The Compost Bunch

I’ve only just started out testing my Foldscope and these are my first shots of trying to get down with the compost crew from my kitchen composting bucket. I’m interested in soil biology, or rather compost food web diversity for producing quality compost tea. It’s very exciting to actually be able to asses the diversity of microbes in a compost batch! Since compost quality is critical for regenerating degraded soils and making quality aerated compost teas, assessing the samples is important, and Foldscope will allow me to do just that! πŸ™‚

The samples I tested so far are from my kitchen composting bucket. This is where I compostΒ  home bio-waste; everything left over from food preparation (so just ‘raw’ biological waste), tea, coffee, plant residuals, egg shells, old spices, hair from brushing, etc.. – the green component – and stuff like toilet rolls, ear cleaning sticks made from paper and cotton, cotton swabs, sawdust, leaves, cardboard, etc…Β  To get the batch started, I do collect a bit of forest soil and litter as all the decomposers for jump starting the process of biological food processing are presumably there πŸ™‚Β  Sometimes I add IMO 1 (using this method: https://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/bio-9.pdf) to add diversity. But most of the time I just use older compost to start a new batch. So, I do expect to find the general populations of the soil food web found in my temperate climate deciduous forest ecosystem in my compost.

I’m interested in who I’ll be able to find in this type of composting method (this is the principle: https://youtu.be/t_1HL9H1cnA), and then compare the microbial populations I find in a thermal compost batch (Dr. Elaine Ingham recipes), and the Johnson-SU Bioreactor.

Ok, so here’s my first try and some of the guys I encountered in one sample of the kitchen composting bucket:

  • A springtail (Collembola)
  • Mite (Acarina; not sure which type – is it a predatory mite or a fungal feeder or …?).

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  • Another springtail.

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  • Not sure if this is an egg of a mite that has already hatched? Next to it is a fungal hyphae and something I can’t identify πŸ™‚

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  • A nematode, presumably fromΒ Rhabditidae family because of the tail? The oval shaped bubble next to it’s head could also be some organism, but the resolution isn’t good enough to identify.

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  • Another nematode..

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  • Some kind of a hatched egg? πŸ™‚

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  • A bit of micro-plastic.

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  • Sawdust and a fungal hyphae + sawdust and bacteria grazing on it…

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  • Hyphae, and some organic matter

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There was a lot more bacterial agglomerations and organic matter and different types of hyphae, but not all the pictures turned out good. Have to practice using the Foldscope…

Anyway, could use help in better identification if possible, so if you have any ideas, please comment πŸ™‚

7 Comments Add yours

  1. rodelente says:

    Hi,
    It is wonderfull, i just got my foldscope and tried to see something in a sample of soil but nothing appear at the moment and the focus is sometime not very accurate
    Do you have advise to give me for to prepare a sample of soil ?
    How you process for to dilute it ?

    thank you

    1. Cvijeta says:

      Hi!
      It takes some getting used to focusing and adjusting the light. Also, having a phone with a good camera helps with looking through your sample. I find it much easier to look through using the camera screen and zooming in and out to check what I see.

      As for preparing the sample, I was kind of following the instructions that come with the Foldoscope; point 7. Guided Experiment: find tardi and friends!, but just with a sample from home-made compost. Basically, I put a very tiny amount, a small aggregate in the tube I got with the kit. I then put water in it and gently turned it up side down for a minute to break the aggregate and release organisms in the water. But springtails and mites can be seen by naked eye. It’s just tricky to catch a springail ‘cos it jumps around as you approach it.. so that took some time, I killed a few in the process, and managed to catch one in the end πŸ™‚ ..This is a picture showing a sample with several springtails: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=348197572429603&set=a.172176936698335&type=3

      As for foucusing and learning how to find this in your sample, it takes a while. I first used the grid coverslip to help me orientate in space and scale πŸ™‚

  2. Manu Prakash says:

    I am just amazed with the biodiversity of your compost bucket @cvijeta. What a wonderful description – thanks for also sharing your tricks. Foldscope has a learning curve and its very valuable to share our tricks along the way.

    cheers
    manu

    1. Cvijeta says:

      Thanx for inventing the Foldscope! πŸ™‚

      Yeah, quite a bit of life in a small sample of homemade compost, but it’s the soil sample from the forest I have to thank for the diversity. Just a handfull will do to introduce different species into the composting system.. and if we keep it areated enough, the species will thrive on sawdust and kitchen scraps creating wonderful compost for the garden!

      ps. @RODELENTE, forgot to mention that I use distilled water so that I don’t confuse my sample with any organisms from the water.

      1. Manu Prakash says:

        Wonderful. If nothing else – here is yet another reason to maintain a compost! Can you also recommend some resource for people who might just be starting on keeping a compost bin. That would be wonderful for the community to get started. And we could look at geographical biodiversity of compost bins!!

        Thanks for being an inspiration in the community.

        Cheers
        Manu

  3. Cvijeta says:

    @manu That’s a great idea! Thanx πŸ™‚

    Hm, unfortunately I only have written instructions in Croatian on how I do it at home (literally in the kitchen for a few months before using it outside in the garden, which is a great way of taking care of my biowaste while creating earth-smelling compost even in urban areas!), so I’m gonna have to do it by hand here (+ share some materials) πŸ™‚

    In this video – https://youtu.be/t_1HL9H1cnA – I explain how I do it, and although the video is in Croatian, if you watch what I do, you might get an idea of what I’ll explain here below…

    Basically, this video in English shows the basic idea behind composting in a bin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZyox5yLiMU
    You can do this outside, or use smaller bins to do it on a balcony or in your apartment (as I do) πŸ™‚

    So, the idea is to drill holes in a bucket for oxygen diffusion because our allies in the composting process are aerobic microorganisms (from bacteria and fungi, to protozoa, nematodes and anthropods) whom we collect from a healthy forest ecosystem in order to colonize our composting bin. You can, of course, do this for your garden compost as well, just to diversify the decomposer populations and increase the quality.

    So, we collect our new pets whom we will feed with our kitchen food scraps and some added carbon in the form of carbord (e.g. all those toilet paper rolls you don’t know what to do with), used up paper towels and napkins, cotton swabs and wipes, dry leaves (you’ll need to collect these before hand, seasonally), newspaper (nope, lead is not a problem ‘cos the printing industry uses soy-based inks), sawdust (e.g. used for bedding for small herbivores)… There’s other carbon materials you can use for composting (e.g. woodchips, straw, hay..) but they’re to bulky for composting in a bin and take too much time to compost.

    I use HDPE or PP plastic bins (40-60 liters), and drill 4-6 mm holes on the sides (approximately every 5-7 cm). I don’t drill holes at the bottom thought, because I discovered through practice that when you compost the right way (I’ll explain in a bit), there should never be any excess water leaching out πŸ™‚

    The right recipe for composting is to always add 2-4 more parts of carbon material to one part of your kitchen scraps. This is by volume, so it goes something like this: one handfull of food scraps, two to four handfulls of carbon-rich material. Sawdust is actually so full of carbon that you can use just one handfull.
    When I say kitchen scraps, I mean the raw leftovers from preparing food, juice pulp and other fruit leftovers, coffee grinds, egg shells, tea (and tea bags if they’re mad from 100% cellulose), old spices, dead plants, etc…
    For cooked food you need to look up fermentation or Bokashi method, but that’s for another post πŸ™‚
    So, no cooked food, meat, bones, dairy products, oil, sauces, liquid! This can be processed either through fermentation or biodigestion.

    Things that can disrupt the composting process and cause problems, because they contain etheric oils or certain components that can inhibit reproduction and feeding of aerobic microorganisms, are: lemons, walnut husks and leaves, oak leaves, conifer needles. This just means you shouldn’t put only or a lot of these materials in any type of composting system. But if you leave them out for a while to dry out, most of those ingredients will either evaporate or loose their intensity. So, just watch out that you don’t use a lot of these components, but some can certainly be added.

    Also, it’s good to know that microorganisms also like a diverse diet, so the more of different components you put into you composting system, the better it will be.

    And one more thing – the smaller the parts, the faster they will decompose! So, it’s a general rule of thumb, literally. The size of you thumb is the max size of components in the compost bin.
    The smaller the size, the greater the area the microorganisms can colonise. This means that they can eat up you scraps in a matter of few weeks.

    This leads me to the composting bin inside the apartment. Basically, everything I put in, disappears withing two to three weeks, releasing space for new food to be put into the system. It takes me about 6 months to fill up a 60 l bin before I have to start a new one! (I just leave the old batch for another 30 days to decompose almost completely and I’m left with great mulching material).

    The right combination of food (carbon to nitrogen ratio) together with good conditions (moist, but not too wet and warm temperature) enable microorganisms to devour food in 15-30 days releasing space for more food (scraps) to be put in, and so allowing you to compost in the bin inside your appartment. No, it doesn’t smell, cos if you’re doing it right, there should’t be any anaerobic conditions developing, an so no foul smells. To ensure there’s enough air (cos microorganisms use up the oxygen while reproducing), your job is to mix/stir the ingredients every 2-4 days πŸ™‚ …let’s say with something like a small hand shovel.

    Ok, so the bin..

    Step 1. – on the bottom of the bin, put thinner branches (dry, freshly cut, doesn’t matter), so they form a mesh. This will allow for a pocket of air to stay for a while at the bottom, and also in case of a little water leaching, the material that forms above won’t sit in watery (anaerobic) conditions.

    * the leaching doesn’t happen if you put enough carbon material cos it soaks all the water vapour and so there’s no need to put extra water πŸ™‚
    * your other job (except areating) it to occasionally check if the material is too wet. You can do this by squeezing it in your hand. If there’s water running out, it’s too wet and all you need to do is put in more carbon material and mix it in.
    Mixing (areating) and putting in more carbon is basically a cure in case anything goes wrong.

    Step 2. – on top of the branches put a few larger pieces of cardboard to hold up the next level

    Step 4. – cover the cardboard with a blanket of 5 cm of dry leaves, preferably from the forest, already half decomposed (this just means you’ll have more decomposers in place to tackle your food waste); but any kind of leaves will do….

    Step 5. – put a thin layer of healthy soil teaming with microbes! This is your starter culture and this is where the magic happens πŸ™‚

    * preferably, this is soil that contains fungi decomposers ‘cos they help with digesting the lignin from sawdust and other celulose; these should be found in forest ecosystems πŸ™‚
    * if you don’t have access to a forest and you can only buy soil, then use vermicompost (most other bought soils are sterilized), but a healthy grassland system soil should also do
    * what I also do sometimes to start up or diversify my compost piles (or cure an anaerobic one) is something that’s called Indigenous Microorganisms from Korean Natural Farming. This is a way of collecting and propagating you local microorganisms following a few simple steps. The process is described here: https://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/BIO-9.pdf
    What you get is a rice cake that you can put in you compost bin.

    ** the bin should be covered with a lit so as to collect water vapour ‘cos it does need to be moist in there, but not too wet (ideally 40-60%)

    If you’re interested in composting in your garden, but in a way you propagate the right kind of organisms, I suggest you have a look at this video: https://youtu.be/jErga1eP718

    To know what you’re looking for, it’s good to introduce yourself to Dr. Elaine Ingham’s work, e.g: https://www.envirothonpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/7-Soil-Biology-Primer.pdf

    Cheers!

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