Here is a secondary report of a science article.  I don't want to pay for the original science paper, so stuck with the secondary report.

Here is the gist of the article.  Substances that we think of as humus, including humic acid and fulvic acid, are extracted from soil under highly alkaline conditions - pH 13.  It turns out that the pH 13 condition might be creating those substances from soil organic matter, and that what we think is "humus" may not exist as the chemicals that we thought they were.

Instead, the soil contains many compounds that are in a continuous process of destruction and creation. - degradation and biosynthesis.   That is the living soil that we try to create anyway.    From the linked article, "There is a steady stream of large molecules entering the system when new plant and animal material is added to soil and by the death of microbes. This organic matter is constantly being decomposed into smaller and smaller molecules eventually turning into simple nutrients like nitrate and phosphate, as well as carbon dioxide.

Probably, buying humic acid and fulvic acid to add to the soil, is useless.

This illustration is also a link to that article.

It's weird - this is kind of what I thought was going on anyway, although I thought of "humus" as a sort of final product that was stable and created aggregates of ultra fine particles in clay, and binder in looser particles like sand.  Now, it appears that more diverse and dynammic substances and processes have those roles.

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Daniel, you are going to be an even more interesting friend now that you have time to just do what it is you do. Thanks for this excellent source. I followed to a few of the other sites and I almost wish winter were coming instead of going. 

Now, given that 

"what we think is "humus" may not exist as the chemicals that we thought they were."

What will that mean to gardeners? I haven't read the whole article yet; I will probably find the answer to my question in the recommended readings. I went to Robert Pavlis' page and find he has good horticulture credentials. 

I have a background in chemistry and biochemistry and it is this background that helps me research topics and understand the underlying science behind things. Once I understand the topic it is then my task to present the information in an easy to understand style that is both informative and fun to read."

I am always amazed at the amount of incorrect information that exists in books and on the net. How is it that with so many researchers and gardeners out there, we still don’t understand some basic things like the proper way to plant a tree, or how to fertilize our plants. For a number of years I have been collecting and researching garden myths and using them in my presentations as a way to educate gardeners.

Garden Myths is a blog dedicated to unearthing the truth about gardening. It will look at common and not so common myths and debunk them. The blog will go one step further and explain the science around the ‘truth’. Don’t let the word ‘science’ scare you off. The blog is written for the general public with no science background.

The goal of this blog is to provide you with a better understanding of how your plants live and breathe. It is not a set of rules and statements for you to follow. Instead it attempts to explain the ‘WHY’ of gardening. Once you understand the why, you will be able to better respond to new situations in the garden. Rather than give you fish, I want to teach you how to fish.

Who am I?

My name is Robert Pavlis. I live in southern Ontario; in Canadian and US zone 5. I have been gardening for more than 30 years – I stopped counting at 30! I am a Master Gardener and speak about gardening at many local gardening events and horticulture meetings. I contribute the ‘Plant of the Month’ articles for the Ontario Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society, write articles for some local newspapers and teach a 6 week Gardening Fundamentals course at the local university.

"A few years ago, I bought 5 acres of land and have been developing a large private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens. We now have about 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees.

"I am a plantaholic!

I have a background in chemistry and biochemistry and it is this background that helps me research topics and understand the underlying science behind things. Once I understand the topic it is then my task to present the information in an easy to understand style that is both informative and fun to read.

I hope you find Garden Myths an educational site that helps you understand your garden better.

My gardening philosophy:

– Understand the ‘why’ in everything you do

– Look to nature for answers – mother nature already knows how to garden

– KISS in the garden; KISS = keep it simple stupid

– Bugs and diseases are part of life – learn to live with it

– Organic gardening works – too bad ‘organic fanatics’ mislead the public

– Have fun – or stop doing it

I have added rock dust for minerals and a polymer to hold more water to my soil, but that is all I buy for container gardening.  I use rabbit manure, compost, straw, and leaves to enhance the soil.  Gardening in Florida is great because of the long growing season, but we often have nutrient deficient soil and plenty of pests. 

Hi Dominic, I haven't seen your post in a long time. Hope all is well with you!

Dominic, it sounds like you are nurturing your soil. I think that's what counts!
But I can still gather it in a bucket and use it in the flowers ; )
By all means,I will be mulching, composting, and collecting manure as I have since gardening at my grandmothers, elbows!

I just read, again, that humus does not exist. I wonder what that special stuff is that changes the outcome of my gardening efforts when I add it? Surely, manures, green & brown, carbon, straw & dried leaves, and minerals, glacial sand, clay, & sand, all contribute to my success. 

Joan, in my garden I can see changed color, texture, water holding and drainage properties, soil crumbs, smell, and most importangly, plant growth. All of that due to doing the things that build humus. I add compost, dig in mulches of straw, add fall leaves, coffee grounds, and more.

So if it isn't humus that's added what is it? What I suspect is that the substance that has been called humus, all these years, is a chemical breakdown product of the real humus, which is more diverse organic matter. It is not one chemical or a few chemicals, but is rather the range of organic and inorganic substances that derive from breakdown of plant material and other living material. It's almost semantic, whether we call it humus, versus calling it organic matter.

I agree with you, the result of feeding and enriching the soil, is better tilth and better plant growth. The result of abusing the soil, overworking it, poisoning it, packing it down, and not regenerating the organic matter, is an impoverished substance that is difficult to call soil.

I remember my very first class at WSU, a horticulture class, Dr. Woody Kalin instructed us not to use the term "dirt". From day one in Hort 101, it was "soil". The first Hort Lab was going to the cow barns and loading trucks with ripe manure. We created our first compost pile and then spread a seasoned pile over the grounds of what was then Washington State College. 




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