[permaculture] Manure answers

Lawrence F. London, Jr. lfl at intrex.net
Wed Jan 15 19:00:07 EST 2003

Claude Genest wrote:
 > What is the logic/advantage/benefit of liquefying manure ?
 > Claude

Many of Elaine's posts address this question; I am including a few here:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: Compost leachate
Date: Wed, 1 Jan 2003 18:51:38 -0500
From: Elaine Ingham <Soilfoodweb at AOL.COM>
Reply-To: Sustainable Agriculture Network Discussion Group              <SANET-MG at LISTS.IFAS.UFL.EDU>

Hi Rick -

I have to limit the discussion to two cases, or this would turn into a book.  It's still a long post.

Case 1.  Leachate made from good, aerobic compost.  The compost must made from a variety of sources and properly composted.  Proper 
composting will deal with E. coli, weeds, and pathogens.  Could be windrows, or small piles, or worm compost, but turned correctly whenever 
microbial growth threatened to use up the oxygen.  Worms turn organic matter, if you have enough worms, and the right foods.  Static piles, 
which are NOT turned, require FERMENTATIVE ANAEROBES to do the work, not putrefying anaerobes.  This material can be great compost too.  But 
much more difficult to do properly.

But if the material stinks, IT IS NOT COMPOST.

Good compost will contain the whole foodweb of beneficial organisms - bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes and maybe some microarthropods. 
Worm compost especially will be more likely to also contain that level of good guys in it.  But good compost RARELY produces leachate, 
because to maintain aerobic conditions, the compost should never be more than 55 to 60% moisture.

Thus it’s a myth that compost makes leachate.  By definition compost is aerobic.  Which means no more than 55% moisture.  So, leachate is 
not a normal by-product of good compost.

If leachate is produced by running water through the pile, the organisms stick to the compost, and so leachate from good compost does not 
contain organisms to speak of.  This kind of leachate contains soluble nutrients, soluble minerals, plant growth hormones, sugars, proteins, 
vitamins, herds of enzymes, fulvic acids, humic acids, all kinds of aerobic foods for beneficial organisms.  These materials can benefit 
plant growth a great deal.  Lots of cases where people have applied them and seen great results..

But then the next batch is not aerobic, and the results are, well, painful.  People need to understand the reason they get good results one 
time, and not another.  One time the material is aerobic, the next time the material is putrefying.  So, what about the other end of the 

CASE 2.  Stinky, smelly, putrefying organic matter.  NOT compost.  Stinky, smelly manure is not compost.  If it stinks, if it is putrefying, 
you have bacteria you don’t want to know about.  E. coli, other human pathogens are possibly there, plant pathogens are out-competing the 
beneficials, you are losing your nutrients into the atmosphere, and you have leachate.  Bad news.

Because the material is too wet, water runs out of it.  High water content means oxygen is limiting in that material.  If you have 
putrefying organisms growing, it stinks.  E. coli and other pathogens will be having a great time.  If you can smell such a pile, you are 
potentially able to have the bacteria carried to you as well.  Contamination is a real concern.  If you live where you can smell 
putrefaction, you should be concerned.

This leachate drips from the pile, and will contain E. coli, and possibly other human pathogens, and plant pathogens.  This leachate 
contains the putrefactive soluble metabolites produced by these putrefying organisms.  Can you get rid of these putrefying materials and 
organisms?  Sure.  How?  Aeration.  And inoculate the good guys.

Dr. Michael Byers, for example, has studied these materials, and shown that they can harm plant growth significantly.  Anaerobic conditions 
result in nitrogen compounds that are detrimental for plants.  Ketones, aldehydes and alcohols, are also detrimental to plants, and to the 
beneficial organisms in the soil.  Application of this material can cause soil structure to collapse, because you kill the aerobic organisms 
that form soil aggregates.  The clays de-floculate, and the soil surface will eventually seal.  Erosion becomes a huge issue.  The habitat 
in anaerobic, compacted soil is one designed to allow the pathogens and anaerobes that are detrimental to plants to win in competition with 
the beneficials.

Some of the data from field studies are on the Natural Aeration website – www.naturalaeration .com  Their reference list is a useful place 
to start looking.

Mary Appelhof has put together a superb talk about this whole problem, and the solution.  Please get her to come talk to your groups about 
it, as well as the Natural Aeration people, or Dr. Byers.   Her e-mail is: mappelho at tds.net

Most waste lagoons, whether on dairy farms, feedlots, or even the ponds from most animal operations of any kind, have gone anaerobic.  This 
is really bad news.  The stink is detrimental to human AND animal health.  Why do we have the animal disease we have?  Think if you had to 
breathe ammonia, or methane, or hydrogen sulfide all day long.  It harms lung tissue.  Aerate the ponds properly, and you reduce respiratory 
diseases significantly.  Data?  See the Natural Aeration site.

Think about standing in sewage.  Anaerobic pond water, used to wash out the barn is what?  In what way is it different from sewage?  Think 
about your feet if you had to stand in it as someone washed down your floor with it.  Consider trying to walk on the slimy surfaces that 
result when you wash something with stinky, smelly water like that.  The animals slip and fall and get hurt.  The number of animals that 
have to be destroyed because of slippage is reduced when the pond water is aerated.  Hoof disease is seriously reduced as well.

But the aerator in the pond cannot be something that just splashes the top couple of inches of water around.  You have to have something 
that pulls the material FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE POND.  The only machine that I know that does that is the Natural Aeration machine.

The Natural Aeration aerator pulls the sludge that has been accumulating on the bottom of your pond into the water and lets the AEROBIC 
bacteria and fungi consume it.  You will not have to drain your pond and bull dose out the sludge ever again, if you properly aerate the 
pond.  Aerobic metabolism is COMPLETE, Anaerobic metabolism leaves partially decomposed sludge material that builds up and has to be removed 
eventually.  Do not put that anaerobic material on your fields; you will destroy soil health.  You have to turn it into aerobic material first.

As the pond becomes aerobic, the aerobic organisms convert the plant-toxic forms of N, P, S, etc into microbial biomass.  When aerobic 
microbes are put on your soil, they BENEFIT your soil, they improve soil structure, they compete with and consume disease organisms, they 
take up anaerobic toxins.  Plant growth and plant health improves.  You can now grow, on the same amount of land, the plant material you 
need to feed your animals.  You reduce the need for pelletized feed.

As you reduce your reliance on pelletized material, the salt level in the pond goes down, because guess where the excess salt comes from? 
It’s in the pelletized, commercial feed.  In work done with dairy owners by Natural Aeration,  alfalfa yields increased two to six-fold in 
ONE year, as the aerobic lagoon water replaced the anaerobic lagoon water.  Soil health improved.  Erosion decreased.  The neighbors stopped 
complaining about the smell.  The EPA became friendly, not threatening.

Just think, if the pond water is doing that kind of benefit for your land, what are your neighbors going to think?  Given proof of the 
benefit, they will want to buy your pond water.  Instead of it being a waste, it can be something you sell.  The pond becomes, essentially, 
compost tea.

It is, really, composting pond water and sedmient.  Aerobic microbes select against, inhibit and compete with disease organisms.  The 
nutrients are in non-leachable forms for the most part, so when they are added to soil, nutrients are not lost by leaching.  Nutrient 
cycling organisms are now in the aerobic pond water, so on addition to soil, they make nutrients available to the plants are the rates the 
plants require.  Why at the rate the plant needs?  Because the plants put out foods to feed beneficial bacteria and fungi, which attract the 
nutrient cyclers to the root system, where they cycle nutrients from plant-not available forms into plant available forms.  The plant is in 

When the organisms that are supposed to perform a function are killed off, then we have to take over doing that function.  It’s expensive. 
We are inefficeint.  We cause more problems than we solve.

How do you get the functions back?  You have to make the habitat correct for the right organisms, you have to make sure the food for the 
good guys is there, you have to add the good guys, because we have killed them.  They are long gone from soils impacted with anaerobic waste 

Aerate your pond correctly, turn it into a beneficial material with all the right critters.  Aerate your manure correctly, with the right 
sets of other plant materials so the condominium housing for your good critters is present, and the good guys can move in a take up 
residence.  You may need to inoculate the organisms.  Where do you get them?  From good, aerobic compost, documented to have the beneficials 
in it.

All parts of the system have to work correctly, or as Arden Anderson says, ALL parts have to be present and working properly or none of the 
parts will be working right.

I'm sure what I'm saying here will engender some controversy, because most people don't know or understand microorganisms in soil, sediments 
or lagoon water, aerobic, fermentative, or putrefactive anaerobic.  Please don't attack me because I haven't covered all cases and 
situations.  I can't do that in one e-mail.

Enlighten us with your knowledge instead of blasting unpleasantness.

Elaine Ingham
President, Soil Foodweb Inc.
Corvallis, OR
Port Jefferson, NY
Lismore, NSW, Australia
Hilversum, The Netherlands

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: nitrogen fixing bacteria / soil tea
Date: Tue, 14 Jan 2003 00:53:31 EST
From: Elaine Ingham <Soilfoodweb at AOL.COM>
Reply-To: Sustainable Agriculture Network Discussion Group

Given the right conditions in a soil tea or compost tea, you can grow
certain of the free-living N-fixing bacteria.  The inocula are available

holmesenviro at attbi.com

Testing to make certain that the bacteria are functioning properly are
available as well.  What rate of N-fixation is occurring?  That can be
determined and reported back to you.  How much N will be fixed?  How
much can you lower your fertilizer inputs?

The N-fixing symbionts require a host to grow, I believe, so not likely
to get Rhizobium growing in a compost pile, or in tea.  Some research
could be tried, however, to see if they could be grown in tea.  Not just
survive, right?  But grow, or increase in number.
Why the advocacy for aerobic conditions in tea?  One reason is so you
don't get the human pathogens growing.  I don't dislike anaerobes, some
of my best friends are.....  Sorry, I couldn't resist.

When we have to deal with the EPA and USDA, folks, we have to exclude E.
coli, and all the human pathogens, such as Salmonella, Shigella,
Listeria, Yersinia, etc.  Maintaining aerobic conditions is a simple way
to do that.

AND, plant roots do not tolerate anaerobic conditions.  We are trying to
grow plants, correct?

This is not a laboratory exercise.  The point is to grow plants in field

Fermentative anaerobes are not the bacteria that roots need.  Roots do
not tolerate the soil habitat that anaerobes produce.

Anaerobic conditions select AGAINST the beneficial, aerobic fungi.  Most
of the beneficial fungi are STRICT aerobes.

Anaerobic conditions select FOR the disease causing fungi - like
Rhizoctonia, Pythium, Phytopthora, Cylindrocarpon, Fusarium oxysporum,

Anaerobic conditions kill the nutrient cyclers your plants require.
Flagellates and amoebae in soil are nearly strict aerobes.  Cilates
tolerate reduced oxygen levels, but do not survive truly anaerobic

If you are ever going to get away from having to add inorganic
fertilizer to keep plants growing, you cannot have anaerobic conditions
in your soil that kill the N-cyclers.

It is not just bacteria that we are concerned with.


Don't forget the reason we're doing this.  We're trying to set the
conditions up in the soil to grow the plant you want to grow - and that
means the right ratio of bacteria to fungi.  Otherwise you get to go
through succession, and most of us don't have the time to let that occur
so we can grow bluegrass, or blueberries, or whatever.

Maximize diversity of bacteria and fungi - so your plant can choose to
feed the bacteria or fungi it needs.  But we set the stage by making the
soil habitat correct for the ratio of bacteria and fungi that plants need.

The biochemical  information from the existing bacteria and fungi is
picked up by the plant, and that causes the plant to alter the exudates
the plant puts out, and thus changes the bacteria and fungi that grow.

Maximize the number and types of protozoa and nematodes, and
microarthropods.     That way nutrient cycling will occur no matter what

If nature does something truly out-of-the-ordinary, then the critters
you need may have been hammered and possibly lost, so then you add back
what may have been killed.

OK?  Our role as caretakers of plants is to maximize diversity.  But we
had better maximize the diversity of the organisms that grow in the same
conditions as the desired plant needs to grow.  Aerobic, well-structured
soil is what plants need.

Hum, aerobic.

Ever tried growing plants in sour kraut?  Fermentative bacterial species
are what produce sour kraut.  Not putrefactive, maybe not losing ammonia
or making the rotten egg smell.  Maybe not losing nutrients, which is
what we were talking about before.

But still, fermentative anaerobic conditions are not the right
conditions for plants to grow.

Elaine Ingham
President, Soil Foodweb Inc.

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