Crust like top on my compost

VivVarble(8B)January 18, 2014

I put in a raised bed, filled it with compost (store bought) last weekend. I'm gardening on a budget so I wasn't able to purchase high quality compost or anything else to mix in with it. I had ordered some azomite and got some of that mixed in today. However, all week my beds have been crusty on top. I'm wondering if it's the cool temps or maybe something else. I've revamped my own compost pile in hopes that it will be cooking soon, and I'll be able to apply as needed. Is there something else I should add, if there's several things, which would be the #1 choice overall, since I'm on a budget.

Supposedly, the city of Beaumont gives away compost every Saturday. There's a "fine" grade for gardening and a "coarse" grade for other uses. I'm wondering if I should get some of this versus store bought to put in my vertical beds I just made yesterday? I don't really know anyone in the area, (we just moved here a few months ago) and no one that gardens, so far I'm getting crazy looks when I mention that I've put a veggie garden in. The point being, there's no one to ask what the quality of the city compost is. I'm leery but at the same time I like the sound of FREE. Opinions please?

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Always be wary of other people's compost, you don't know what's in it. That being said go & look at it. If you like the way it looks, use it. If you find bits of plastic & glass you might want to pass on it.
Not sure by what you mean "crusty on top" in regards to your raised beds.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 8:52PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Just fluff it lightly with a rake. Compost gets crusty after a while in drier climates.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 8:56PM
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Paleogardener, I'll be sure to pick through it and see what it looks like. I mean the top layer is crusty, like a pie (sort of). It's not loose at all. I watch (on YouTube) with John Kohler and his soil looks all beautiful and loose. Mine has way too many wood particles in it, guess that's what I get for buying cheap compost!

Hoovb, I did indeed do that today when I added the azomite. I lightly raked my fingers over the area where I've planted my sugar snap peas also. Hoping that won't upset them in any way because I'd really like to have some peas.

Thank you both for your replies :)

    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 9:36PM
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Like soils, the upper surface of compost can form a crust that aids in moisture retention.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 6:31AM
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Thanks kimmsr :)

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 8:52PM
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Viv - The surface of almost anything, including sand, with settle and the particles interlock to make a crust.

It's physics.

I don't worry about it unless my pickaxe can't make it through the crust.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 10:51AM
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I would recommend adding mulch (like straw) on top of the compost if you don't like the crust. This will help keep the compost moist and crust-free. It'll also cut down on water usage and improve your soil quality in the long term (that woody material in your "compost" will continue to break down).

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 2:34PM
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It's generally recommended to use a mixture of soil and compost rather than pure compost. If it's good compost - i.e. the majority is organic matter - it will keep decomposing and your beds will sink down quite a bit, whereas soil is mainly minerals that don't go away. And pure compost can act funny as you've noticed. In hot weather when you want to water, that crust will be a pain in the neck.

If the compost you bought was inexpensive it may have quite a bit of soil in it. Sad to say, but true.

Anyway, if you find your beds are sinking down, next time add some soil as well.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2014 at 11:31AM
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Thanks toxcrusadr, AlexInAlbany, and lazygardens. It was cheap compost. The beds aren't completely full, maybe a few inches shy of full. What type of soil should I toss in? Like a potting mix type of thing or what?

I have a some more beds I'm hoping to fill with the city compost if it's any good and I'll need to add something to it as well. I'm probably being too anal but I want my garden to match the one in my head, lol. I appreciate everyone's input very much. :)

    Bookmark   January 21, 2014 at 7:32PM
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Potting mix, if it's done right, doesn't have soil either. It's usually shredded bark, peat moss and compost in some combination. What you want is topsoil, either from somewhere on your place, or by the bag, or by the pickup load.

They do sell "garden soil" (such as Miracle Gro brand). This stuff seems to also be very high in organic matter. If I had a bed full of compost I would probably buy a few bags of inexpensive topsoil to fill it.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 1:30PM
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Oh ok! I had no idea there was a difference, thanks for sorting me out. I'll be sure to plan a trip for some soon.


    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 7:56PM
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Always good to find a torn bag when shopping, or accidentally poke a finger-sized hole in one if necessary, to evaluate the contents. Products vary by not only brand but by region and by season, especially the off-brands and local brands that are not heavily marketed. It's like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get. I've seen 'compost' that had more soil in it than bags of 'topsoil' right next to it.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 11:37AM
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Good idea, thanks!

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 12:07PM
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