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A Handbook for Aerobic Thermal Composting

By February 8, 2013October 22nd, 2017Uncategorized

This site is a handbook, a compliment to the workshops I offer through Soil Life Consulting and The Living Soil Lab in Fairfield, Iowa.  It can also be a resource to the random passerby who has interest in thermal composting and soil building.

The information you will find in these pages is the accumulation of knowledge I have received from Dr. Elaine Ingham, world renown soil microbiologist and  founder of Soil Food Web Inc.  I have had the pleasure of receiving her mentorship for the last three years and give her credit for the majority of the information you will find on this site.

In the following pages you will find information on The Soil Food Web, Basics of Thermal Composting, Answers to Common Questions, and photos of organisms.

You are invited to comment, critique, and ask questions.


Molly Haviland

Microherder and Consultant

Living Soil Compost Lab, Fairfield, IA

The Road to Microherding

At least twice a year, the Iowa air is saturated with pesticides and fungicides.  Additionally, multiple times a year the crop lands are saturated with synthetic nutrients.  While the goal may be disease and pest control for crops, the effects have been a slow and steady process of chipping away at the macro and microorganisms that make up the soil food web.  Ultimately this affects anything that depends on soil to survive, that would be…everything.  Pesticides cannot be  specific to one bug, they damage all bugs and organisms.  In the same fashion, a fungicide is not specific to one fungus, it affects all fungi.

After decades of applying fungicides and pesticides to crop lands, the beneficial soil organism population is dwindling.  Without these organisms the soil food web is broken and an onslaught of issues arise.  The soil’s ability to retain water is reduced, thirsty plants become susceptible to disease, plant growth slows down, nutrient cycling comes to a halt, and the nutrients wash and blow away.   In this way, the three feet of topsoil that existed in Iowa just 150 years ago, has eroded to a 6-8 inches of top soil.  Currently Iowa loses soil at the rate of 10-15 tons per acre per year.  To put this into perspective, there are about 30.7 million farm acres in Iowa, the amount of soil lost is equal to the weight of 2,049,837 elephants.  Remember please, this is annually.

Soil erosion is a big deal.  All parts of the ecosystem are subject to an onslaught of difficulties when it happens.  The Dead Zone ( 6-7,000 sq. mile hypoxic zone in the ocean void of marine life) in the Gulf of Mexico is a direct result of the erosion and nitrogen run-off caused by current animal husbandry practices and farming practices that over use synthetic fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides to their crops.  Remember the Dust Bowl of the 1930′s in America?  Three million people were displaced because of it.  Why did it happen? Farming practices that consumed soil instead of enriching and building soil.  The fact is, poor farming has resulted in devastation throughout the world.  China now has what they call “the fifth season”, in which they hunker down and seal their houses in preparation for the annual dust bowl to take place.  Why are there literally tons of dust in the air? Erosion. Erosion makes it difficult to farm, graze animals, feed people, house people, have clean drinking water, have pristine rivers and oceans, the list goes on and on.  So if you don’t get it by now, I became a Micro-herder because of all of this, and living in the bread basket of America opened my eyes to it.

My Grandfather-in-Law once said, “One thing they’re not making more of  is land”.  While this is true, what we can make more of is soil.  Via thermal composting, making soil is what I do; I am a Microherder.  A Microherder is  a steward to microorganisms.  Beneficial organisms are not different from people in that they need oxygen, water, food, and of course, a dwelling.  Essentially, Microherders create an environment for the organisms of their choice in which to flourish.  Sourdough bakers, beer brewers, kombucha, sauerkraut, and yogurt makers, gardeners and composters are examples of those who microherd.

I enjoy cultivating the beneficial organisms that keep soil from becoming dirt.  In the last three years I have gained much knowledge of thermal composting, what works, what doesn’t work. With each compost pile I build I learn so much more.  So, read on and please, feel free to comment and ask questions.  There is so much more we have to learn.

Let’s build some soil!