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Organic matter (or organic material) is matter that has come from a once-living organism; is capable of decay, or the product of decay; or is composed of organic compounds. The definition of organic matter varies upon the subject it is being used for.

Contents

Soil organic matter

The organic matter in soil derives from plants and animals. In a forest, for example, leaf litter and woody material falls to the forest floor. This is sometimes referred to as organic material.[1] When it decays to the point in which it is no longer recognizable it is called soil organic matter. When the organic matter has broken down into a stable humic substances that resist further decomposition it is called humus. Thus soil organic matter comprises all of the organic matter in the soil exclusive of the material that has not decayed.[2]

One of the advantages of humus is that it is able to withhold water and nutrients, therefore giving plants the capacity for growth. Another advantage of humus is that it helps the soil to stick together which allows nematodes, or microscopic bacteria, to easily decay the nutrients in the soil.[3]

There are several ways to quickly increase the amount of humus. Combining compost, plant or animal materials/waste, or green manure with soil will increase the amount of humus in the soil.

  1. Compost: Decomposed organic material.
  2. Plant and animal material and waste: Dead plants or plant waste such as leaves or bush and tree trimmings, or animal manure.
  3. Green manure: Plants or plant material that is grown for the sole purpose of being incorporated with soil.

These three materials supply nematodes and bacteria with nutrients for them to thrive and produce more humus, which will give plants enough nutrients to survive and grow.[3]

Decay

Organic matter may be defined as material that is capable of decay, or the product of decay (humus), or both. Usually the matter will be the remains of recently living organisms, and may also include still-living organisms. Polymers and plastics, although they may be organic compounds, are usually not considered organic material, due to their poor ability to decompose. A clam's shell, while biotic, would not be considered organic matter by this definition because of its inability to decay.

Organic chemistry

Measurements of organic matter generally measure only organic compounds or carbon, and so are only an approximation of the level of once-living or decomposed matter. Some definitions of organic matter likewise only consider "organic matter" to refer to only the carbon content, or organic compounds, and do not consider the origins or decomposition of the matter. In this sense, not all organic compounds are created by living organisms, and living organisms do not only leave behind organic material. A clam's shell, for example, while biotic, does not contain much organic carbon, so may not be considered organic matter in this sense. Conversely, urea is one of many organic compounds that can be synthesized without any biological activity.

Vitalism

The equation of "organic" with living organisms comes from the now-abandoned idea of vitalism that attributed a special force to life that alone could create organic substances. This idea was first questioned after the abiotic synthesis of urea by Friedrich Wöhler in 1828.

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References

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Simple English

Organic matter (or organic material) is matter that has come from a recently living organism.

It is capable of decay, or the product of decay; or is composed of organic compounds. There is not one definition of organic matter only. It varies upon the subject it is being used for.

Contents

Soil organic matter

Soil is composed of minerals and organic matter, as well as living organisms. The organic matter in soil comes from plants and animals. In a forest, for example, leaf litter and woody material falls to the forest floor. This is sometimes called organic material.[1] When it decays to the point it is no longer recognizable it is called soil organic matter. When the organic matter has broken down into a stable humic substances that resist further decomposition it is called humus. [2]

Vitalism

The equation of "organic" with living organisms comes from the now-abandoned idea of vitalism that attributed a special force to life that alone could create organic substances. This idea was first questioned after the abiotic synthesis of urea by Friedrich Wöhler in 1828.

Footnotes

  1. http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/organics/index.htm
  2. Thus soil organic matter comprises all of the organic matter in the soil exclusive of the undecayed material (http://soils.usda.gov/sqi/concepts/glossary.html).

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