Manures have been used to improve agricultural soil fertility for over 7,000 years. Manures add nutrients and organic matter, increase soil bulk density, enhance structure and water holding capacity and increase biodiversity.
Unfortunately, manures can contain pathogenic bacteria such as Escherichia coli (E. coli), Salmonella spp., Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter spp., Yersinia enterocolitica and others. Even a small dose of some of these human pathogens – particularly some species of Salmonella and types of E. coli – can cause severe illness and even death.
Winter is upon us, and for those who love to garden there is much to be done. Aside from the well-known winter jobs such as pruning and planting of bare rooted roses and deciduous trees and shrubs, there is still the soil to consider.
In most areas of Australia there’s not much happening above ground in your garden during the winter months, but there’s still plenty happening below ground. Even soil microbes – bacteria and fungi that live in the soil year round – can be active in winter months.
This week I want to talk about microbes and waste disposal – or more accurately composting. Last year it was announced that geoscience researchers at Penn State University in the US are finally figuring out what organic farmers have always known: digestive waste can help produce food. Although farmers here on earth can let microbes in the soil turn waste into fertiliser which can then be used to grow food crops, the Penn State researchers are trying to find a way in which edible microbes could be grown in a minimal space using human waste as a food source, so that the spacecraft wouldn’t need to take as much food into space. Obviously, I am not trying to convince you to try this at home, however it’s just another amazing example of what microbes can do. What I found so interesting was the way in which the researchers were able to optimise…