contaminated potting soil???

canokieAugust 19, 2012

I was planting my carrots Friday night using the trench method and after I had put all the seeds in I opened a small bag of potting soil I picked up at Dollar General to sprinkle on top of the seeds. As soon as I tore open the bag a LOT of fruit flies came out (uneasy moment #1). Then I found a large piece of blue latex that looked like it came from surgical gloves (big uneasy moment #2). Pretty soon there was a second large piece of the blue latex, and I also noticed some little translucent brownish colored balls that were really hard (no idea what they were - some kind of eggs? Tiny beads?) I remember a story I saw on the news a while back about a woman who was stabbed with a hyperdermic needle when she reached into a bag of peat moss. That did it for me. I'm going to take the soil back to Dollar General and get a refund, and I don't think I'm ever going to use storebought potting soil again unless I can be sure of where it comes from. The thought of growing my food in soil that has been contaminated with medical waste or who knows what is rather sickening. What else is in there that we don't know about?

Has anybody else had anything like this happen? And is there a reliable source/company for this stuff?

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I am so glad I didn't have lunch yet!!


    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 11:53AM
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Canokie, It would be illegal to dispose of medical waste in that way, I am not saying that you dont have medical waste, but unlikely. I have gloves of many kinds and they are burned or go to the landfill, which could wind up in compost.

I have bought some potting soil from walmart that was not worth hauling home. I dont have a lot of choice where I live, but I seem to have good luck with LC1 from the Farmers Co-op, a potting mix that a local nursery sells, and composted manure from Ace hardware. I think that the LC1 even has the little balls in it, I am not sure what they are. I would not want to buy any brand that has the material in it that you described. I would think that they had a Quality control problem.

My son seems to like MG potting soil, but I had rather have something not so course. It may be a matter of whatever you get use to.


    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 2:02PM
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As long as you stick with a reliable brand of potting soil, you'll most likely be okay. I use Sta-Green that I get at Lowe's. I've never had a problem with it, except sometimes you get a pretty big chunk of wood in it, but not often. At least it wasn't a handful of fruit flies or a surgical glove, lol!

As to the little brown balls, could be slow release fertilizer pellets. Are they about the size of a Tic-Tac?

I wouldn't trust potting soil from Dollar General, the Dollar Store, or that cheap stuff that Walmart sells - what was the name of it? Oh, Hyponex I think. Potting soil is one thing I wouldn't skimp on too much - the classic "you get what you pay for". Anything that much cheaper than MG or Sta-Green, Scott's, etc., is a product I wouldn't personally touch with a 10' pole.


    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 3:02PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Oh yuck. That just sounds gross. I'd return that stuff to the store too and make it clear I expect a better quality product than what was in that bag.

Let's be charitable and assume that perhaps the employees at the packaging facility wear those latex gloves while working, because we all know you are not supposed to handle bagged mixes with your bare hands, period, because of the nasty fungal diseases they sometimes carry. Of course, that does not explain how the gloves came to be in the product you purchased, but thinking they are employee's gloves is better than thinking that stuff is contaminated with medical waste which, as Larry points out, is illegal. Stranger things have happened, though.

Like Susan, I only use the tried-and-true name brands that have proven to be reliable over the years. I like Sta-Green better than Miracle Grow these last few years since MG seems to have more and more pieces of wood bark/mulch that you have to sift out or screen out before using. I do think the little brown balls could be slow release fertilizer pellets. Are they about the size of BBs or slightly smaller and a sort of amber color? I see those a lot in soil-less potting mixes.

Susan, Hyponex is still out there? That amazes me. Now that is something I avoid using and have for many, many years.

I agree that anything cheaper than MG or SG is likely formulated of such junk that it isn't worth buying, and I wouldn't bring that junk home if it was free.

The older I get and the longer I garden, the pickier I am about buying anything in the way of soil amendments and bringing it home. There is so much crap passed off as good soil amendments or fertilizers nowadays and I don't want to bring home anything that will contaminate our soil that we've worked so hard to build and improve for so many years now.


    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 6:59PM
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Well, I feel a little better now lol! It makes sense that the people working with the soil would be wearing gloves so I'm going to go with that :) It's a lot less gross to comtemplate than surgical gloves that's for sure!

Yes, the pellets were just like you describe so they must be slow release fertilizer. I usually don't buy the stuff with fertilizer in it so I guess I've just never seen it before.

I just talked to my Dad who is an expert gardener (in Canada) and gets the kind of yields I can only dream of, and he spreads a couple of inches of composted chicken manure (they also raise chickens) on top of the garden and mixes it in each year. I don't think I'm feeding my soil enough. I am going to focus more on composting at home and gathering leaves and maybe finding a good source of composted manure (but nothing that smells or the HOA will run me out of here for sure lol!)


    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 8:59PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Composted manure should not have an unpleasant smell. It if smells bad it isn't thoroughly composted.

Susan buys composted chicken manure somewhere in the OKC area and I bet she'll be happy to tell you where she gets it if she sees this.

I gather mine from the chicken coop and compost it before adding it to the garden. Chickens are one of my favorite garden helpers. They eat bugs and weed seeds, and we let ours go into the garden in fall and winter and sometimes very early spring (when it is pretty empty) to dig and scratch and pick it clean of insects. And, of course, their used bedding and manure ends up on the compost pile first, and in the garden later.

If you want to use rabbit manure or cow manure, I am partial to Black Kow cow manure, which is 100% composted cow manure. By law, anything sold as cow manure only has to contain 10% actual manure, so a lot of the cow manure products do not have a lot of cow manure in them. I've used it for at least a decade and haven't had a contaminated batch yet that has damaged the garden. For rabbit manure, the only time I've seen it sold bagged is in nurseries with a full line of organic products in Texas. (I haven't looked in the OKC area.) In Texas, it is from a Texas company called Rabbit Hill Farm. I don't know if it is sold outside of Texas, or only locally.

Sometimes if you watch the Freecycle website for your area, you'll see people giving away rabbit manure or horse manure.

Having a compost pile and composting your own materials works wonders on garden soil too. I pile layers of chopped autumn leaves mixed with grass clippings on top of beds year round, including a heavy layer in the fall. By spring it has broken down into a beautiful compost that improves the soil so much.

A soil test would tell you if your soil has the right balance of nutrients, and if your pH is in the right range. A soil pH that is too high or too low can interfere in nutrient uptake so that is why it is good to know your pH and to know if it needs to be adjusted.

When you live in a neighborhood that has an HOA, you do have to be careful about following their rules, which sometimes works against gardeners.


    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 9:18PM
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Well, I'm going to have to find another source for my Back To Nature Chicken Manure since Horn's closed. I think OKC Organics may carry Back to Nature products. The 40 lb bags of BTN CM was $5/bag. I'm sure BTN CM may be a little bit higher in cost. Some of the products they carry are more expensive, like Fox Farms' potting soils, for example, at $20 for a 40 lb bag. I sometimes do buy their seed starting mix, tho, because it is sooooooooooo good. They're also carrying mixes for raised bed gardens now, too.

I do think they carry Hyponex in the houseplants dept. at Walmart. But, they also have another name for Hyponex now, too. If I remember, I'll let you know.

I think you can apply rabbit manure directly w/o composting, too, BTW. I was trying to get my daughter to save the Guinea Pig manure because you can do the same with it. They only eat veggies and Timothy Hay, and stuff like that.


    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 10:50PM
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About 6 years ago I developed a case of Legionaires Disease. We couldn't for the life of us figure out where I had gotten it. Both my doctors & the Health Dept (who have to contact you when this disease is reported) were baffled since I was not near any source of water, air conditoners, etc where it is usually contracted. The only thing out of the ordinary I could think that I was doing was that I had bought potting soil from Family Dollar store & was doing winter sowing. I kind of think now that it came from China.

Not saying this was the case, but I have always been suspicious. (It was a long haul for recovery & needless to say, my winter sowing didn't get done.)

    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 11:42PM
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I am very lucky because I can get lots of leaves in the Fall for free and a pick-up load of mushroom compost for a good price at any time of the year. I also have a few hens and I have found that the compost made from their pen cleanings seems to be perfect for growing cucumbers.

I had so many chopped leaves last Fall that they didn't all break down over the winter. Rather than till them in, I just pulled them back and planted and when the plants needed to be mulched, I just moved the chopped leaves back around them. In fact, the only place we tilled was to make a trench for planting potatoes.

I used a 'free' compost from my county in a small part of my garden one year, and I only had to do it once to learn not to do it again. One year I used grass clippings and they had lots of junk in them, so for several years now I have just depended on leaves, mushroom compost, and the chickens.

Actually, I can't complain much about my 2012 garden. My tomato plants didn't last very long and everything seemed to turn ripe at once, but we had lots to eat and we made 61 pints of salsa. We were making salsa about as fast as we could get it made, so I was glad I didn't have more vines to keep up with. I should have had more okra plants, so I will plan that differently next year.

I did learn that I am far enough north to successfully grow long-day onions, so I will probably always plant a few of those for storage purposes. I will be more careful where I plant them though because they stayed in the ground about a month longer than my other onions. I used a lot in salsa making but I think I have enough to last all winter or as long as they will stay good. I am hoping that the long day onions will have a longer storage life so I am saving those to use last. I think my intermediate day onions would have made larger onions if I had started watering earlier.

If I have to buy something at the store I usually stick with Scots, if ProMix isn't available.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 12:38AM
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I have purchased potting soil from the dollar store, Big Lots and some other "cheap" places. Never again. Each time it was just total junk. Have to spend a few extra $$$ and buy the big major name brands or buy from a local reputable nursery.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 12:57AM
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The BTN Back to Nature is good stuff. I am still upset that Horns is closing. I did buy a pickup truck full of the BTN chicken compost at half price there last weekend.
You can get it at Marcums nursery at SW 119 & Penn and also at TLC.
If you know someone with a wholesale license you can get it at John Deere Wholesale Nursery on N Lincoln in OKC, almost to Edmond. They won't sell to you unless you have a nursery or wholesale account, you just need to find someone who will let you use their name. It's a LOT cheaper there. That's where I usually get mine.
You can also go to BTN's website and search for local vendors in your area. It's fairly complete but I know of a few other places that sell it but not listed there, but that's a good start.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 1:06AM
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Canokie, how disconcerting!!

Patty, I am so sorry that happened to you. Thank you for noting your suspicions.

Ya'll - I'm telling ya. This morning I felt so tired. We're doing the rabbit thing again. It is sad that we are required to pull them in the house at night which is a mess because the stupid stray animals will mutilate them until we have ... like a fortress built for them. And so I was looking at the bottom of their cage and regretting getting this started for fertilizer. IT's just "yuck" work. And I even get tired of managing the stupid worms though have become attached.

This post reminds me exactly why I'm struggling with all this. At least I know what's going in my compost and soil!

Thanks for the enlightened reality.

I forget what they call it but some cities are selling their sewer sludge to big ag business as "compost". It is noted that this sludge includes all forms of toxic waste including hospital bio-hazard fluids and industrial wastes. Many of these farms are producing the goods in our produce departments. That is just scary.


    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 11:03AM
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It's called "bio solids" (toxic waste)

"Bio solids source watch"

    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 11:07AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Susan, I was afraid maybe Horn's was your source, but Gene has listed some other local retailers who carry it, so hopefully y'all can still find it at a reasonable price even after the loss of Horn's.

Patty, I am sorry you went through that. Legionaire's Disease. Yikes! I think your hunch that it might have come from the potting soil is a good one. You're a true survivor in more ways than one. Thankfully, our bodies can recover from such things with the help of medical science.

Carol, I'm lucky, too, to have an endless source of leaves in the fall. If I am diligent and rake and collect them, that Some years I do a better job of collecting them from the woodland than others, but I do take care not to repeatedly take them all from the woodland and not to take them from the same area every year since they are important to the health of the woodland soil too. I do rake up and use all the ones that fall in the actual yard, and since the woodland creeps closer to my garden every year, some of the taller trees now drop their leaves into the garden, but I still have to rake them and chop them up.

If I could get Pro-Mix without driving 100 or 120 miles to find it, I'd use it. This year I bought MG Moisture Control in February, March and April to add to all my containers because I feared a summer drought, and I am glad I did. As I fill up more containers for the greenhouse for this winter, I think I'm just going to make a version of Al's 5-1-1 mix.

Gene, I agree that with any form of soil-less mix or other soil amendments, you get what you pay for and I absolutely will not cut corners in this area. I'd rather cut corners some other way. In gardening, I think the quality of the soil is the overall determining factor in a person's success. Everything starts with the soil.

My dad used to say you shouldn't plant a $10 tree in a $5 hole, and that sums up how I feel about using cheap soil-less mixes too.

Bon, Bio-solids have been sold as fertilizer or as a soil amendment since at least the 1960s as far as I know, and I've always gone out of my way to avoid the stuff to the extent that we can. One of my favorite garden supply sources in Fort Worth always carried Sul-po-Mag and I always cringed when I walked by that product, knowing where it came from.

Some commercial vermicomposting facilities use bio-solids and others feed their worms pig manure (and probably other manures as well) so I won't purchase bagged worm castings unless I am sure of how a given company produces theirs. I just try to feed the earthworms in the ground here really well so they'll strew their castings everywhere as they tunnel through the soil. Our earthworm population has increased a huge amount since we moved here and began improving the soil, and I am so glad it has.

My preference is always going to be for amendments from something right here on our property as much as possible because at least then I know the source and I know what is in it.

We had rabbits in our early years here. Not because we purchased rabbits, but because after we moved "to the country", everyone we knew in the city who had a cat, dog or rabbit they didn't want any more and thought we should take it off their hands, and we did, because we didn't think any animal should live where it wasn't wanted. I'll qualify that by saying one family had a dog they truly loved, but had a small yard and thought she'd be happier here with us. We agreed and they sent her here to live with us, which I thought was a true act of love on their part. It was not that they didn't want her, but rather they loved her enough to put her happiness ahead of their own. She lived to be 18 years old and was a happy country dog who took great delight in roaming our pasture and woodlands. As long as she lived, she kept the squirrels away from the garden and yard.

I found rabbits difficult to keep alive in the extreme heat that often plagues us here. Also, our rabbits really watched the wild rabbits roam free and resented being keep in a coop. We built them a fenced run that they loved because it was a more natural setting for them, but they occasionally escaped from it. After they eventually died, we did not get more rabbits.

I've spent two consecutive very long very hot summers with cats and dogs cooped up indoors trying to stay cool and I'm just not ever going to bring chickens or rabbits inside in extreme heat. There's a limit to how many animals I can bring indoors before the house becomes more of a barn than a house! It is nice to be able to send them outdoors on a day like today and know they'll be happy outside all day and won't be roasting in the heat. I hope the heat doesn't return and that our animals can get used to being outside all day again.


    Bookmark   August 20, 2012 at 1:26PM
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