Humus is that thing everyone is supposed to know, but few people actually understand.
For one, it is not compost.
But it is not manure either.
Yet, it looks very similar to both.
So, what is humus soil? Despite what you may think, it is one of the best fertilizers you’ll find. Here, we’re going to teach you EVERYTHING about it.
Care to learn more? Then take a look!
Table of Contents
What is Humus Soil Made Of?
Organic material. There’s no more than that.
Anything carbon-based and willing to decompose is likely great humus.
For example, leaves, fruits, twigs, bark, and other materials from trees and plants fall and pile up. They eventually decompose and produce a dark organic material.
The same happens with animals. Their bodies fall, other animals and the environment break down their bodies. Eventually, they become dark organic material as well (except their bones in some cases).
Either way, that black matter remaining is humus. It is composed of the elemental chemicals and minerals that made up all life on earth. And for plants, this matter tends to be essential – giving EVERYTHING they need to grow.
How Does Humus Improve Soil?
Humus is rich matter. It contains the most minerals, nutrients, and chemicals to sustain the growth of pretty much any plant (as well as fungi and bacteria).
For that reason, it is no surprise that humus improves soil composition. That’s its primary purpose in gardening.
Here are some ways humus gets the job done:
- Increases nitrogen content of soils due to its rich composition
- Controls nutrient imbalances that may cause plant damage
- Improves soil fertility by adding more nutrients and helpful chemicals
- Allows more air and water to be absorbed, increasing fertility
- It makes the soil crumblier and loose, making it easier to use
- Helps in the prevention of disease in plants and crops
In short, humus gives the soil a new life. It is the main component of most soils and the primordial ingredient of a healthy and fertile ground.
What is Humus Soil Used For?
Knowing how humus improves soil will give you an idea of what people use it for. But there are exciting uses that you may not realize.
Here are some to consider:
Humus has a high nutrient availability that microbes use to produce minerals and other chemicals that help plant growth. The nutrients themselves (like nitrogen) help plants grow as well, increasing fertility exponentially.
Humus can be used as an alternative to mulch and compost. Its dark (brown or black) tone makes it more likely to absorb heat from the sun, thus helping to insulate soils.
The heat trapped in the soil eventually keeps the ground warmer and prevents sudden temperature changes from spring or fall from causing damage to plants.
Humus’ crumbly nature also helps with aeration, preventing water from getting stored for too long.
Microbes, for example, secrete substances that make the humus stickier and crumblier. As humus contains tons of these microbes, it is likely to stay crumbly for long and allow air to travel through. Other organisms like worms may also help with the aeration part.
#4. Nutrient Storing
Humus tends to be self-sustaining, not only increasing soil fertility but augmenting it over time. It contains cations that store nutrients, as it absorbs nutrients and creates more in the long haul.
More importantly, the high-microbe composition of humus makes it less likely to leech nutrients away, making it a great store of helpful material.
#5. Water Retention
The porous structure of the humus makes it more likely to absorb water. A yard of humus can hold up to 90% of its own weight in water, making it a great addition to soils likely to dry up.
#6. Disease and Pest Prevention
The microbes and bacteria in the humus soil attract spiders, antes, and other helpful insects that eat away damaging ones. Plus, the high microbe availability helps break down pathogens that may affect your plant and cause serious disease.
What is the Difference Between Humus and Compost?
Reading about humus may give you the idea that it isn’t too far from being compost, right?
Well, it’s true. They aren’t easy to tell apart.
But their definition is slightly different.
Compost is often referred to as “black dirt,” as it comes from the decomposition of any organic matter. Compost refers to that decomposition process, the semi-decomposed material, nothing that is finished yet.
A bag of compost may come with pieces of fruit, leaves, and other organic materials. The material is not entirely disintegrated, but it is still filled with many minerals, bacteria, microbes, fungi, and sometimes even bugs.
Humus is the COMPLETE decomposition of that material. When the organics are not organics anymore but SOIL.
What is Humus Soil?
You can pretty much say that humus is compost when it is FULLY decomposed.
To put it simply, humus refers to organic material that is decomposed to the point it can’t be considered organic material anymore – but soil.
The disintegration of all the material will turn into nitrogen, carbon, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, and microbes. Humus is what happens when all the organic material becomes its essential components.
You can consider humus soil to be organic material plasma. Plasma refers to matter that is decomposed but is still not mineralized.
So, whenever you see a really dark soil that seems to be genuinely fertile, with no signs of decomposing material, that’s humus.
How to Make Humus Soil?
Like organic compost, humus soil takes a long time to happen. It’s pretty much the same process – but longer.
Having said that, humus requires a few specific things that may improve its richness and increase the pace at which it happens. To make humus possible, you’ll need to follow these steps:
Gather the Resources
What do you need for the job? It’s simple:
- A container (preferably large) where you’re placing all the material – it would be great to have a container with a lid to improve the decomposition process (you can use a ⦁ compost tumbler or ⦁ compost bin)
- Ingredients to decompose – this includes anything from grass and leaves to eggshells, hair, hay, sawdust, flowers, coffee grounds, tea bags, bean pods, newspaper, fish bones, and other decomposing materials (AVOID MEATS AND WHOLE EGGS)
- Horse or cow manure is always helpful – it shouldn’t be any other type of manure, as horses/cows only consume grass, hay, and similar plants that won’t damage the humus
- A shovel or large pallet to turn – this will help you keep the composting material moving and heating up, so the decomposition happens consistently.
This should be everything you need. Avoid adding any chemical or inorganic material, as it will likely damage the process and cause the decomposition to stop.
INGREDIENTS TO AVOID: Dairy products like yogurt or milk, grease, and fats, baked foods, any kind of meat product, as well as eggs. Also, avoid pesticides, feces of any animal apart from cow or horses, and herbicides. Don’t use any type of colored or painted paper, leather, or coated cartons either.
Choose the Right Place
Humus is smelly, takes a lot of space as it grows, and tends to attract tons of insects. If you don’t want your house to smell weird and be filled with insects, you’ll find an outdoor area for it.
Here are some extra tips to consider:
- Keep the container with the decomposing material under shade as this tends to boost the decomposition.
- Check your city’s regulations before choosing the area (this is especially true for suburban neighborhoods and inner-city houses)
- A place close to your house but also separated enough to avoid a putrid smell entering your home would be ideal.
- Driveways, garages, garden sheds, and cabins can also work as humus soil areas, given not many people pass through consistently.
- It’s essential to keep the decomposing materials away from pets and other animals, as well as children and curious neighbors.
While humus won’t b damage your surroundings, it’s still worth installing the container in the right place to avoid problems later on.
Mix the Ingredients
Once you’ve gathered all the ingredients and found the perfect place and container, it’s time to mix it all up.
The focus is to mix it so profoundly that you can’t tell ingredients apart. Use the shovel or pallet for this, scrambling to the point where everything is unrecognizable.
You don’t have to mix it all at once, given the humus soil takes a long time to decompose, but it should be done within the first week.
As you’re mixing, you can add more materials to decompose within the first 2 weeks. But be careful not to add unwanted ingredients (like the ones mentioned above).
Keep it Wet and Turn It
As the material in the container starts to decompose, you may see how it starts to dry up slightly. If this happens, hose it down until the pile turns wet.
You shouldn’t keep it wet for long but moist. Watering it once a week should help with this. In case the pile turns too wet (like muddy), you can add more dry ingredients.
As you’re wetting the pile and adding more ingredients, keep it moving. Use the pallet or shovel to turn it and mix everything.
This should be a consistent practice every 3 days until the compost turns into humus soil (at least 8 months).
Let It Rot
The decomposition process will happen slowly but surely. This could take anywhere from 6 to 12 months (sometimes a bit longer). In fact, the more time the compost stays in the container, the more humus-like it will turn.
After the first 8 months, you can forget about turning the pile and let it rot alone. This process will cause the soil to heat up slightly and produce a somewhat putrid smell (something that will disappear after some time).
You’ll know it is thoroughly decomposed when the pile turns dark brown or straight-up black. That’s when you can start using it.
Use the Humus Soil in Your Garden
Once the pile is ready, you can start using it at home. But first, check that the humus soil is ready.
The material should be crumbly, soft, and spongy. You shouldn’t see any ingredient decomposing yet but straight-up black soil.
If that’s so, then follow these steps before using it:
- Pour water over the humus soil to at least half of the container. Let it stay for at least 2 weeks as it dries up a bit (this improves nutrient availability).
- To make it last, you can add a layer of mulch or topsoil and mix. This will improve the consistency of the humus soil and make it easier to use.
- Check the humus soil’s pH and see whether it won’t be harmful to your garden (humus soil tends to be acidic to the point of altering your garden’s soil accordingly)
After going through these tips, you should be ready to use the humus soil however you deem ideal. Your garden soil will surely be a lot more fertile and healthier afterward.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1. Where is humus soil found?
It is a common understanding that humus needs to be at least 8% of any soil to be considered fertile. This is primarily true for garden soils and industrial crops.
But in the natural, humus soil happens in way higher percentages. A typical forest may have up to 20% of humus soil content, for example. Tropical jungles have a more challenging time producing humus, but they still have at least 10% of it.
Humus may take decades or even centuries to form in enough quantities in the wild. But pretty much any forest and jungle have it.
Q2. Is humus soil suitable for planting?
If there’s something you should take as learning from this article is that humus soil is INDEED GOOD for planting. The fertility and health improvements of humus over any soil are outstanding, making it a must-have in your garden or potting soil batch.
Q3. What does humus soil look like?
Because humus soil is high in carbon and nitrogen, the material looks dark brown or black. It looks like true soil, a crumbly material that breaks down quickly and offers decent compactness. Humus soil is unmistakable from the ground of any forest (which is also humus).
Q4. Where to buy humus soil?
You should be able to buy humus soil from any garden nursery. Many companies sell humus online, which could be a considerable improvement in terms of convenience.
Anyway, why would you want to buy humus when you can make it yourself? Follow our guide above and save some bucks.
Start Making Your Own Humus Soil Today!
Already know what is humus soil? Then you’re ready to make it happen.
Our guide above teaches you everything you need to make it possible (and how you can use it).
But if you want to make it simple, just gather the ingredients and let them rot alone for a long time. That should be enough to get you rich, ready-to-be-used humus soil within a year or a little more.
So, what are you waiting for? Start that compost pile today and get your humus soil!