well contain eggs from the worms which then hatch and further add to the soil.

That is the reason we no longer give the vermihumus directly to the hens; first it goes to the compost heap for the eggs to hatch and proliferate. Then after a couple weeks the chickens can start scratching in the pile.

The worm castings are particularly beneficial for your seedlings. And the vermileachate, 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 is the major difference between the vegetables that you can grow in your garden, and those produced by commercial farmers; it is all about vigorous plants, free from pesticides and inorganic fertilizers, freshly picked and tasting out of this world.

Don at Wizzard Works is the South African guru.

Shelled lima beans that have grown in humus.

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 midmorning for a candy bar or cola.

They add a satiety factor that continues long after the meal.

Planting your seedlings in this rich humus is so rewarding; they take off in the spring once there is warmth and moisture in the soil. First the spring rains or, if you have have been harvesting the manner from the skies in the we months, then you could irrigate.

We call all this the synergy of green living.

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