How to define humus is something every gardener should be able to do, albeit loosely. It is the secret to a vegetable garden that really performs, not only in terms of nutrition and flavour 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; in the process it is decomposed into minerals, nitrogen and other nutrients.
It is not to be confused with hummus which is a food-paste made with chickpeas.
Plants will take off in soil like this.
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.
Wikipedia defines humus as the dark organic-matter that forms in soil when dead plant and animal material decays, with many addition nutrients, especially nitrogen. It serves to replenish the resources used up in our gardens when we harvest our food.
Normally a bean having robbed the soil of nutrients but captured nitrogen from the atmosphere would flower, produce seeds and then die; all would return to Mother Earth. But when we harvest legumes we have to replace what we have taken with organic humus or commercial fertilisers.
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 are particularly beneficial for enriching your humus; the possibilities of enhancing your soil really are endless.
Vermi-humus does more than improve the fertility by adding this acid, and increased nutrients like nitrogen; it also enhances 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 earth.
That is the reason we no longer give the vermi-humus directly to the hens; first it goes to the compost heap for the eggs to hatch and proliferate. Then after a couple of weeks the chickens can start scratching in the pile.
The worm castings are particularly beneficial for your seedlings. And the vermi-leachate, 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 Worms is the South African guru.
You simply cannot purchase fresh lima-beans like these. They are unbelievably delicious and nutritious in any dinner.
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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 mid-morning 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 wet months, then you could irrigate.
We call all this the synergy of green living.
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