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Christopher Greaves

“Living Soil”; Gobat, Aragno and Matthey

Sub-titled “Fundamentals of Soil Science and Soil Biology”; Science Publishers Inc. 2004; ISBN 1-57808-210-2.

Introduction

Once you have gotten your vermicomposter up and running, you’ll start to be curious about what is going on inside the matrix of soil. This book will tell you as much as you want or need to know.

I hope that you will buy a copy or, at the least, ask your local library to obtain a copy on loan for you.

My interest in these matters stems from my hearing that Red Wriggler worms do not have teeth, from which I reasoned that they cannot eat kitchen scraps at all, and that they must obtain their energy from the bacteria in the soil. I was in part right.

This book cleared it up for me.

Too, I have failed to find, over twenty years, any specific experiment that backs the assertion that “Red Wrigglers consume their own weight (of kitchen scraps) every two days”. As a scientists I could not even devise an experiment that would prove or disprove this assertion!

So I started reading books about soil science.

In particular I have held for over forty years that “Management Measures”. “Living Soil” provides numeric data and the source references for that data. This gives me confidence that the figures supplied are accurate at least to 2004; there may be a later edition of “Living Soil”.

Where I have summarized numeric quantities, I have done so in the hopes that you will be encouraged to read the book; my figres here are “rounded’ from the figures in the book. For example where Gobat, Aragno and Matthey write “Isopoda: up to 1800” I have written “Isopda 1800”.

Chapter 1

Soil is a multi-functional crossroads: A support, a reservoir, a regulator, a site, a purifying system, an essential base of human life, a site of (economic) production, a place for storage, a element of the landscape, and a mirror of human history.

Chapter 2

Microflora

Organisms

kilograms/hectare in 20cm depth

%ge (my calculations)

Bacteria

1,500

9

Fungi

3,500

20

Algae

10-1,000

6

Protozoa

250

1

Soil fauna

1-5,000

29

Roots

6,000

35

Pedofauna

Group

Individuals

%ge (my calculations)

Protozoa

1,000,000,000

99.90%

Mematoda

1,000,000

0.10%

Earthworms

50

0.00%

Acari

20,000

0.00%

Collembola

20,000

0.00%

Larvae

500

0.00%

Diplopoda

20

0.00%

Chilopoda

100

0.00%

Isopoda

1,800

0.00%

To a first approximation, all life in the soil is protozoa!

The population of earthworms ranges from 100/square metre in poorly organic soils to 1,000/square metre in richer soils; by weight 500 to 5,000 kilograms per hectare.

Chapter 3

In 1850 J.Thomas Way poured liquid manure on a sandy soild and on a clayey soil. The manure emerged intact, coloured and odiferous from the sandy soil, while the clayey soil released a colourless, ordourless liquid.

Chapter 4

Biochemical decomposition of dead organic matter is essentially the task of microorganisms – bacteria and fungi, the digestion is done by enzymes.

Physical functions of the saoil fauna: macro-mixing, micro-mixing, burrowing, fragmentation, aggregate formation

Worms produce 40-250 tonnes of castings per hectare per year in the temperate zone. The entire soil of a grassland thus passes through their digestive tract in ten years.

It is estimated that earthworms dig 400 metres of tunnels below one square metre of grassland.


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