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Re: fungal vs bacterial/ till no? No till?
In response to Gil's comments on anaerobic decomposition -
As Steve Diver and I have commented, individually, before, there's a difference in fermentative and putrefactive anaerobic processes.
When dealing with the lactobacilli, you are setting the stage for a very different set of processes than when you allow the run-of-the-mill putrefactive anaerobes to proliferate.
Lactobacillus species establish a particular set of conditions that prevent the growth of other organisms. Lactobacilli work to reach a particular pH by releasing certain organic acids. They also control nutrient availability and thus prevent the growth of bacteria like E. coli and other human pathogens.
Plant material from your garden usually does not contain lactobacilli, so you have to inoculate them. You have to add an overwhelming number of these bacteria in order to move things in the right direction. So the "starter" can be fairly expensive. Grow your own, or add LIVE CULTURE yogurt to your compost pile.
Gil, perhaps you know whether the lactobacilli in commercial yogurt are the same species as you are adding to your composts?
How do you tell when you have the lactobacilli versus the putrefier bacteria? Smell is one way. What is "ok" stink, versus what is "bad" stink? The sour kraut smell is ok, brimstone is not (you are losing your sulfur into the atmosphere). Strong ammonia is bad, a slight urine smell can be ok. The vomit smell is bad, the cole slaw smell is ok. I need to do a course to demonstrate to people the differences in smells.
Unfortunately, some people cannot discern the differences. The smells can be subtly different, so they are not reliable in all cases. Perhaps it is better to not worry about difficult-for-many-people-to-assess differences, and just keep it aerobic all the time.
People who want to learn the differences in smells, should take a composting course where there is a hands-on part of the course, such as the Luebkes teach in Austria. Talk about people with know-how, obtained through years of experience! They may not use microscopes every day, but they figured out how to do things through trial and error. They probably are better at distinguishing odors than I am. I am more likely to know the name of the bug making the smell, but they can tell you more about the conditions that allowed that organism to grow, and therefore make that smell.
It is ok when the compost goes anaerobic for a short time (not too much ammonia or hydrogen sulfide loss, please!), and then comes back to aerobic. As long as you allow microbial growth to use up all the toxic anaerobic decomposition products, then things should be fine. Of course, you will lose N, P, S if you let the pile become anaerobic, so if you really don't want to lose fertility, keep it aerobic.
Hope this helps -
President, Soil Foodweb Inc.
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