Help buying bulk compost? Basic principles plus local brand names

kristimamaJanuary 20, 2012

Hi all,

I need a couple cubic yards of compost this year to top off my veggie beds. (I forgot to do so last season, so this year I'm going to be adding as much as 8-10 inches of compost in each bed.)

In the past I've never given much thought to the compost or amendments I've bought because I was only doing a few inches at a time and it was easier/cheaper to buy 10 bags than pay the cost of delivering bulk. So I usually just grabbed several bags of whatever bagged mulch/amendments my local nursery had on promo (buy 3 get 1 free) of bumper crop or pay dirt or gold rush. Usually a combo of bark fines/chicken manure labeled mulch/compost.

But this year, since I'm needing so much more---and maybe because there's been so much controversy this last year about human manures showing up in municipal composts---I've become a little more cautious about what I'm buying. (Cautious is my euphemism for slightly paranoid. LOL)

Here in the bay area, we do have several good reliable bulk suppliers like American Soil and Acapulco Soil... but like I said I've started hyperanalyzing the options.... and I feel completely stuck and unable to decide what to do.

Of my local options, they each have an OMRI certified compost option---these are entirely plant-based composts from municipal grass clippings, dropped off yard waste, and tree trimmings. They go by many brand names such as Wondergrow and Z-Best. On the one hand they are OMRI certified which seems ideal, but I still fear what people throw into their green waste bin, and what chemicals and pesticides they throw on their lawn that end up in the green bin.

Also, Wondergrow might also include city food scraps composted.

We also have the option of blending these OMRI plant-based composts with composted chicken manure... but of course I've come to realize that the chicken manure is most likely from factory farmed chickens. I don't know how to get away from that. And of the animal composts, chicken is probably the only one I'm comfortable with in the garden as I'd like to stay away from cow/steer manure.

I feel compelled to mix in some composted chicken manure, because I tend to think (but don't know if this is true) that the more sources of compost you add, the richer the brew you make in your garden. I suppose I got that from the Mel Bartholomew books, where he says to use to 5 different sources of compost. But the guy telling me about the z-best plant compost said that it is very complete and I wouldn't need any animal manures. So what's the truth?

So... what do you all use when you need to get large quantities?

Are you swayed by the OMRI certification?

Do you use animal manures, even if their source isn't from an organic operation?

Are the plant based composts sufficient?

Are you comfortable using composted food-scraps when those food scraps don't come from your own table? (I think my hsuband fears we'll be using other peoples ground up composted McDonald's burgers. LOL)

And if you have any personal experience with Z-Best, or Wondergrow, could you let me know?

I should also say I'm not growing for sale or distribution, so I don't *have* to claim my garden is organic... I just try to stick to organic principles as well as I can for my own preference.



PS... I'm not quiet close enough to Sonoma to get Grab n Grow which, I've heard is phenomenal.

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Since the factory farms, Confined Animal Feeding Operations, Egg Factories, etc. are not any where near organic in their operations and since most all of the manures out there will come from these CAFOs the bagged manures you buy will not be from organic sources. Getting manure from animals raised free range would be difficult and if the farmer is not using all the manure generated on that operation I would be suspect about it and the operation.
I am leery of the OMRI label since there has been much compromise of standards to the benefit of companies that have not been organic.
I have been seeing, of late, compost labeled "organic compost" and if one thinks about this you should wonder what inorganic compost would look like. Some sellers of compost with an OMRI label have been including biosolids in what they market.
The questions you pose do not have simple, easy, answers any more.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2012 at 6:56AM
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Thanks, Kimmsr. No kidding... there are no easy answers any more. And since I don't have a compost pile yet (no space, but after my DH and I started researching this more we have decided to make the space going forward), the bottom line is right now I do need some addition of bulk OM.

So are you suggesting that the all-plant compost might have biosolids in it?

Or just that you don't necessarily trust the OMRI label? (I do distinguish OMRI and something labeleld "organic.")

Is an all-plant compost (OMRI certified or not) sufficient OM for a productive veggie garden?

Sounds like you stay away from factory farmed manures, but are there animal manures you *are* comfortable with?

What would you use in my situation given the options I have available?


    Bookmark   January 20, 2012 at 11:15AM
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I'm not a gardener.

I make compost and I usually recommend 1 (maybe 2 if the garden is in poor shape) inches of compost on a normal garden. Anymore than that is probably wasting money.

I'd also recommend Steve Solomons book. I found it easy to read and informative.


    Bookmark   January 20, 2012 at 9:12PM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

Kristimama wrote:
> Is an all-plant compost (OMRI certified or not) sufficient OM for a productive veggie garden?

I'm a complete beginner, but I don't think an all-plant compost is inferior in the least. Not sure but you seem to want to give all-plant composts an inferiority complex :-)

Here's a quote from Ann Whitman's and Suzanne DeJohn's book called "Organic Gardening for Dummies" (for dummies like me):

"Before buying the compost, ask about the primary organic-matter sources that were used to make the compost. Compost made from yard waste (leaves and grass clippings) is considered to be the safest and best. Other compost may contain ingredients that had contaminants, such as herbicides from agricultural crop residues and heavy metals from municipal wastes, which may affect the growth of your plants or accumulate toxins in your soil. Ask if the finished product is tested for contaminants."

When I read above that "Compost made from yard waste (leaves and grass clippings) is considered to be the safest and best," I was spurred on to make my own compost. I don't think there's anything inferior about plain old leaves and grass. To the contrary, they seem to be really good stuff.

So good in fact, that tomorrow I'm going to transfer the 3 cubic feet of chopped leaves, grass, and fruit peels from my small trash can to a much bigger round plastic barrel and add even more leaves and grass, doubling the size of the organic matter from 3 cubic feet to 6 cubic feet.

"Let It Rot!" seems to be a popular book on about composting. Ordered it a couple days ago.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2012 at 10:31PM
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If I am going to use animal manures today there are a couple of reasonably close sources I can get to, animals raised on pasture, although the manure I get comes from the barn. Trying to collect it out in the pasture is not easy. These farms allow a limited amount of that manure to leave because soil tests tell them they do not need all of it.
I have made my own compost, I started composting on a 66 x 66 city lot with a 36 x 36 house with an attached one stall garage, for many years so have not had to buy any although I do occassionally just to see what really is in those bags. Much of the bagged compost sold in stores I would be ashamed to market, even with the OMRI label on it. If you must purchase compost that way I would suggest buying one bag and then taking a good look at what is in that bag before deciding to buy more since none of the big box stores would allow you to sample the product first. If that compost does not smell good upon opening the bag, or if you find other reasons it might not be what you want then you are not out that much.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2012 at 6:47AM
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art_1(10 CA)

I've had good results with Local Hero, but I share your questions as I'm not really sure what's in the stuff. It looks like Wonder Grow comes from Grover Landscape Services. You could try contacting them and asking what is used in their compost. I am interested to hear what you might learn.

I would recommend what many others have said here - begin collecting leaves and yard trimmings, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and start a compost pile. If any of your neighbors have chickens, horses, rabbits, or goats, ask if you can use the manure/bedding in your compost as fertilizer.

Composts Disallowed in California and An Update on Pesticide Residues
"(February 5, 2010)California growers should know that the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) prohibited three composts for use in organic production: Nortech Gold made by Nortech Waste LLC, Grover Wonder Grow Compost made by Grover Landscape Services, and Clean City Compost made by Feather River Organics."

NOP Allowance of Green Waste
"(April 23, 2010)As a result, the CDFA released an announcement on April 21, 2010 stating that the prohibition of the three above named composts has been rescinded."

Grover Landscape Services

    Bookmark   January 22, 2012 at 2:29PM
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Thanks everyone.
I've been very happy with Local Hero for the last few years. Yes they use Wondergrow and add in grape seed mulch and sandy loam and chicken manure. All my local gardening references, nurseries, and master gardener-type people swear by it. I was just surprised how much the soil shrunk this winter.

I was always taught that it's OK to grow in 100% compost, it's what my mom does over in El Cerrito without any trouble. I only recently saw the statistic that Kimmsr keeps quoting that the optimum % of OM is 6-8%. I wish I knew what % was in Local Hero. My guess is it's more that 8% OM, since it has all sorts of compost and the grape seed pomace in there.

Even John Jeavons in his books said you should expect to need about 1/2 inch per 4 months, or an inch or two a year. With a drop of more than 6 inches in a year, I'm guessing the OM content was too high.

So now I'm actually thinking of topping with more Local Hero, which has OM but also has sandy loam, clay loam, etc.

Ugh. Makes my brain hurt sometimes. THanks everyone. :-)

    Bookmark   January 22, 2012 at 6:22PM
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The optimal level of organic matter in soil is 6 to 8 percent. I too grow plants, in containers, in compost, 100 percent organic matter. But container gardening is different then growing plants in the ground.
In your garden soil you need enough organic matter, that can be compost, cover or green manure crops, leaves, etc., to maintain that 6 to 8 percent level. If John Jeavons can do that with an inch or two of orgaanic matter that is good but if someone in Arizona needs to add 4 to 6 inches of organic matter to maintain that 6 to 8 percent level then that is what they need to do.
Think about this. The potting soils sold in stores is composed of Peat Moss, finely ground bark, or coir, or a combination of these with some perlite or vermiculite added for drainage. That is 100 percent organic matter. Some of us have had no problem growing plants in containers in 100 percent compost while others apparently have.
If the compost you purchase in stores contains any thing other than organic matter, sand, silt, or clay, it is probably not something you really want.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2012 at 7:42AM
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Hey Kimmsr, veering slightly off here... I'm curious about your thoughts on containers with 100% compost. It's essentially what I'm doing in my container veggies, but haven't found much specific help with fertilizing. over on the container boards. What do you use for fertilizer, and do you add any rock dust to those containers.

I'd REALLY appreciate your thoughts on this. You seem to really know what you're talking about!


    Bookmark   January 23, 2012 at 1:55PM
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I have grown plants in my compost for years and I have not had any need to add any "fertilizer" to the compost. I do need to top off the containers because the bacteria in the compost are still digesting it.
People on the container boards will stick with the advice that you cannot grow plants in 100 percent compost.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2012 at 6:54AM
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Hi Kmama,
I definitely noticed this problem in the bay's so hard to know where anything comes from! So a couple of friends and I decided to do something about it and have started a worm and vermicompost business as part of the non-profit farm Urban Adamah in west Berkeley called Urban Worm. We feed our worms horse manure and coffee, and we're looking into getting Berkeley Bowl produce scraps. We're small and new, but you can buy Berkeley-grown vermicompost (castings) by the 20 and 40 pound bag, by the wheelbarrow, or the cubic yard. We even deliver. :)

So if you're worried about what's in your compost or what company you're supporting when you buy, know that you have a good bay area source for top-notch vermicompost. You can come by and check out our site any time.

I hope that's helpful!

Here is a link that might be useful: Urban Worm

    Bookmark   December 24, 2012 at 7:21PM
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