Purchased compost contaminated?

cjmomApril 20, 2013

I purchased a yard of compost from Mt. Diablo Landscape in Concord, CA, dumped it in my garden, and now I'm thinking I made a huge mistake.

It smells very bad--not rotten, just strange and very stong, not like homemade compost.

Also I found a bunch of junk in it. An old shoe, small pieces of glass, small pieces of plastic (both hard and from bags), an old wire hook, and other misc garbage.

When this company was original recommended to me, I called and asked what was in it. I don't remember what they said, but it seemed fine. I think they were vague, so I should have asked more questions. I just didn't really know what to ask. They knew I was using it for my vegetable garden.

Should be alarmed, or is a few inches of this mixed in with my soil no big deal?

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JonCraig(6b)

You could take a sample & send it to your local university extension's soil testing program. They should be able to tell you if there's anything funky/unsafe with it. And, of course, I'd complain big time to the company and try to get a refund. I work in retail; if you complain enough where I work, you get free stuff. ;-)

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 12:09AM
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cjmom

Thanks, Jon, but there's no free soil testing in my area. I only paid $25 for the compost, so it would cost more to test it than I paid for it. Then if it's bad, I still have to get new compost somewhere else for another $35-40 dollars.

I will definitely complain, though.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 12:27AM
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zeuspaul(9b SoCal)

It sounds a bit like the certified organic stuff I get except for the price seems a bit high.. In addition to the stuff you found I find batteries and wire and that's just what I can see, It sounds like composted green waste from your neighbors and friends.

I wouldn't be overly concerned. Join the search for quality organic matter. It is hard to find.

Zeuspaul

This post was edited by zeuspaul on Sun, Apr 21, 13 at 1:08

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 1:06AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Some landscape supply companies in California are getting what is supposed to be food waste from the local municipalities to compost, and that often does have other things mixed in although it is not supposed to. If this compost does not smell like good rich earth, a nice pleasant odor and not offsetting at all, it most likely is not finished compost and it certainly is not screened as all compost sold by commercial interests should be.
This is why you visit the place you will be purchasing your material from and look at what they offer.
A soil test is not going to show much beyond the pH, P, K, Ca, and Mg levels of that compost, and that is not a good indication of what is in that compost.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 6:36AM
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Lloyd

Some people throw inappropriate things in with their yard waste that get into the compost. I get many bags of yard trimmings that contain exactly the materials you describe. While the larger items can get screened out if the operator actually screens his product, some of the smaller items can and do get through. These won't affect the quality of the actual compost but they are annoying and potentially hazardous in a physical sense.

As for the "bad smell", it is possible the compost you received has not finished curing. Some composting facilities try to rush the product through as quickly as possible for financial reasons. I myself do not allow my compost out of my facility until I am assured it is completely cured. This usually involves two seasons or about twelve months of prime composting weather.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 7:47AM
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TXEB(9a)

Like others have indicated, that compost was probably made from what is generically called "solid municipal waste". Many communities, especially in CA and OR, are collecting "separated" compostables for recycling into compost. As Lloyd pointed out, some contributors are not so good at the separation part. It's an ongoing industry issue.

As far as the smell, based on the "rotten" description my SWAG would be it was in an anaerobic state when it you got it. The pile from which it came probably sat ignored too long, it went anaerobic, and then you got it. If that's the case some mixing and aeration will solve the problem, but it will probably take a few days and few turns.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 9:47AM
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gumby_ct(CT it says Z5)

> " It smells very bad--not rotten, just strange and very stong, not like homemade compost.

Also I found a bunch of junk in it. An old shoe, small pieces of glass, small pieces of plastic (both hard and from bags), an old wire hook, and other misc garbage. "

This is exactly why I always recommend home gardeners make their own compost. IF they had screened this stuff you would have no idea.

You still have no idea if hazardous materials were also composted with this garbage.

There are enuff unknowns in this world. One of the things I do like to know is what goes into my food. Esp when it comes out of my garden.

But that IS me - you are certainly free to do as you see fit in your garden.

Start a compost pile right on the ground in your garden today!! YOU will NOT be sorry or disappointed.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 1:15PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Compost, properly made, will never have an off or putrid odor. Compost, properly made, will always smell like good, rich earth.
Now off odors can be caused by an improper mix of materials (too much grass clippings versus the Carbon) or too much moisture that causes the material to become anaerobic.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 6:48AM
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toxcrusadr

If it's already in the garden, I'd leave it on the surface and see how it is in a few days. Likely the air getting to it will dissipate the odors and help it to an aerobic condition.

If you were to spread this out over the area you want to use it on, how thick will it be? I ask because, if it's seriously unfinished and anerobic, it could harm plants at least for awhile. OTOH if you're spreading it out pretty thin and tilling it 6-8" deep, it may not be a problem.

The alternative is to leave in a pile and turn it once a week until it smells good and doesn't heat up anymore.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 1:14PM
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cjmom

Thanks for all the responses. I just started my compost pile, so that's why I had to purchase it.

I called the manager to complain and he was very rude to me. He could tell I was an inexperienced gardener, so basically told me I was stupid. He said they sell 100s of yards a week and I'm the first person who ever complained. He said all compost smells different. He had nothing to say about the trash in it.

He did confirm that it was yard waste, no biosolids, and cured for 168 days before they get it.

I guess I'll do what a few suggested, and turn it for a few more days and see how it goes.

This post was edited by cjmom on Mon, Apr 22, 13 at 14:32

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 2:17PM
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gumby_ct(CT it says Z5)

Do you think he would tell you IF it contained any hazardous materials? IF he even knew? Honestly?

Edit:
Do you think he would tell you if others had complained? And what they complained about? Really?

This post was edited by gumby_ct on Mon, Apr 22, 13 at 14:47

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 2:40PM
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nc_crn

"I called the manager to complain and he was very rude to me."

...based on online reviews of the place, this seems to be a common "customer service" feature of this business.

They probably do enough business that they don't have to care about it. It sucks, but it happens.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2013 at 4:46PM
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