Molly Haviland, "Microherders Manifesto: A Journey to Understand Thermal Composting"

Submitted by Ben Stallings on Sun, 02/21/2016 - 21:49

Notes from a talk at Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, January 29, 2016.

  • Haviland Earth Regeneration wants this century to be known for creating topsoil, and for recognizing food as medicine.
  • 90% of the human body is microbial (by cell count), but we know more about the stars than about microbes.
  • Got interested in urban agriculture due to the food desert in her father's neighborhood, but was struck by erosion and monocultures in rural areas, realized these are also food deserts.
  • Met Dr. Elaine Ingham at Maharishi University of Management, led an effort to regenerate the compacted soil in the MUM greenhouses with manure and compost tea.
  • Living plants are the foundation (1st trophic level) of the soil food web. They microherd the rest of the biome.
  • When plants need nitrogen, they exude sugar to cultivate selected bacteria (2nd trophic level), which have a C:N ratio of 1:5, like little "fertilizer bags." Plants can't do this in sterile soil, though; they need a diversity of microbes to select from, plus a diversity of microarthropods (3rd trophic level) to pop the "fertilizer bags" and release the nutrients.
  • Only 1% of insects are harmful to humans, and 2% to plants.
  • Diseases are opportunistic, so antibiotics and fungicides increase the risk of infection by removing the protective microbes.
  • Higher trophic levels (4+) act to transport microbes to new habitats. Red wigglers are nature's compost tea brewers.
  • When nutrients are mineralized (made soluble), they are attached to salts, by definition.
  • The bacterial:fungal ratio sets the stage for different plants. The nitrate:ammonia ratio in soil reflects the bacterial:fungal ratio when comparing stages of ecological succession.
  • Basics of microherding: No bare soil. Test the soil biology as well as chemistry. Also test your inoculants and equipment.
  • Fall application of compost is ideal.
  • Compost extract is not for foliar application; use aerobically brewed compost tea for that.