By Wendy Langhans
English can be a tricky language sometimes. The addition of one letter can change both the meaning and pronunciation of a word. For example, if you add “g” to “love”, you get “glove”. But if you add a “c”, you get “clove”. And sometimes there are consequences to getting it wrong: if your shopping list includes “hummus”, you’d better not come back with humus. The first you eat; the second you don’t.
But what, exactly, is humus? And what is it good for? The answer depends on your perspective.
If you are an earth scientist, humus “is any organic matter which has reached a point of stability, where it will break down no further and might, if conditions do not change, remain essentially as it is for centuries, or millennia.” That’s one reason why archeologists spend time mucking around in bogs – bodies can remain preserved in bogs for thousands of years.
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But if you are a gardener or farmer, humus often means “mature compost, or natural compost extracted from a forest…for use to amend soil”. And just like there are several type of hummus (my personal favorite includes sun-dried tomatoes), there are several types of humus.
1) Mor humus. (Not to be confused with “middle of the road” radio programming.) Generally found in “coniferous forest soils”. It consists of un-decomposed duff (woody debris and pine needles) and partially decomposed organic material. “Mor humus always has a carbon to nitrogen ratio of more than 20, and acidic pH. Decomposition occurs mainly by fungi.”
2) Modor humus. (Not to be confused with the region of Modor in “Lord of the Rings”.) Generally found in “hardwood forests and mountain grasslands”. More decomposition has occurred and there is “shallow incorporation with the mineral soil”. There is “a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 15-25 and decomposition is caused by bacteria and invertebrates.”
3) Mull humus. (Not to be confused with hot wine infused with spices.) Generally found in grasslands. Mull humus is highly decomposed and “is deeply mixed with the mineral soil” because of the action of worms. It “has a neutral pH and a carbon to nitrogen ratio of near 10”. This is the type of humus used by gardeners and farmers to enrich the soil.
So, in the end, perhaps humus and hummus are more alike that we first though. After all, hummus feeds people and humus feeds the soil. And since any organic material can decompose under the right conditions, I suppose that, eventually, hummus can become humus.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at email@example.com for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, November 2, 9, 16, 23 & 30.
Saturday mornings, November 12 & 26.
Saturday, November 19, 8-10 AM. Autumn in Bird Country. Towsley Canyon. We think autumn is one of the best times to be out and about in the park. The weather is idyllic, the colors are exceptional, and of course the birds are busy preparing for winter. Beginning birds are welcome. Binoculars optional. Meet at the front parking lot. For a map and directions, click here.
Saturday, November 26, 8-10 AM. Where does all the water go? Whitney Canyon. Follow the trail, the water trail, that is, to learn more about our local watershed. If you are not sure why you should care, then come find out. We may just “wet” your appetite for more about this precious resource. Meet in the parking area at Whitney Canyon. For a map and directions, click here.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on “The SCV Outdoor Report”, brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
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