Soil Science

Soil Science

A complex web of beneficial organisms feed on compost’s organic matter and bring your soil to life.

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The Soil Food Web

In his graceful work Life in the Soil: A Guide for Naturalists and Gardeners, James B. Nardi attempts not merely to catalogue but to describe just a few “Members of the Soil Community,” as he calls them. Under “Microbes,” he lists eight categories: Eubacteria and Archaebacteria; Actinomycetes; Algae; Fungi; Chytrids, Hyphochytrids, Oomycetes; Lichens; Slime Molds; and Protozoa.

The chapter “Invertebrates” list 44 separate creatures. The names alone are fascinating: “Scarabs, Weevils, and Their Grubs,” “Carrion Beetles, Burying Beetles and Hister Beetles,” “Aphids, Phylloxerans and Coccoids,” “Jumping Bristletails and Silverfish,” “Big-eyed Bugs and Burrower Bugs,” not to mention Pseudoscorpions, Termites, Thrips, Woodlice, Cockroaches, Earwigs, at least fourteen different kinds of beetles, Ants, Velvet Ants, Ant Lions and many, many more.

Each of these creatures plays its part in the soil food web. All are nourished at the most basic level by organic matter in the soil.

Feeding that complex world of creatures is one of the most important contributions that compost makes to soil. Yet it is only one of many.

Soil Food Web
Source: Soil Biology: The Soil Food Web” USDA Nat’l Resources Conservation Service

Related Questions

  • What products to compost


    You will be able to source all of the essential elements in order to build a great compost pile without having to look too far! As long as your carbon to nitrogen ratio is optimal (25-30:1) your compost pile will be breaking down properly. Here are some lists of acceptable additions:

    Carbon Rich Material "Browns"
    Cardboard (free of dyes)
    Corn stalks
    Fruit waste
    Peat Moss
    Saw dust
    Stems & twigs

    Nitrogen Rich Material "Greens"
    Coffee grounds
    Kitchen food waste
    Garden waste
    Grass clippings
    Hedge clippings
    Vegetable scraps
    Weeds (that have NOT gone to seed)

    ​Things to Avoid
    ​Diseased plant material
    Colored paper
    Cat/dog waste
    Manures from carnivorous animals
    Citrus peels

    As for the rhododendron and holly leaves, you can definitely put them in your compost pile. However, it is a good idea to really chop or shred them up, as they take much longer to break down due to their fibrous and waxy make up. It really depends on how quickly you are trying to create usable compost. It might be a good idea to have a separate pile going that you incorporate those leaves into and another pile that you do not. That way you can have a pile you know will rapidly break down into garden goodness and have yet another ready to use later on. Good luck!

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