Compost how to tell the good stuff

paulsiu(5a)May 29, 2012

Last year, I got compost in bulk from a local nursery, but I am not entirely happy with it, the stuff isn't screened very well so I got large pieces, sticks and some plastic wrapper.

I decided to look around for alternatives.

I got some mushroom compost which was screened really well and seemed to be moisture retaining like compost.

I got another brand of mushroom compost, but that one smell like manure. I figure it was still not completely compost. My wife made me return it any way because she said there was no way that was going into yard.

I got some compost from EarthGro and Ace Hardware. Both had the 5-5-5 label and claims to be composted manure. The texture was OK and it didn't smell like manure.

I also purchased some Moo-nure from Home Depot. The stuff is certified organic and is supposedly 100% composted manure. The texture is good and the stuff does not smell like manure.

I purchased a bag of compost manure from a garden club sale. The stuff smell strongly of manure and so is probably not composted completely. Should I just let it sit for a while?


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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I don't know what to say. I can't say how to tell the good stuff, because nothing that you buy in a bag is going to be good stuff. They could be some stuff you buy a bag you could use to make your own compost that could turn out to be good, after you make it. I think there are pricey brands that you would buy at a pricey store such as an orchard shop or a pot growing hydroponics store. Those would be sold in small bags and are not practical to amend your whole garden with, but those would be the best of what one could buy in a bag.

A 100 dollar bottle it will be better then the bottle you buy for 1.99 at trader joes. It is the same principle. Cow manure is cheap because there are lots of beef cows and so much excess manure they need to get rid of. Is it good for garden? Maybe not. It could change your ph, it could be too hot, it could be a whole bunch of things. I would suggest woody type things are good. Kelloggs amend is good, I use that to make compost or mix it with compost, and it is fairly cheap at home depot if you get it on sale. But, when you open the bag, you won't exclaim, "oh, that is the good stuff!" You will find it passable, and not smelly if it has not become wet in the bag.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 10:20AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

I disagree with TT that nothing you buy in a bag is good stuff. You get what you pay for, generally. The cheap stuff tends to have more soil in it and less organic matter and nutrients.

To answer your question, yes, if it smells like manure or other rotten odors it's not completely composted. You could air it out and let it sit for awhile and it would be fine. Or dig it into the soil and let it finish as it's incorporated. There is a risk of burning plants with that approach though. A few weeks will probably get it finished.

IIRC mushroom compost is sterilized (steamed) organic matter but not necessarily finished compost when used for growing the mushrooms. Several posters here have remarked that their mushroom compost was steaming, stinky or otherwise 'not done', so it had to be further aged.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 11:32AM
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Good compost should smell like good, rich earth. If there is a detectable odor of manure it has not been well composted.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 11:32AM
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In a perfect world, I would have my own compost bin and it would make enough for the entire garden and the lawn. In the real world, I don't have space for a bin, don't have time, and my wife don't want one in the yard.

$100 wine is better than $2 wine, but most of us probably drink $10 wine for dinner and save $100 for special occasion, so there is a price point where something is good enough. I am not looking for the perfect compost, but something good enough to put into the garden.

There appears to be no standards in the US for compost. In the UK, I notice that gardening magazines actually test the stuff and post reviews. I am stuck with trying to judge using just my senses. So far, I determine that compost should at least be light like compost and not smell like manure. In addition, I may need compost now, so I will have to make the best of what's available until I find a better source.

I may tried getting some sample of bulk compost and send it in for analysis. It's expensive though.


    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 4:22PM
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Mackel's Consumer Compost Checklist-

Anything that is primarily 1.manure, 2.pine bark, or 3.mushroom waste, or contais any 4.peat moss, is an inferior product, falsely labelled, and a waste of money most of the time. All of these ingredients have potentially negative qualities on plant growth, are uniqitous, and cheap.

Spend your money wisely, the finest commercial compost in DFW I've found, for example, contains none of these things, it's made from leaves, grass, and tree trimmings.

That's the finest product that you won't waste your money on, I'd pay double for it but the only way to get a good deal on primo compost is to buy it by the yard.


    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 4:58PM
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Lloyd's compost

Manure - nope
Pine Bark - nope
Mushroom waste - nope
Peat moss - not unless it comes in on a root ball, I don't add any.
Leaves, grass clippings, garden trimmings - Yup

Heated to 150+ for several weeks and turned several times during the heat phase, cured for another complete summer so two years from start to finish. Screened to 5/8ths of an inch (finer on request).


    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 5:26PM
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Anything that is primarily 1.manure, 2.pine bark, or 3.mushroom waste, or contais any 4.peat moss, is an inferior product, falsely labelled, and a waste of money most of the time.

Must be nice to be so adamantly right all the time and know everything :-)

'Compost' only describes the end result of a process and is only as good as the process itself. Anything once living (or any part of anything once living) can be composted and if done correctly and thoroughly, will make an excellent end product. Manures, bark, wood chips, any plant parts, conifer needles, leaves, weeds, kitchen waste, bread, cardboard, humanure, junk mail, grass clippings, dead animals, your unpleasant name it, it can be composted. In fact, the wider the range of ingredients included, the better the resultant compost will be. I'm not sure I'd bother to include peat unless it was just sitting around - it's well-decomposed already and has minimal ability to support or nurture microbial life.

There is a wide range in quality with commercially prepared compost. Personally, like any other purchased soil product, I'd like to see what I'm getting so often bulk is preferrable to bagged. Municipal composting operations that use home yard waste as a primary ingredient source often produce a very decent product by virtue of the size and temperature of their production methods. And many of these are under rather stringent guidelines on what and how they produce as well as offer finished product for testing. In fact, many commercial composting operations produce a far superior product than the average homeowner who lacks the range of ingredients, doesn't have the space or is unable to generate the necessary temps for the necessary period to generate some really good finished compost.

How to tell the good stuff from the not very good? Scent - should smell rich and earthy. Color - a dark brownish black (they don't refer to it as "black gold" for nothing!). Sight - few, if any, recognizable objects, although some larger barky, woody pieces are just fine.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 6:19PM
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4."added" peatmoss 5.cottonurr 6.anything with only one ingredient in it


    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 6:51PM
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Snarky gg, don't you know that it was me all along?


    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 7:34PM
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This is what I use,paulsiu, wish you where closer, you could try this. Mostly coffee waste, good thread, lot of good points,I have nothing to add.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 8:24PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

Maybe in the UK, you could buy good bagged compost? In the US the quality of the bagged stuff has been going downhill for years. Even the so called compost they sell at Whole Foods which is supposed to be real composted food, turned out a be a bag filled with sawdust and a few pieces of brown wood of indeterminate origin, and a small bag costs $9.99. I think the bag holds about two quarts.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 8:31PM
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'If I made you feel second best,
Girl I'm sorry I was blind...'

Here is a link that might be useful: Give Me One More Chance, GG...

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 8:42PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

Really good compost does not keep very well in a bag. Compost that is hand labored over in small batches, would clearly be top of the line, but they don't sell anything like that bagged. If one could find someone making compost and buy directly from them, but there are still problems that could come up. Diseases may get passed to you in the compost. They would probably have to sterilize the compost with steam before selling it.

I found the best compost has some sheared wood as a raw material, and the leaves are also good. Kitchen scraps like fruits also make great compost, and coffee grounds and tea leaves. There are lots of things that can be composted but those would be my top choices if I could make a dream batch of compost. The compost will be black and a bit chunky, but neither too chunky nor too fine in texture, and smell like rich earth and not like manure. This would be dream compost, but you can only make it, not buy it.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 12:12AM
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Good compost will be dark brown in color, if it contains a lot of moisture it may appear to be black, and will smell like good, rich earth. None of the initial ingrediants should be readily identifiable.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 7:47AM
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Actually, the magic of composting happens right outside my yard. Every fall, right outside my yard, leaves fall on to the ground. By spring, all of the leaves are magically gone, consumed by nature.

Most of the bagged compost I get appear to be black because it often get left in the rain. When I open it, it's wet. It usually smells like earth (may be because it's contains soil :-p).


    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 9:10AM
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I am lucky to have a local nursery that makes good compost. I can get them to fill the back of my pickup for $40. I need to ask them how the compost is made and where does it come from.

My lawn is large enough for me to gather enough grass clippings to make about 4 yards of compost a year. The advantage of making your own is that you know what is going into it. Unfortunately, many lawn products that are used to kill weeds are somewhat persistent. The residue can last in compost for quite a while. If a compost operation is getting grass clippings from a golf course that regularly sprays broadleaf weed killer on their turf, it will end up in the compost and it will have an impact on your plants. Do a google search on the subject. Lately it has become a bigger and bigger problem because so many municipalities are using composting as a way to divert yard waste from landfills.

Lloyd's compost sounds like good stuff. After two years, most herbicides will be much diminished.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 9:57PM
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