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BLOG: Is That Bagged Compost REALLY Compost?

When you buy bagged compost at a home improvement store or a nursery how much compost are you REALLY getting. Chances are it's filled with cheap peat moss and isn't doing your plants any good. Ask!

We talked about the importance of compost when making “Mel’s Mix”—the special soil-less blend made of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 sphagnum peat moss and 1/3 blended compost. Of course the best blended compost is that which you make yourself from kitchen and yard scraps. If you want to keep your vegetable garden organic, don’t use your grass clippings if you add chemicals. 

The other option is to use bagged compost, but I urge you to flip that bag over and read the ingredients. There is a very good chance it is mostly “filler” such as peat or chemical fertilizer and very little natural compost. 

Two cases come to mind from the Square Foot Gardening Forum. One person saw a bag of “compost” that said it was a 5-way compost suitable for Square Foot Gardening. She thought she had really scored until she researched it. The clerk at the store wasn’t much help except to give her the contact information for the manufacturer. The manufacturer said that it contained “not more than 80% peat and not less than 20% compost." Now does that sound to anyone else like she just bought a bag of peat and NOT a bag of compost?

Another poster on the Forum went to a nursery where she found an “organic blended compost” that the nursery blended right there. It also claimed to be great for Square Foot Gardening. Score! Score? Well, not quite. When asked what it was made of, the nursery owner said that it was made from the plants that hadn’t sold the previous year. “Were chemical fertilizers used on those plants?” “Yes.” “Then how can you call it ‘organic’?” “It depends on your definition of organic.” 

I guess that’s TECHNICALLY true—according to the dictionary, organic means that it was derived from living matter. Since their compost was made from formerly living plants it could be called “organic," but you and I know that the average person thinks that organic means that something is produced without chemicals. Personally I think we need to come up with a better designation so that people can know what they’re really getting ... a word or phrase that the commercial growers can’t weasel their way around to try to fool you. 

You’ve seen this before ... products that call themselves “natural," “organic” or “whole grain” that contain thing you’d never imagine.  For instance that wax-like coating on apples is made from FDA certified ingredients which according to yahoo.com are “a combination of food-grade shellac with waxes derived from natural occurring plants.” Shellac? Did you know that shellac comes from the secretion of the female Lac bug?

Once again I have to give a huge pat on the back to Veteran Compost in Aberdeen, MD. They produce TRULY organic compost—no chemicals and no cheap fillers. I sell their compost and use it exclusively in my soil-less growing medium. My customers LOVE sometimes seeing worms wiggling in their growing medium. You can buy it bagged of bulk at their place in Aberdeen or they have pick-up points for their bagged compost in Media, PA; Annapolis and Columbia, MD. For more information contact them on their web site veterancompost.com

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Greg Stotler May 02, 2012 at 11:13 AM
Very interesting article, well thought-out. Actually the term organic is now regulated by the federal government and strict limits are placed on it use.
Kim Roman May 21, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Thank you, Greg. I wonder how much enforcement we will see in these limits? : )

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