Carbon is the element essential for all living organisms. Plants require Carbon for life processes (such as photosynthesis), for cell generation and for structure. Where does this Carbon come from? Our atmosphere is made up of 0.03% CO2, a compound needed for photosynthesis to occur.The rest of the Carbon comes through the help of microorganisms.
Microorganisms breakdown organic compounds into Carbon and other compounds in a process called biodegration. Plant parts, grass roots, rhizomes, stolons, organic fertilizer, animal tissues and excreta, organic soil amendments and other microbial cells are all broken down by microorganisms to form humus. The major function of microorganisms is to degrade organic matter and transform Carbon to form CO2 for photosynthesis. During biodegration, microorganisms obtain energy for growth and supply Carbon for generation of new cells. Microorganisms contain over 50% Carbon. Anywhere from 20-40% of this decomposed Carbon is used by the microbe itself, while the rest is released as CO2 into the atmosphere.
Microorganisms assimilate Carbon into their cells along with other nutrients.These mineral nutrients are held unavailable to the plant until the microbe dies. This is called immobilization. Once a microbe dies, these nutrients, including Carbon, are made available throughmineralization. In this step the conversion of inorganic to organic is made. To utilize this Carbon, Nitrogen is required. Nitrogen is essential for microbial growth and for organic matter decomposition. This is why it is so important to know how the amount of Carbon compares to the amount of Nitrogen (C:N ration). All types of organic matter have C:N ratio. For microorganisms, this ratio is 10:1. When the ratio is this low, Nitrogen is readily available and will result in rapid decomposition. For matter such as straw, which has a 100:1 ratio, Nitrogen is very low. Decomposition will take a long time and additional fertilizer may be needed to be added to help facilitate microbial activity. Nitrogen can come from organic fertilizer, nitrogen fixing bacteria and Nitrogen reserves in the soil. If Nitrogen is not available, Carbon cannot be utilized and the organic matter will remain undecomposed. In humus, although the C:N ratio is low, there is a resistance toward rapid decomposition. The movement is slower and will take place over a longer period of time. This ultimately means that Nitrogen is stored for future use.
How does a microorganism utilize organic matter? Since microorganisms are made up of 50% Carbon, they require a continuing supply of this element to survive. Microorganisms can be classified into two group according to how they obtain energy: Autotrophs or heterotrophs. Autotrophic organisms derive energy from sunlight or from oxidation of inorganic compounds to convert CO2 to Carbon for use. This is the premise behind photosynthesis in plants. Photosynthesis is the conversion of CO2 to Carbon in the presence of light to form O2 and glucose. O2 is a by-product released into the atmosphere and glucose is the plant’s energy source. Heterotrophic organisms require pre-existing sources of organic nutrients to provide Carbon and energy. Microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and Actinomyces are all heterotrophic. They use energy sources such as cellulose, starch and sugars found in plant and animal tissues to obtain Carbon. Cellulose is a polymer of glucose which is made up of many long molecular strands joined together. Proteins are built by joining amino acid units together. Microorganisms attack the links until they are broken down. This will liberate large amounts of soluble amino acids and glucose. Microorganisms are unable to digest cellulose and proteins, but thrive on glucose and amino acids. Some proteins are harder to break the links than others. They are known as Water Insoluble Organic Nitrogen (WION). These least digestible parts of plant and animal tissues undergoing slow decomposition accumulate in the soil. This mixture of wood, stem, leaves, animal remains make up a soft spongy brownish residue material called humus. Humus is important for improving soil texture, holding moisture and provides reserve storage for nutrients. Humus acts like a reservoir for soil microorganisms by storing water and nutrients until the microorganism needs it. Nature Safe uses humus as one of its fertilizer ingredients. Nature Safe promotes microbial activity to help facilitate biodegration within the rhizosphere of the plant and establishes the Carbon cycle. Nature Safe is like having the living and dying activity found in forest soils, in a bag.