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What is Compost? Cont.

  This organic matter food gardeners are vitally concerned with is actually formed by growing plants that manufacture the substances of life. Most organic molecules are very large and complex - inorganic materials are much simpler. Of course, animals can break down, reassemble and destroy organic matter but the one thing they cannot do is create it.

Only plants can make organic materials like proteins, cellulose, and sugars and they produce this from inorganic minerals derived from air, water or soil. The elements plants use to build include magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, sodium, cobalt, zine, iron boron, molybdenum, carbon, manganese, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen

Thus, it is organic matter from both land and sea plants that fuels the entire chain of life from worms to whales. Because humans are most familiar with large animals, they rarely stop to consider that the soil is also filled with animal life consuming organic matter or each other.

Our rich earth is crowded with single cell organisms like bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, rotifers and protozoa. Soil life forms increase in complexity to microscopic round worms called nematodes, various kinds of molluscs like slugs and snails (some so tiny the gardener has no idea they are even there), thousands of often microscopic soil-dwelling members of the spider family (arthropods), insects and, of course, the larger soil animals most of us are more familiar with such as moles.

The entire sum of all this organic matter - living plants, decomposing plant materials, and all the animals, living or dead, large and small - is sometimes called biomass. One realistic way to gauge the fertility of any particular soil body is to weigh the amount of biomass it sustains.

Paula Brett is married to a Landscape Gardener who runs Absolute Landscapes and For more composting tips, check out his eBook at
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