Welcome! Log In Create A New Account


Super Diverse Fungal Dominate Composting

Posted by Karn Piana 
Super Diverse Fungal Dominate Composting
August 26, 2018 03:22AM
David Johnson, a professor of microbiology at the New Mexico State University College of Engineering's Institute for Sustainable Agricultural Research has developed an interesting method of achieving a super fungal dominate compost with a far greater diversity of organisms through the employment of ventilation shafts which mould the compost material into an aerobic toroidal mass which does not require turning and allows for the continuous development of mycelial hyphae.

It seems likely that this design will be generally adopted as a better method of producing microbial dense compost in the coming years. This system is extremely inexpensive, simple and rapid to assemble from common materials, reduces compost times by 66%, water usage by 6 times, and increases of fungal mass by 23 times. Johnson observed a unique super diversity of microorganisms within compost produced in this manner . For example, in Las Cruces New Mexico Johnson observed fungi which was first identified in the arctic as well as the antarctic, he saw pelagic (ocean going bacteria) in his pile, and he was privy to one microbe that hadn't been seen for a 110 years (last by Louis Pasteur). His explanation for this was the axiom, "everything is everywhere" and he hypothesizes that his reactor creates an environment which allows this profusion of biodiversity to assemble and multiply from ubiquitous latency.

I personalIy have built one of these in about 20 minutes. I had previously made a more refined variation of the Dr. Ingham composting cage method by methodically wiring an inner layer of canvas drop cloth to a section of 2x3 woven wire fencing which was designed to wrap around the compost pile like a tortilla and allow for ease of transfer. The ends of the fence are stabilized with 1/4" metal rod which I cold forged to form handles and an attachment point for a rope closure. Because my composting cage was smaller than Dr. Johnson's I only needed a single center tube of scrap 4" PVC to achieve a space no greater than 16" to ambient air (He says 12" is more ideal). I didn't use the perforated drain pipe which he used because I didn't have it, I didn't want to cut the PVC in my stash, and it's only in for a day. Because I had a few boards of white fir that would be perfect for a project like this due to being riddled with pitch inclusions, I made my own aerated base with a reinforced hardware cloth bottom for additional aeration.

David Johnson is working in New Mexico and in my opinion arid environments tend to showcase certain contrasts between desiccation and verdance. Using a microbial approach to agriculture he has demonstrated dramatically positive results in the growth of several crops through the application of microbes derived from his composting technique. Take a look at the background of some of the photos and soak in the harsh unforgiving reality of the climatic conditions he is working in. His plants are pushing "genetic potential" in the midst of "tree hell".


PDF of the JOHNSON_SU Bioreactor construction

VIDEO of David Johnson loading his composter and discussing it's operation.

An interesting video of David Johnson's stump speech . He discusses probiotic/ microbial agriculture (he calls this BEAM: Biologically Enhanced Agricultural Management), carbon sequestration, soil microbiology, and other topics.

Karn Piana
Zone 7 Semi-Arid Steppe
Northern New Mexico
Re: Super Diverse Fungal Dominate Composting
September 04, 2018 08:55AM
Glad you brought David Johnson's work to more grower's attention, Karn. More than a few organic orchardists regard compost merely as a means of replenishing nutrients when the full virtue lies in facilitating microbial diversity. I shared a partial-static composting approach in Mycorrhizal Planet, the excerpt of which can be found here. It's a two-step approach that takes time (9 to 12 months) and achieves aeration primarily by placement of roughage, be it sticks poked into the center of the pile (in lieu of piping) or generous mixing of ramial chips for the fungal stage. Setting up a bioreactor is on my list of a things to try, more so to enhance organism diversity than to hasten the breakdown time. Biodynamic preps also introduce fungal players seemingly from afar. The Bass Becking principle that 'everything is everywhere but the environment selects' provides plenty of motivation to try different approaches and share the lessons learned.

Lost Nation Orchard
Zone 4b in New Hampshire

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/06/2018 08:40AM by Michael Phillips.
Re: Super Diverse Fungal Dominate Composting
October 08, 2018 08:06PM

The adventure continues.

I am also excited about Dr. Johnson’s research after reading his interview in Acres, USA this past summer. I have been continually trying to improve my composting methods over the seasons, and decided to also try some Johnson-Su Bioreactors.

As I write this, I’ve filled several Bioreactors this season and plan to fill approximately 10 of them as soon as pomace season comes to a close. Friends here are also assembling them. I’ve done them per his instructions but my issue is with the landscape fabric. The next few I make will be using the wire re-mesh, then 1/4” hardware cloth, then wrapped fully in newspaper end rolls. The newspaper is blank (ink free), easy to apply, and free! I think this will be important for the moisture retention and UV protection that the fabric accomplishes.

His methods are relatively labor-intensive. I’ve been emailing with him about materials and other considerations. Particularly, drying manure to then shred and re-wet is a bit difficult to scale up. Some other farmer friends in the area will be doing more with manure, I’ve been omitting this in the past few reactors. What were your feedstocks?

This material is used as a microbial inoculant rather than as a source of soluable nutrients. I think this approach makes a lot of sense. As he wrote me “it’s 98% management and 2% inoculant”.

We started a Soil Microscopy club locally a few years ago and will be evaluating these for microbial quality (hoping to see much more brown wide hyphae than we have in our other composts).


Nick Segner

Wildcat Valley Farm
Zone 8b
Olympic Peninsula Rainshadow
Port Angeles, Washington
Sorry, only registered users may post in this forum.

Click here to login