How to Buy the Best Compost

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The greater the variety of materials that went into the compost mix, the wider the spectrum of nutrients in the end product.

A cottage industry has sprouted up throughout much of the United States that recycles “waste” into compost. This bulk compost is cheaper and generally better than you can buy in plastic bags. But it’s important to do a little homework before buying, which will help ensure that you get the best compost possible.

Start your search for bulk compost in newspaper ads and the Yellow Pages. “Compost” is an obvious starting point, but purveyors of compost might also be listed under “topsoil,” “fertilizers,” “mulch,” “manure” or “mushrooms.” Another option is the Internet–visit Google and search for “garden compost delivered yard,” and the postal abbreviation for your state. Make sure that what’s for sale is compost, not just any old pile of wood chips or manure.

When you find a good source, here are some tips to consider and questions to ask:

Ask what went into the compost. The greater the variety of raw materials that went into the mix, the wider the spectrum of nutrients in the end product.

Ask about the compost’s acidity. The best compost for most garden plants is slightly acidic.

Be sure to get assurance that weed seeds are few or absent. You don’t want that layer of rich, brown compost on your soil to transform into a carpet of weeds with a little rain and sun. Time, temperature and mixing all have bearing on the number of viable weed seeds in finished compost. A carefully built compost pile easily reaches high enough temperatures to kill most weed seeds. Turning the pile gets it cooking again and eliminates any weed seeds that survived the first cooking.

If possible, get a sample before you get a truckload. The material should no longer contain obvious bits of raw materials, but should be brown and crumbly with the pleasant, earthy aroma of a forest floor.

Avoid buying compost that contains industrial wastes or pesticides. It may include toxins that could contaminate your food. In dry regions, compost made from feedlot manures might be excessively high in salts, which can burn roots.

For more compost tips, visit our Guide to Composting.

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