In nature, living things die, and their death allows life to be reborn. Both animals and plants die on forest floors and in meadows to be composted by time, water, microorganisms, sun, and air to produce a soil improved in structure and nutrients. Organic plant growing follows nature's example. Leaves, grass, weeds, prunings, spiders, birds, trees, and plants should be returned to the soil and reused—not thrown away. Composting is an important way to recycle such elements as carbon, nitrogen, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, phosphorus, potash, and trace minerals. These elements are all necessary to maintain the biological cycles of life that exist naturally. All too often we participate instead in agricultural stripmining.
Composting in nature occurs in at least 3 ways: (1) in the form of manures, which are plant and animal foods composted inside an animal's body (including earthworms) and then further aged outside the animal by the heat of fermentation. Earthworms are especially good composters. Their castings are 5 times richer in nitrogen, 2 times richer in exchangeable calcium, 7 times richer in available phosphorus, and 11 times richer in available potassium than the soil they inhabit;1 (2) in the form of animal and plant bodies that decay on top of and within the soil in nature and in compost piles; and (3) in the form of roots, root hairs, and microbial life-forms that remain and decay beneath the surface of the soil after harvesting. It is estimated that one rye plant in good soil grows 3 miles of hairs a day, 387 miles of roots in a season, and 6,603 miles of root hairs each season!2
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Qualitatively, some people feel that compost made from plants is 4 times better than that made from manure and that compost in the form of plant roots is twice as good as plant compost! It is interesting that the roots (which have a special relationship with the soil microbes and the soil itself) often weigh about as much as the plants above the ground.
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