Justin Morris
Composting is a fascinating process, at least for someone like me! My first introduction to compost creation was at a dairy farm that was employing the traditional hot composting method to turn manure into a useful product that could be applied on nearby crop fields. I vividly remember using a loader to make windrows with raw manure. Because of the volume of manure produced, large equipment was used to regularly turn the windrows to aerate them. This was a fairly labor and equipment intensive process.

While I've been very familiar with traditional hot composting methods that involve turning piles and adding water, it wasn't until very recently that I became more familiar with what I believe to be an easier and more scalable method of compost creation. This style of compost creation is called the Johnson-Su bioreactor. So how does this style differ from traditional hot composting methods? Here are a few I found.

1. The Johnson-Su bioreactor creates a fungal-dominant type of compost versus the bacteria-dominant compost made using hot composting methods. It takes time for a fungus to develop, and it cannot proliferate if it's being disrupted through regular turning. Most of our degraded agricultural soils are bacteria dominant. Adding a fungal-dominant amendment to bacteria-dominant soils can be very beneficial as this improves nutrient availability for plants.
2. As already illuded to in number 1, the Johnson-Su bioreactor doesn't require constant tending through turning for aeration and hydration as does traditional hot composting.
3. The Johnson-Su bioreactor requires significantly more time to develop a mature compost (9 months to a year) compared to the quick turnaround time of traditional hot composting that can be done in just one month.
4. The Johnson-Su bioreactor utilizes earthworms which do the micro-turning of the compost compared to traditional hot composting that requires you to do the turning, whether by hand or by using equipment.

Because of the fungal-rich nature of the finished product, the Johnson-Su compost is often diluted in water to create a microbially-rich extract that can be applied in the soil trench when seeding/planting or can be applied as a foliar amendment to boost plant health. Often it takes only one application to get soil life really moving. Additionally, one bioreactor that costs as little as $100 to build can create 700 pounds of mature compost. When 2 pounds of compost is diluted in 20 gallons of water to make an extract then 700 pounds of compost can treat 350 acres!

To learn more about this method of compost creation, here's a link to some great resources:
As I understand, one of most detrimental things we can do to fungi populations, is to till or disturb the soil. It has been compared to a tornado, hurricane and earthquake hitting our home. So how do the fungi populations survive us removing the compost from the Johnson - Su bioreactor and either applying it directly to the soil or making compost extract or tea?
That's a great question Mike! From my limited understanding of fungus formation, a lot of the fungus exists in spore form which isn't destroyed when moving the compost. The spores are like seeds that begin to grow new fungus once the conditions are right.
I would say 'yes' given the results of applying the compost in liquid form. If they didn't survive, I don't see how the fungal to bacteria ratio would change.

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