Leuconostoc

Love on your local soil steward with some microbial art!

Leuconostoc is another friendly fermenter that generally hangs out with Lactobacillus. It is quietly known in fermentation industries like the production of sourdough, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, and sausage, for their contribution to flavor. They transform glucose into CO2, alcohol, and lactic acid. They also hang out on spoiling food, growing and fresh vegetables, and manure. It’s fascinating how the same material transforms in our perception from good to bad in a matter of time.

Strains of Leuconostoc have been found to inhibit growth of Listeria, which causes serious infectious outbreaks from people eating contaminated food. There have been Listeria outbreaks on food products documented by the CDC every year for the last 8 years.

That’s the idea behind encouraging friendly microbes like probiotics and compost. The more diverse and abundant micro-organisms there are, the more competition there is for food and resources in general. This helps keep levels of pathogenic micro-organisms low, so they won’t cause an outbreak. Diversity helps create the opportunity to generate new compounds that can fight pathogens, and boost overall resilience against changing environmental conditions. Encouraging diversity in all ways is a general principle of ecological design.

Lactobacillus and Leuconostoc are great because they are adaptable to anaerobic and aerobic conditions. The initial compost pile consists of pockets of anaerobic activity, such as within the food waste or fresh manure inputs. They contribute to the initial dip in pH from the production of organic acids, which you can see in graph C below. It’s not long before all of the initial metabolic activity generates so much heat that these organisms make themselves obsolete, and thermotolerant or thermophilic organisms take over.

Ryckeboer et al, 2003

Check out the rest of the bacteria in the Cosmic Compost series

Cosmic Compost: A design collection celebrating the microscopic universe in the dust beneath our feet, acknowledging some of the most significant microbial players in the ecology of decomposition through the aesthetic of cosmic wonder.

Greeting Cards + Postcards:

Art Prints + Collectibles:

Soilify! A complete course series on Soil + Compost Ecology for creative activists, community composters, and small-scale farmers.

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Not all Microbes are Evil, Friendship for Everyone

Not all microbes are voracious plague eaters ready to inoculate, destroy, and compost all of us. In fact, most of them are our friends. But, we tend not to hear about our friends because they don’t make waves like E. Coli outbreaks on lettuce and broccoli. Lactobacillus is a friendly fermenting bacteria that has been gaining notoriety because of its innocuous ubiquity in fermented foods, our bodies and digestive systems, as well as soil and compost.

Our fear of pathogenic microbes has made us fearful of all of them, the friendly ones included. That’s a shame, because the the friendly ones are actually very powerful allies that protect us by boosting nutrition and immunity, and by reducing stress.

It helps to get to know who your friends are. Just like in any landscape where you are trying to establish your livelihood and presence, you want to identify your friends – your supporters and allies who will look out for you. That helps to distinguish who is helpful and who is not.

Advances in high-throughput sequencing over the last decade have made it more accessible and affordable than ever, vastly expanding our knowledge and understanding of microbial ecologies, biodiversity, and population dynamics. We now know how there are great similarities and overlap in microbial community composition between soil, plant, and human systems. There can be 10 times more microbial cells in our bodies than human cells. Research suggest bacteria maintain a majority of the evolutionary origin of our own genetic material, and some believe we as multi-cellular organisms evolved as collectives of bacteria that cooperated so well they formed a whole new reproducing organism.

Microbiomes function similarly for soil, plants, and humans. They increase metabolic efficiency and nutrient availability and uptake, improve immune function and protection against pathogenic outbreaks, modulate stress and anxiety (climatic and environmental for soil and plants, mental and emotional for humans), and provide a source of novel genetic and epigenetic material for increased resilience and adaptability to changing environmental conditions.

In the words of Charlie’s musical song, “The Nightman Cometh,” from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, why not have “friendship for everyone”.

Cosmic Compost is a celebration of our microbial allies that help maintain a healthy ecology for us to have clean air, water, soil, and food. It utilizes watercolor art to raise our collective awareness and literacy around soil, compost, human health, and microbes. Share your love of our microbial friends with your favorite humans by writing them a love letter or pouring them a cup of tea in a microbial mug.

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Cosmic Compost: Official Launch

Just in time for Jupiter in Capricorn

Cosmic Compost is a celebration of the microscopic universe in the dust beneath our feet, acknowledging some of the most significant microbial players in the ecology of decomposition through the aesthetic of cosmic wonder.

This initial collection consists of 6 bacteria that have been chosen for their significance in the composting process and soil health, but also their relevance to human health and cultural interest. They have been organized based on the phase of the hot composting process where they are most prominent.

The designs are available as greeting cardspostersart printsnotebooksstickersthrow pillows, and mugs through RedBubble. Show your favorite earth loving, fermenting, microbe appreciating friend how much you appreciate them. Write them a love letter of micro-cosmic delight. Collect all 6 bacteria for a complete compost ecological successional experience!

Stage 1. Mesophilic Initiation: Lactobacillus + Leuconostoc

The initial mesophilic phase consists of a mix of decomposers and fermenters, as much of the fresh feedstock material is fermenting when it enters the pile. Bacteria like Lactobacillus and Leuconostoc are best known for their role in fermentation communities, and the production of foods like yogurt, kefir, and kombucha. Even though fermentation is an anaerobic process, these guys are aerotolerant, and can still do their thing in the presence of oxygen.

Stage 2. Thermophilic Activation: Bacillus + Actinobacteria (Streptosporangium)

The appropriate pile conditions increases microbial activity, raising the internal temperature of the pile until it shifts into the 2nd phase where it reaches peak thermophilic temperature and stays there for a few weeks. Bacillus species and Actinobacteria (phylum) are the dominant bacteria at this time. I chose Streptosporangium as the sample species for Actinobacteria, which is the name of a phylum.

Stage 3. Cooldown + Maturation: Pseudomonas + Enterobacter

As the original organic waste material breaks down and humus begins to form, the microbial activity slows down and the temperature begins to cool, entering the 3rd phase. At this time, the microbial ecology shifts its focus to lignin breakdown and humus formation. Ultimately, the compost is finished when the temperature has reached ambient and the microbial activity has calmed down and stabilized to regular rates. Pseudomonas and Enterobacter are often detected in mature compost.

Learn more about the collection here.

I’ll be sharing an article about each bacteria over the next 6 weeks. Stay tuned for the first article on Lactobacillus!

Greeting Cards:

Art Prints + Collectibles:

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Sneak Peek: Cosmic Compost

Stage 1. Mesophilic Initiation:
Lactobacillus + Leuconostoc

I’m launching Cosmic Compost, a design collection acknowledging the significant microbiota of decomposition ecology. I’m starting with a small series of 6 bacteria significant to compost microbial ecology, organized based on their roles during the 3 main phases of hot composting.

The designs are available as greeting cards, posters, art prints, notebooks, stickers, throw pillows, and mugs through RedBubble. Something fun for your favorite science or microbe loving friend.

This initial phase is a fermentation phase, with organisms like Lactobacillus and Leuconostoc leading the charge. Both Lactobacillus and Leuconostoc are found in fermentation communities, such as in the production of sauerkraut, cheese, kefir, kombucha, and even the anaerobic composting method bokashi.

During this initial phase of decomposition, it is the compounds that are easily degraded that are the first to be metabolized, such as simple sugars, starches, and lipids. After a few days, the frenzy of microbial metabolic activity releases heat and the temperature begins to increase.

I’ll be revealing the rest of the collection later next week, and will be sharing a weekly exploration of each organism. Consider this a sneak peek.

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Hmmm… What is Humus Anyway?

Just a tasty chocolate superpower or some strange concoction of randomized order generated from chaos breakdown fractalizing in its tumbling freefall?

I feel like when I try to look for research articles relating to the biochemistry of humus formation, I find many studies from earlier last century, less from recent years, though they do exist. It feels like there’s a bit of a drop off after the 1970’s on this type of work, I had read somewhere once that this happened because agriculturalists chose to focus more on soil chemistry and let go of their interests in soil organic matter, so there’s a bit of a drought on humus ecology.

A paper by Manlay and Swift (2007) characterizes humus / soil organic matter (SOM) as a cultural concept with three phases of perception, shifting from a more tradition humus-oriented practice to a mineral perspective heavily influenced by Josef Liebig, and in more recent decades emerging as a key indicator for soil health and quality, including agroecological health and fertility.

Humus is a complex substance that is not well understood. It still remains a bit of a mystery. The composition is generally described as consisting of “humins”, which are solid complexes, along with humic and fulvic acids which may be soluble, and other water-soluble compounds.

It’s the dark chocolate cake left behind after all the fresh leaves and apple stems have fully decomposed. Organic matter is feasted upon by primary decomposers, bacteria and fungi, including actinobacteria, and secondary and tertiary decomposers in the soil food web, like protozoa and nematodes, facilitate the transformation of organic matter into plant available nutrients and beneficial enzymes, which is described as the process of “mineralization”.

While much organic matter goes into the mineralization process of nutrient cycling, some of it goes into humus formation (humification), a means of long-term carbon storage. It is thought that the breakdown of lignin is the primary source of humification, which is often facilitated by fungi, such as white-rot and brown-rot fungi, as well as actinobacteria. Ultimately these lignin breakdown products undergo a self-condensation, or sugar-amine condensation. As FJ Stevenson describes it, there are an “astronomical” number of potential combinations that the compounds could come together, so every humus complex is different.

Those fungi keep showing off their carbon sequestration skills. They may be more efficient than bacteria at sequestering carbon into their bodies (Six et al, 2006), and are also important to the lignin degradation process of humus formation.

In terms of practices, this means that greater abundances of soil fungi are going to support enhanced carbon sequestration and the build up of long-term storage pools of carbon in soil. So, less disturbances, more quality fungal foods like woody materials. Less tillage, more mulch. More trees. Integrated cultivation systems. Trees, shrubs, herbs, animals, berries, vegetables, compost.

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