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By Neville Passmore

C-Wise have just introduced 3 bagged composted products which I regard as game changers in the professional landscaper and home garden markets. What makes these different is the maturity level as well as the selected materials from which the recycled resources are derived. Mature composted product is highly stable, rich in complex carbon which we know as humus and acts in a profoundly different way to improve the growth of all plants and in particular turf.

The Australian standard AS4454 which was revised in 2012 for the first time described levels of maturity for composted products. The highest maturity level described in the standard is index 3. All three of the new C-Wise products achieves this level.

The three products are; Humicarb, essentially a humus rich soil builder; Humiclay, the ultimate way to introduce a mix of humus and Bentonite clay into sandy soils; and Turf Perfect a finely screened ‘complex carbon’ humus suitable for topdressing lawn. all three are highly concentrated and are best applied at the low recommended rates.

It's the humus and 'humus-like' compounds that are the powerhouse of the soil. How does this work? Plants capture the energy of the sun through photosynthesis. This process takes carbon dioxide from the air and nutrients from the soil and builds relatively simple carbon-based molecules (think sugars) which are the building blocks of life. This captured carbon also represents nature's energy storage device and fuels much of life on earth.

The plant uses this carbon to build its own cell walls and continue to grow. A part of this carbon is exuded through, or lost, from the fine root hairs of the plant to feed the soil microorganisms in a symbiotic relationship. These soil microbes can't photosynthesise and rely on the plant to supply carbon for their energy needs. In return the plant is supplied with nutrients by the microbes which occupy a much larger soil volume than the plants own roots and act like an extension to the plant. Additionally, the microbes can access and transport nutrients that the plant would not be able to get without the microbes. We all know about the importance of mychorrhizal fungi and phosphorus supply. That is just one example of nature at work. It also makes sense that with access to an increased soil volume the plant has access to more water and is less likely to suffer water stress.

This starts to explain why a healthy biologically active soil leads to natural pest and disease resistance. Firstly, the sheer volumes of beneficial microbes exclude the 'bad' bugs. In many cases these will actually antagonise pest and disease organisms - it makes sense for them to protect their host plant. A healthy plant will also be better able to resist attack (just like you and I). For example, Sting nematodes infestations in recreational turf at Meadow Springs Sports Facility and Lark Hill Sportsplex were successfully controlled. This is really impressive work.

High-humus mature products hold well over twice their own weight in water. This is double the capacity of soils amended with regular composts. The implication of this property for landscape and turf professionals is that it offers insurance against drought events as plants have access to moisture reserves in the soil for longer. If you can imagine an extra half a bucket of water available for every square metre of soil surface when you use a high quality ‘complex carbon’ product compared to an average composted one.

A high humus (or ‘complex carbon’) product has a greater cation exchange capacity than most other products available, including clays. This means that higher levels of nutrients can be stored in the complex carbon and these will be available as the plant requires them, without leaching into the environment. This saves both money and the environment

Building soil carbon leads to many other physical benefits such as increased water storage, improved infiltration of water, less run-off and erosion, reduced compaction and improved soil structure. It's this high quality humus, or ‘complex carbon’, that has allowed C-Wise to deliver impressive results in farming at low application rates.

Humiclay. It’s a combination of the best of both worlds – high humus and high performance clay. The combined product is convenient to use and exploits the synergy between the two soil amendments. You’d probably not guess that ‘complex carbon’ has a greater cation exchange capacity and holds more water than clays. Also, clays tend to hold onto the water and require more energy from the plant to suck the water away from the clay compared to water stored in complex carbon. The combination works really well where the clay binds with and protects the complex carbon allowing the carbon to last longer and for carbon levels to build even higher than by adding just humus-rich products alone.

While all these new products are available in bulk there are many advantages in bags. Maintenance of turf often involves small areas so bags are convenient. Its also makes sense for storing materials efficiently at a depot or works yard.

Applying clays to the landscape can be messy when wet and dusty when dry. Also its easy to overdose which can cause drainage problems. What do you line a dam with to prevent moisture soaking away- clay. So a premixed combination makes clay treatments foolproof and safe.

Its worth mentioning that mature composts are very slow to deliver their nutrients to plants and turf. while the use of these products will enable you to cut back significantly on fertiliser inputs I recommend using half normal strength fertiliser applications at the time of treating the soil with these composted materials. For subsequent fertilising, monitor results before reapplying. 

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On display at Soils Aint Soils Bussleton

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