‘Don’t judge me if you find me eating from the compost pile’; fungal hyphal diversity
By Gregory Jackson
(Photo: One of the earliest observations in Charles Drechsler’s study on Dactylella, a fungal species that uses hyphal rings to strangulate nematodes, noticed attack by strangulation was unknown prior to his publication A Nematode-Strangling Dactylella With Broad Quadriseptate Conidia in 1947 issue of Mycologia. Just with these two species, represent constant predator/prey relationships of the microbial ecosystem of compost, where each microorganism plays vital roles in soil health. At least 150 fungal species eat nematodes, which add protein to fungus diet that supplements their diet of the usual plant debris.)
Last week Groundz mailed a 2-cup sample of compost to earthfort, the nation’s leading authority on soil testing for biological analysis for soil amendments. The report found that our compost has excellent bacterial and fungal biomass, with a good balance of fungal diversity. The hyphal diameter range is from 1.5 um to 7 um, including species Candida (2-3um; 4um or yeast) and Aspergillus (7um diameter with 45 degree branching and septate hyphae.
In our sample earthfort also found it contains Actinobacteria of 126 ug/gram. These kinds of filamentous bacteria that resemble fungi cause compost to smell “earthy” and fresh.
“Don’t judge me if you find me eating from the compost pile,” said one of our Cleveland Crops farmers. He and other farm staff commented that after we added celebrity chef food waste to our compost pile there, made it smell like a fresh salad. “Is that spinach?”
Microorganisms change the chemistry of organic waste while macro-organisms (like snails, spiders, slugs, beetles, and flies) change compost’s physical appearance. Ants help move fungi, sweets, and other materials around to make compost richer in phosphorous and potassium.
Aerobic bacteria are the most important decomposers and very abundant; millions in a gram of soil, according to the science of composting of the University of Illinois Extension. Microorganisms use carbon (which is found in compost’s dry material like leaves) and nitrogen (found in food waste) to reproduce.
With all this microorganism respiration fungus and bacteria metabolize the waste to allow the minerals and nutrients of compost to have improved bio-availability for plants to absorb from the soil.
However if oxygen in the pile falls below five percent, compost will go anaerobic. When anaerobic bacteria dominate, they produce a lot of organic acids and amines that are smelly and contain unavailable nitrogen, phosphorous, and no benefit for plant life, according to the University of Illinois Extension.
While the earthfort report on Groundz compost showed that it is a good inoculum of protozoa, which feed on pathogens in the soil to help keep plants healthy, there was a recent increase in ciliates. An increase in ciliate numbers indicates recent anaerobic conditions. Since our compost contains 126 ug/gram of Actinobacteria biomass, reveals that our compost is living. We sent the sample to the earthfort soil laboratory in Corvallis, Oregon from Cleveland, Ohio in a ZipLock bag for two days. Most bacteria and fungus in compost live between 2-3.5 days. For us to assure that our compost is the best it can be, we will be sending another sample to earthfort; this time with holes in the bag so our soil can breathe. Breathable compost allows it to have extended curing or maturation time, which supports more microbial diversity.
Protozoa in compost contain three major microorganisms and our compost contains: 1,123,414 Flagellates, 11,234,246 amoebae, and 103,987 ciliates. Protozoa feed on bacteria and fungi; ciliates are the largest in the group where too many of them can inhibit nematodes. Nematodes and a balance of ciliates mineralize NH4+N essential nitrogen for plants. In our 2-cup sample the nitrogen cycling potential is 300+ pounds per acre.
In good compost, fungal to bacteria is >1.0. Ours is 1.32 with good active fungi to active bacteria ratio of 0.14 from 186 active fungi ug/gram and 1,332 active bacteria ug/gram, ranking either above range, high, or good levels, according to the earthfort report.
Lastly our compost has 27.8 nematodes per gram. They are found in thin films of water surrounding the root hairs of plants. They mineralize nitrogen and help distribute biomass to increase root growth. They have also been used in bio-indicator studies to determine the toxic affects of 400 different chemicals if in the soil, since they have a permeable cuticle.
Groundz nematode count is 27.8 nematodes per gram, indicates a good range, according to the earthfort report. These nematodes become a vital food source for hyphal fungi.
For healthy compost piles it is all about eating. Microorganisms eat each other and secret beneficial substances, like siderophores and many other secretions. In February, Groundz wrote about how Siderophores in the soil help plants absorb iron. Macro-organisms shred and chew tougher organic debris, creating micro-habitats for microorganisms to live on. Where these microorganisms live, they secrete many other trace substances that create healthy soil; these relationships are vital in understanding the anatomy of good compost. Eating from the compost pile is to be eaten, not judged.