Johnson-Su Bioreactor

posted in: Resources, Video | 7

Quickly restore soil with this low-cost method developed in New Mexico

Dr. David Johnson (NMSU/CRA) has been doing breakthrough work in regards to the efficacy of biologically correct, fungal-dominated compost for carbon sequestration and improved soil health and crop yields. His method is called BEAM (Biologically Enhanced Agricultural Management) and centers around the products created using the compost creation system he devised with his wife Hui-Chun Su (called the Johnson-Su Bioreactor).

Compost is usually thought of fertilizer, a way of adding nutrients to the soil. BEAM compost actually addresses soil health through soil biology. It replaces soil microbes in soil degraded through conventional agriculture methods. That, along with no-till practices, cover crops and other Regenerative Agriculture practices, enable the normal symbiosis between these microbes and plant roots to occur. Quite quickly, the soil starts to recover, and striking improvements in crop yields and carbon sequestration occurs.


How to for a No-Turn Composting System that produces a SUPERIOR, microbially-diverse and fungal-dominant compost. This compost can be used to restore biological functionality to soils from small to large farming operations and from third-world to advanced agroecosystems.

Watch Jason Carter of Carter Farms in Eastover, SC, treat 250 lbs of cover crop seed with Johnson-Su compost slurry and plant with a no-till grain drill.

For more videos, see this Johnson-Su bioreactor youtube playlist

Subscribe to Dr. David Johnson’s youtube channel at

Download this detailed PDF manual to build your own Johnson-Su Bioreactor!


Get your dirt working with microbes, Taos News

7 Responses

  1. Joe Dino

    Is it possible to build a smaller one in say, a metal trashcan?

    • admin

      My inclination is to say no, as the dimensions are tailored to the need for the pile to heat up and then age for optimal microbial and fungal growth.

      • admin

        Just learned that the maker space in Las Cruces is experimenting with smaller scale versions of the Johnson Su Bioreactor for food waste! They modified the design, using the same wire structure and landscaping fabric, but making a narrow 3 feet tall pipe. They first collect composting materials including food waste, let it all dry out, then wet it and assemble.

  2. Alan Stuart Watt

    Hi there,

    Does Dr David Johnson think that adding biochar as a house for the microbes may be an added extra the will help to sustain the microbes?

    • admin

      Interesting question, Alan. It seems the combination of BEAM (boosting soil biology) and biochar (boosting soil carbon) could be beneficial, but in this blog post by ACRES Dr. Johnson warns that you have to make sure the biochar is made properly, a.i. not “raw”, and that if applied at amounts “over 15 tons per acre” it can become detrimental to soil health.

  3. Nathan p Shapiro

    I have a few questions.
    1. How do you empty the bioreactor at the end of the process? The wire frame and landscape fabric attaches to the pallet base in a video I’ve seen so it can’t be lifted up. The fabric is also wired to the wire frame so it would seem to be difficult to remove the fabric.
    2. If I don’t secure the frame to the pallet, can the bioreactor be made slightly conical so it can be easily lifted up and removed.
    3. If I can find some other method to keep the bottom of the pipe tubes secure for filling, like digging not-to-deep holes in the ground, and build the entire reactor on the ground would it work as well?

    • Owl McCabe

      1. To your first question:
      I have made so many bioreactors I have lost count. The trick in getting it off is in making sure you assembled it with taking it off in mind. Make sure the end of the fabric lines up with the end of the wire. That way when you are ready to use the compost, all you need to do it unsecure the wire frame from the base and remove the connectors that hold the ends of the wire frame ends together. You can then reuse the wire frame with the attached fabric for your next pile.

      2. To your second question:
      Actually, after the first few bioreactors, I quit attaching the wire frame to the base. It wasn’t really needed. As I mentioned above, all you need to do is unsecure the wire frame ends and pull the frame off the pile.

      3. To answer your third question:
      You MUST have the bioreactor on a pallet. It is the main reason this works. If you don’t, the pile will go anaerobic. The pallet allows air to go under the pile and up the tube holes making sure all the pile has access to air.

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