Friday, December 15, 2017

Ficus elastica sighting

Not a whole lot getting posted here these days but.....Ficus elastica sighting:

Image result for valley girl meat bodies

Click to view larger image

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Ficus lyrata sighting

Nothing says opulence like a fiddle leaf fig....except maybe a marble floor

a view of the Bay Bridge says opulence pretty well too actually

Ficus lyrata- no luxury condo is complete without it

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Parasitic Plants and a Botanical Brush with Death in the Olympic Mountains

It's 8:30pm and I've just left my car to embark on a three day hike up the Duckabush River and into the Olympic Mountains.  It's dumping rain and I'm trying to get to the first campground as soon as possible but then I see it...Monotropa uniflora!  Do I drop my pack to fish out my camera in the pouring rain and fading light or do I keep moving? Of course I drop everything and start taking pictures.

Monotropa uniflora just popping up from underground
Monotropa uniflora has no chlorophyll, hence its ghostly white color.  It gets all of its nutrients from root associations with ectomycorrhizal fungi, that is, fungi which have entered into symbiotic relationships with plants which actually perform photosynthesis. So really M. uniflora is a parasite on fungi, a term called myco-heterotrophy.  The mechanisms myco-heterotrophs use to cheat the fungi out of carbon and other nutrients is not well understood.

I would end up seeing M. uniflora once more on the way back out of the Duckabush River valley at the end of my trip (didn't have to stop in the pouring rain after all).  I never saw it at elevations higher than about 500 ft.

Higher up in elevation, at approximately 1000 ft. I came across this guy:

 Pterospora andromeda is much taller than Monotropa uniflora, this one was probably around 50 cm. Another myco-heterotroph, like M. uniflora it has no leaves and no chlorophyll. Pterospora andromeda gets its species name from the Pieris japonica, commonly known as Japanese Andromeda.  The flowers of Pterospora andromeda closely resemble those of Japanese Andromeda.  This resemblence is not surprising given the fact that both Pterospora andromeda and Pieris japonica (along with Monotrop uniflora) are in the Ericacea family.

There are a number of myco-heterotroph species within the Ericacea family, otherwise known as the Heather family.  In fact, we'll see one more example of an Ericacea parasite as we start to gain elevation in the Olympics. Given the Ericacea family's preferred ecosystems, it makes sense that it evolved so many myco-hetertrophs.  They usually grow in nutrient poor soils (so they're pressured to steal) that are acidic (there will be more fungal activity) and are often in forest understories (there will be abundant ectomycorrhizal fungi to parasitize). 

The last Ericacea myco-heterotroph I saw was at about 2000 ft.  Monotropa hypopitys.  It has a nice orange creamsicle color scheme going on.  I have seen pictures of them with a wide range of colors, from red to pink to yellow to white.  No green of course since, as parasites, they don't need no stinkin chlorophyl!

 A more common site along the trail was Corallorrhiza mertensiana, or Pacific Coralroot.  This spindly fellow is a myco-heterotroph from the orchid family.  Again you can see there are no leaves and no chlorophyll present.  I didn't realize this, but apparently all orchids are myco-heterotrophic during germination and initial growth.  These narrow stalks definitely pushed the poor macro lense abilities of my smart phone to its limits.

Along the trail I had been enjoying thimbleberries (Rubus parviflorus), black raspberries (Rubus leucodermis), trailing blackberries (Rubus ursinus) and salmon berries (Rubus spectabilis).  The thimbleberries are by far my favorite- they're just so tangy with the perfect consistency.  And while it's always nice when nature offers up edible berries alongside the trail, I'll sometimes pass up the less flavorful salmon berries.  On my last day on the trail I come across a plant with red berries and leaves that look like they belong to the Rubus family.  Intrigued I stop to try and ID the plant.  The closest thing I can come up with is Rubus arcticus although there is no picture for this specific species. The berries on the plant I'm looking at on the trail don't have drupules though, which should have been the red flag that this wasn't in the Rubus family.

So of course I do the intelligent thing and I bite into one of the berries to investigate further.  Whoa! this is definitely not in the Rubus family and it's quite bitter.  So I spit it out.  What was that?  I figure if it's not in the Rubus family, the leaves mean it's either in the Saxifragaceae or Ranunculaceae family.  So I go through Saxifragaceae in the Pojar id book and come up with nothing.  Then I leaf through Ranunculaceae.  HOLY SH!T it's Actaea rubra, aka Red Baneberry: "as few as six berries can cause vomiting, bloody diarrhea, repiratory paralysis, and eventually death."  Glad I spit that out - talk about a close one!!  Lesson learned. Make sure you ID the plant properly before you take a bite and if it's not what you thought, spit it out.

Below you can see the berry I spit out. Note the fly licking his chops.  Little does he know that tasty looking mush is loaded with cardiogenic toxins

In doing some research on Red Baneberry I came across my new botanical hero, Alice E. Bacon.  Not finding sufficient information as to whether or not the fruits of Acteae rubra were edible, Bacon, with admirable bravery and curiosity, tested the berries on herself.  Her findings were published in 1903 in "Rhodora", the journal of the New England Botanical Club.  I've reprinted them here in their entirety as they are imminently readable.

 Alice E. Bacon.

 Some years ago several plants of the red baneberry (Actaea spicaia, var. rubra, Ait.) were transplanted to a sheltered spot in Bradford, Vermont, along the base of a veranda facing the east, and shaded by maples. The situation proving favorable, the plants each year have been very ornamental, being of unusual size and producing very large clusters of fruit. The graceful, lace-like leaves and the vivid crimson of the berries attract a great deal of attention, and the questions are often asked: "Where did you get such beautiful plants?" "What can they be?" and "Aren't those berries good to eat? "

 An examination of several works on Materia Medica failed to show anything as to the properties of the red-berried species, although those of the white-berried were carefully noted. In the fear that children, attracted by the beauty of the fruit, might eat to their own undoing, an experiment in the qualities of the berries was entered upon with the following result.

 A small dose was taken after the mid-day meal, as caution seemed advisable ; but the only effect noted was a slight burning in the stomach. The question, however, of children eating the forbidden fruit was definitely settled at once, as no child, youth, sane adult, not even a hungry school-boy would ever devour it from deliberate choice; the taste is most nauseous, bitter, puckery; indeed, several even more drastic adjectives might be applied with perfect truth.

Having survived the first attempt, the experimenter hopefully tried again two days later, allowing time for the first dose to be completely eliminated from the system. On this occasion double the first quantity was taken, and in less than half an hour there was a decided quickening of the pulse and a return of the burning in the stomach, this time more severe than before. These symptoms were transient, lasting perhaps fifteen minutes.

Two days later twice the former amount was taken. Half an hour afterward all curiosity on the subject of red baneberry was abundantly satisfied, for this one experimenter at least. At first there was a most extraordinary pyrotechnic display of blue objects of all sizes and tints, circular with irregular edges; as one became interested in the spots a heavy weight was lowered on the top of the head and remained there, while sharp pains shot through the temples. 

Then suddenly the mind became confused and there was a total disability to recollect anything distinctly or arrange ideas with any coherency. On an attempt to talk, wrong names were given to objects, and although at the same time the mind knew mistakes were made in speech, the words seemed to utter themselves independently.

For a few minutes there was great dizziness, the body seeming to swing off into space, while the blue spots changed to dancing sparks of fire. The lips and throat became parched and the latter somewhat constricted ; swallowing was rather difficult ; there was intense burning in the stomach with gaseous eructations, followed by sharp colicky pains in the abdomen and also pain across the back over the kidneys. The pulse rose to 125, was irregular, wiry, tense ; the heart fluttered most unpleasantly. 

These symptoms lasted about an hour and were followed by a feeling of great weariness, but in three hours from the time of taking the dose all seemed to be again normal. The experiment was carried no further, as the effects in heart and brain were danger signals not to be ignored. The conclusion reached is, that while the very unpleasant taste will prevent it from being dangerous in general, the fruit of the red baneberry evidently contains a poison having a powerful effect on circulation and brain; a dozen berries would probably be enough for a fatal dose, half that amount sufficing for the above experience.

 Bradford, Vermont

WOW! Talk about a gutsy botanist taking one for the team.

Below you can see the difference between the leaves of Rubus leucodermis (on top and in my hand in the picture) and Actaea rubra (below).

And with that reminder that life is fleeting, here is a beautiful bed of Phlox diffusa in the alpine heights of the Olympics...

....and the Quinalt River valley

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Back to the roots aquaponics mod

I was given the Back to the Roots aquaponics fish tank as a present a while ago.  I removed the 6 pot system it had and just filled the entire top with pumice.  Then I seeded some water cress since the roots would be submerged on the bottom of the pumice bed.  Here's a 115 day span from January 14th to March 8th.  

I stopped taking pictures when I left the house for two weeks, but the water cress continued to get quite large.

The downfall of the system came, as often seems to be the case with aquaponic systems, with a pump problem I didn't notice.  It had was drawing some air and no longer had enough pressure to fill the upper basin with water. After a few days of 85 degree weather the watercress got totally fried in the window.  I just put a mint cuting in so we'll see how that works.  The problem with growing most food crops in this aquaponics system is that you can never get enough light from just a window, you really need a grow light to get enough lux.

Watercress, or Nasturtium officinale, actually has its very own festival in Alresford, England:

Bet it gets real rowdy at night.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Fertilizer Worth Dying For

Nitrogen fertilizer used to be really hard to come by.  If farmers needed to fertilize their fields with N they basically had two options: Plant legumes which use bacteria to elegantly pull nitrogen out of the air or apply manure. While these were important strategies, yields were often still held back by low levels of nitrogen.  This all changed in 1909 but that's a story for a different post.

As farmers recognized, manure was an important source of nutrients for their fields and bird manure, or gunao, was no exception.  The word guano comes from the Quecha for fertilizer or manure, wanu. Bird guano was an even more potent source of soil nutrients than the manure European farmers were used to, with NPK up to 16-12-3.  That's pretty high, cow manure has an NPK more like .75-.25-.5. In a world where everyone wanted nitrogen for their farms (and gun powder), bird guano was a valuable commodity.

So imagine finding literal mountains of the stuff.  That's what you get when you have thousands upon thousands of birds excreting their meals of seafood onto islands which receive little rainfall.  (If you want to see what that many birds looks like, check out this gallery or here).  The Chinchas Islands off the coast of Peru were one such island, with mounds of precious precious guano layered 150 feet deep.

Above, you can see the Islas Chinchas and a whole lotta guano.  The mountains of precious poop were excavated and loaded onto waiting ships.  These pictures from the 1860s show that the Islas Chinchas were quite busy extracting the guano and shipping it out to Europe and the Americas.  Fortunes were made (NYSE: GRATyntesfield) and Peru started raking in the dough.  So much dough that around the time these pictures were taken, the guano trade made up almost 60% of Peruvian government income.

More money more problems though.  Spain had never recognized Peru's independence in 1821 and was looking to reassert some level of dominance in the 1860s. After some financial and diplomatic bullying on the part of Spain that Peru did not submit to, Spain occupied the Chincha Islands in 1864, recognizing their economic value.  This was the opening act of the Chincha Islands War of 1864-1866 in which Chile, Ecuador, Boliva and Peru all allied against their former colonial master.  Despite naval superiority, Spain had no invasion force to land and nowhere to resupply.  The two year conflict ended when Spain pulled its forces out of the Pacific back to Europe by way of the Phillipines.

While the guano islands off the coast of South America was some fertilizer worth fighting over, the Chincha Islands War was a relatively small engagement.  The fighting over the nitrogen found in the Atacama desert would be a different story.

The Atacama desert is the driest desert on earth.  Scientists think the region has received no significant rainfall between 1570 and 1971 and that it has been extremely arid for around 200 million years.  This lack of rainfall created a region rich in Sodium nitrate, known also as Chilean saltpeter.  Potassium nitrate was also found in abundance. Miners started exploiting these reserves in the 1820s and soon the region would come to dominate the world market for nitrogen fertilizer for the next century. (More fortunes would be made here as well)

Many Chilean miners worked in the saltpeter mines despite much of the Atacama desert being located on Peruvian and Bolivian territory.  The Chilean owned Antofagasta Nitrate and Railway Company had an especially large stake in the region.  Bolivia had agreed in 1874 not to increase taxes on Chilean interests for 25 years, but in 1878 the Bolivian government imposed higher taxes on the Antofagasta company which were retroactive to 1874.  The company balked and so Bolivia moved to seize the company's assets. In response the Chilean army crossed the border and occupied the Bolivian port city of Antofagasta in the southern Atacama desert.

Needless to say, at this point tensions were running high.  15 days after occupation of Antofagasta by Chilean forces, Bolivia declared war. Peru, bound by a secret alliance treaty with Bolivia, declared war on Chile little more than a month later.  The War of the Pacific was a bloody conflict that would drag on for four years and ultimately deprive Bolivia of any access to the Pacific Ocean.  The area outlined in black below is the territory that victorious Chile took from both Bolivia and Peru in the conflict

Most historians have argued that the desire to control the vast nitrate deposits of the Atacama (as well as some guano rich islands) was the underlying cause of the war.  Bolivia to this day pressures the Chilean government to allow it a sovereign access point to the Pacific Ocean although with little effect. The saltpeter mines would be an important part of Chile's economy until the 1940s when synthetic nitrogen production made mining the Atacama for Sodium nitrate less profitable. 
Check out these Chilean archives for more great nitrate fertilizer posters.
It's easy to forget that all of this bloodshed was because people wanted to give their crops a little more nitrogen.  The important role that soil nitrogen plays in crop yield means that nitrogen fertilizer was critically important to agriculture and humanity. Agriculture's dependence on nitrogen fertilizer continues to this day. Currently the world uses 100 teragrams, or 100,000,000,000 kilograms of nitrogen fertilizer every year.  Without this annual addition of nitrogen to the worlds soils, our current agricultural system would collapse.  This Greek man sums up the situation quite nicely as he dumps a sack of Chilean nitrate all over the world.  

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Dumps of the world

We'll travel to three far-flung dumps in this post.  While we're at each dump we'll take quick look at the issues around diverting organic waste.  Our first visit will be the Central Landfill in Sonoma County where we'll have a brief requiem for the Sonoma Compost Company.  Then, figure out where you put your passport because we're headed to Beirut to take in the political turmoil brought on by the closure of the city's main dump, Naameh.  Lastly we'll walk through Mbeusbeuss, the massive landfill on the outskirts of Dakar that makes the Central Landfill in Sonoma feel like a nature preserve.

Central Landfill

The Sonoma Compost Company had operated atop the Central Landfill in Sonoma for 30 years, diverting Sonoma county's organic waste from landfills and turning it into valuable compost. The landfill portion of the Central Landfill opened in 1972, closed in 2005 over water contamination issues and reopened in 2010 after infrastructure repairs.  You'll notice in the map the windrows of the compost operation on the top left as well as the small subdivision (about 80% of it is visible in the photo) of Happy Acres in what is otherwise an agricultural area.  To make a long story short, a group of Happy Acres residents had been attempting to close the Sonoma Compost Company for years, many having moved into their subdivision knowing full well that there was an existing landfill located near by.  Eventually they landed on a clean water act lawsuit which got some traction.  During heavy rains, the compost company's 2 million gallon storm water collection pond overflowed twice, allowing water which had passed through compost to flow down towards Stemple Creek.  It seemed a deal might be reached with regulators to keep the compost operations open with the construction of an additional 3 million gallon storm water collection pond.  However Happy Valley residents, wary of the facility staying open, tried to halt construction of the additional pond with claims that this was potential habitat for the California Tiger Salamander. 

Another wrinkle in the story is that Republic Services took over control of the Central Landfill on April 1st 2015 in a 25 year contract with the county.  Previously the landfill had been run by the county with the Sonoma Compost Company operating as a tenant.  Given the sue happy neighbors, the deal included a clause which shifted all financial liability of the compost operation over to the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency.  The bottom line in all this is that once Republic controlled the landfill, the decision about whether to build the pond or not was in Republic's court. 

In order to build the pond on the landfill, Republic's permit would require some modifications. Despite the agreement that the county waste authority would be on the hook for current and future lawsuits, Republic was weary that this permit change could drag it into the ongoing Happy Acres legal battle and decided against the additional storm water collection pond.  In an interesting snippet from the Press Democrat, Rick Downey, division manager for Republic discussed the potential conflict of interest the company had:

"Downey acknowledged that the 25-acre compost area atop the landfill is prime space for his company to use to fill with garbage someday, but he denied that was part of the company’s decision-making in deciding not to allow the permit to be reopened to include the wastewater pond."

There is talk of a new composting facility being sited nearby or just to the west of the existing landfill, but for now organic waste is trucked out to composting facilities outside of Sonoma County. Costs have risen substantially for the disposal of organic waste and there's a lot more CO2 being put into the air by having to truck material so far out of the county.

If Republic had the contract for composting Sonoma County's organic waste instead of Sonoma Compost Company I have to imagine the construction of the additional storm water retention pond would have happened and composting would have continued in Sonoma County.  When governments hand over the operation of public resources to private entities though, those resources are understandably used for best interest of the private entity (within the terms of the contract of course). The best interest of the private entity may not always match up exactly with the best interest of the public.


The Naameh landfill set in the hills to the south of Beirut.  This photo is looking north and you can see the terraces on the hillside in the far left at the bottom left of the dump in the picture below.

What are these people protesting?  Poor waste management policies that's what.  Beirut had been sending its waste to the Naameh landfill south of the city since 1997.  The landfill was only meant to be a temporary solution until a more permanent dump site could be found. It's closure had been planned and postponed several times since 1997. By July 2015 the final closure date of the dump had arrived and the government still didn't know where it was going to send Beirut's trash.  In the end, Naameh was meant to only hold 2 million tons of trash, but by 2015 it had taken in 15 million tons.   After the official closure date, residents of Naameh blockaded roads to ensure no more trash entered the dump located there.

The government had offered a new contract for hauling the garbage but required the contractor secure a new dump site - not an easy task considering the government had failed to find a new site for years.  Given the onerous requirement of coming up with a new dump site, there were no bidders for the contract to haul Beirut's waste. When Naameh closed, the contract with the current hauler Sukleen ended and then the trash simply stopped being collected.  The result?  Rotting piles of trash in the streets and protests over government inaction.

The roots of this crisis lay in Lebanon's ineffective government which is divided along sectarian lines.  It's not like this problem happened over night seeing as how Naameh was only meant to be open until the early 2000s and the final closure date in 2015 was known for some time.  Clearly, the government should have been doing something to address this problem but was incapabale.

Could composting have prevented this huge smelly headache for the government and the people of Beirut?  Definitely.  For starters, the whole reason the trash smells is because there is compostable material decomposing anaerobically.  Remove the compostable material and you have a bunch of stable plastics and other waste which won't smell.  That alone would be a victory.  More importantly though by diverting organic materials from landfills, Beirut could have kept Naameh open closer to 2030.

Currently about 50% of the solid waste produced in Lebanon is organic waste.  Of this, 9% is composted, which is actually an impressive amount.  However some rough math tells us that if all of the organic material going to Naameh was diverted and turned into compost, the government would have only filled it with 6 million tons of garbage or so instead of 15 million tons at this point.  Unfortunately the costs associated with composting in Lebanon are high, the demand for compost is low, the incoming materials are heavily contaminated, and so it is difficult to cover the high operation costs of composting.

Recently the government announced it had reached an agreement with a foreign contractor to remove all the trash from the streets of Beirut and all subsequently produced waste.  The waste will then be transported to another, as of yet undisclosed country.  The cost of this contract is surely staggering.  It seems safe to assume that the increased cost saving space in the Naameh by composting would have been cheaper than whatever Beirut will have to pay to haul trash to another country entirely.

Some interesting articles about the state of composting in Beirut:

Green Jobs Assessment in Lebanon

To Compost or to ??? An Overview from Lebanon


Two satellite photos of Mbeusbeuss.  You can see the massive mountains of trash rippling outward into the surrounding marsh and farm lands.

The sprawling dump of Mbeusbeuss handles all the waste for the city of Dakar.  It is in fact the westernmost dump of all the old world. The huge piles are sometimes burned sending massive black clouds hundreds of feet into the air.  I had some impressive photos of this but my camera walked off with somebody before I could upload them.  We were working about 3 km south of the dump and when the wind shifted in our direction it brought the most terrible, acrid, irritating smoke from the dump fires.  I can only imagine how bad it was at the dump itself.

Mbeusbuess is also home to well over a thousand souls who ply the trash looking for anything they can sell.  Along the roads inside the dump there are aggregaters who amass various items people have scavenged - glass bottles, woven nylon bags, metal, sandals etc. Within what seemed to be total anarchy there was a rudimentary system that had sprung up to sort through the incoming waste.

Residents of the dump use metal rods to pick through the trash spread about the dump.  The best items though are found in trash that nobody has scavenged yet.  When a truck arrives at the dump, people crowd around to be the first to pick through the fresh waste.

Among the various items scavenged for reuse at the dump was food waste.  This would be sold as feed for livestock.

If the costs for large scale composting are a challenge in Beirut, they are prohibitive in Senegal.  There was in fact an industrial scale composting facility for Dakar at one point:

Two industrial composting plants operated in Dakar, Senegal and Abidjan, CÔte d'Ivoire during the 1970s. These were financially unsuccessful, plagued by mechanical problems, and ultimately closed. - UN Environment Program

The problem with composting in a place like Dakar is that the infrastructure of a large composting facility is difficult to achieve and maintain.  If composting is to succeed in Dakar, it will probably have to be in decentralized locations and human scale without an extremely high level of mechanization.  Some estimates put the organic content of solid waste in Africa at around 70%.   Mbeusbeuss has wrought an enormous amount of pollution on waterways around it, sent toxic smoke into the lungs of surrounding residents and has literally swallowed up farm land in the neighboring communities.  Sadibou for example, who is pictured in an earlier post hilling up beds of rice, lost his family's plot of farm land when the dump overran it.  If 70% of the waste that has gone to Mbeusbeuss could have instead been composted and turned into a valuable resource, the size and harm of Mbeuss would be dramatically smaller.

Your own personal dump

Next time you're about to throw out an apple core stop and think where it's going.  Is it going out to a landfill or is it headed off to a composting facility.  Hopefully it's the latter but either way there is a complex system in place to take it off your hands and working hard to serve you, the waste producer.  (If you're composting it yourself it's actually a very simple and environmentally friendly system!)

Across all three of these dumps we've seen that the management of our solid waste and compost involves a massive amount of coordination on the part of government.  Even at Mbeusbeuss, fleets of garbage trucks must be coordinated to go out on different routes through the city of Dakar.  Waste management often ends up as a low priority for governments and this can end disastrously as with the crisis in Beirut.

Government inaction or the shifting of government responsibilities to private entities has been an issue with all three of these dumps.  At the Central Landfill in Sonoma County, the water retention pond required to continue operations at the facility might have been built had the landfill been operated the local government rather than a private company who had no real interest in whether the Sonoma Compost Company stayed open or not.  In Beirut, government inaction meant a new landfill site had not been found by the time the current dump of Naameh had to shut down.  A request for bids for the Beirut trash hauling and landfill contract went unanswered, highlighting that this was really a problem for government to solve, not private business. With the general lack of planning at Mbeusbeuss, the dump seems set to continue it's slow crawl over the surrounding communities despite talks of the necessity of closing it.

If for some reason you have managed to read this far, I think you'll agree that managing our waste requires serious long term planning.  Private enterprise can and certainly will be involved in this process.  Ultimately though, it will fall to governments to ensure that proper waste management plans are formulated and implemented.  Composting and the diversion of organic materials from landfills should be important considerations in these plans.  The repercussions of failure to adequately prepare for our waste streams aren't pretty (although they are smelly).  On the other hand, with proper planning, much of the waste we currently throw away can be turned into a valubale resource which can help combat climate change: compost.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Tale of Two Soils

With the masterful craftsmanship of one Scott Chenoweth, we now have a window into the world beneath our feet. The root window is a thin wooden planter box with one side made up of clear plexiglass.  The planter is divided into two sections so that two different soil treatments can be compared side by side.  Below you can see radish roots growing behind the plexiglass panel.  

The radish in the above picture were grown in very rich soil. Looking to make the most fertile growing medium possible, I created a mixture of compost, worm castings and some soil from my veggie beds.  In the other compartment of the planter I used the poorest bagged soil product I could find.  This "Top Soil Plus" product was just what I was looking for.  Its only two ingredients are sandy loam and forest humus.  I know that the sandy loam almost certainly came from a loam pit, a place where deposits of sandy soil are mined.  This material would be devoid of plant life and extremely low in soil biology.  I suspect the second material, the "forest humus" they are talking about here is some sort of byproduct from the logging industry.  It looked like very fine wood particles, not really humus.  The fact that the bag instructs gardeners to "use where needed to fill in low spots in lawns and gardens," makes it sounds like the company doesn't have many illusions as to the usefulness and fertility of this product.
Radish were planted in the two different soils at exactly the same time.  The same seed was used and the same amount of water applied to each side.  The difference between the radishes in the two soils was striking both above ground and below ground.  To the rigt you can see how few visible roots there are in the poor soil compared to the first photo taken of the rich soil.  These two photos were taken at the same time, each photo is of right below the soil line.

After the radish had set seed the soil was removed from the root window and put onto a board with screws to hold the roots in place.  The soil was then washed away so that only the large roots would remain behind.  One thing that is interesting to note is that the poor top soil product washed away with ease.  The fertile soil high in organic matter on the other hand was an enormous pain to wash away.  There were so many roots that it was a single spongy mass. Water would flow through without taking away much soil.  I had to blast the fertile soil at point blank range with extremely high pressure and even then it took quite a while to get it to wash away.

You can see in the picture below that the radish in the poor soil on the left grew spindly stalks, did not develop large edible portions, and formed very thin roots.  The radish on the right however grew thick edible portions, large networks of roots, and thick stalks with dark green leaves.

This picture below shows how the radish on the right have much darker green leaves than the radish on the left, most probably because of higher levels of plant available nitrogen in the fertile soil on the right.  I don't think the radish on the left in the poor soil would have gotten anywhere near as big as they did had I not given both sides a few doses of animal urine.  It felt like as soon as I applied the diluted urine the radish on the left immediately responded with a growth spurt.  Not very scientific to muddle with the experiment like that but I was curious to see if anything would happen.

Below you can see how the roots grew over time in the two windows.  The fertile soil is first and the poor soil is below.  (Unfortunately the animation starts as soon as the file loads on your browser so they usually aren't synced). You'll probably be able to notice the three week gap when I was slammed at work and neglected to take any pictures. This is when the roots fatten up instantaneously.

Here are some slower versions of the same animation.  Below is the radish in the poor soil.

And here is the radish in the fertile soil.  

One thing the surprised me was just how quickly the tap root on the radish reached the very bottom of the root window.  Within one week of the root starting to noticeably elongate it was already at the bottom of the two foot deep window.  Clearly if given the chance the roots would have gone down much deeper.  In Root Development of Vegetable Crops by Weaver and Bruner, the variety of radish they examined grew roots down to 7 feet deep.