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donnainzone10 wrote:I'm truly puzzled!
On page 112 of the new Answer Book, Mel states:
"I was once asked if a gardener could count sheep, chicken, barnyard pigs, steer, and cow manure as the five ingredients [of Mel's Mix], because that was five different animals. Noooo, that's five different manures and one of the five ingredients.... [A] bag labeled rose food could be a mixed-blend compost with worm castings."
He then suggests looking for bags listing multiple materials.
Although I agree that plant composts are valuable elements of MM, they are sometimes difficult to find (other than leaf compost, etc).
Because many of the bagged compost you buy are a byproduct from that industry, we consider that just one ingredient. What we want to get is a blended compost from as many different ingredients or sources as possible. Sometimes thats difficult to find and you have to do a bit of reading.
As the above example states, all those animals sources are still manure and we consider manure just one source. Yes, it's nice to have it from several different animals, but we want something else besides just manure as a blended compost. You have to read carefully the labels and sources listed on that label. Some suggestions would be: manure from as many different animals as possible, mushroom compost, shellfish industry, barnyard, or in other words, dairy cows. Do not buy steer manure, this is from a slaughterhouse (and you know what happens there). Chicken might be included in the barnyard category or could be separate. Horse manure available anywhere and everywhere but not usually bagged is also good if lengthy and well composted. Don't buy municipal sludge, sometimes camouflaged as "biodynamic solids". Don't use municipal waste: that's not only tree trunks, branches, and leaves, but often includes lumber (might be treated lumber) or lead painted old building wood. It often contains ground up glass, plastic, bricks, cinder blocks, and other similar waste material.
It's what people throw out, usually to the curb, that the town picks up on clean up day/week and takes to the municipal dump to be sorted. However, some of the bad stuff gets ground up and sorted with excellent municipal green waste, which includes trees, limbs, grass, leaves, shrubs, weeds, straw, or hay and any other previous growing plant material.
Sometimes these composted wastes are sold as one source item, like chicken manure. Other times, they are included in a mixture or a blend. We don't know how much of that source is in the blend and sometimes they will say "Added Worm Castings," which are good, but you don't know how much goes in. I hope that kind of clarifies how to buy compost. Sometimes the store clerk will know a little bit more. Yet it always pays to start small, buy a little bit, test it with planting seeds and transplants, and see how they do for a couple of weeks before a big backyard project. Another good bagged compost I found was at my local grocery store. They were a big chain and said they take all of their unsaleable produce, like lettuce and potatoes, beets and carrots and all the other fresh items in the grocery store they haven't sold and they go into a special composting operation. On the surface, it sounds pretty good and I'm trying to investigate more of the source and method because I did find a fair amount of wood chips in the bag I bought. Use wood chips and saw dust as a red flag to investigate and indicate that this is not a good source for ingredients. Those ingredients are a limited source for good compost. The book mentions no more than 10% by volume, but of course the bag won't tell you the percentage.
I hope that answers your question. I appreciate the opportunity to explain it in more detail because many people are confused about compost. Not only the noun, which means the product, but also the verb, which means the operation or procedure. If you have any more detailed questions, I would be pleased to answer them for you. It will help many people understand the operation and need for a good compost. Remember the end product should not have any big pieces of anything in it, should smell pleasant, have a woodsy odor, should feel good to the touch and since it's 1/3 of Mel's Mix and it's the part that contains all of the nutrients for your soil mix, that makes it even more important to get a good blended compost.
One last thought: remember when you harvest one square of anything, the first thing to do is to add a trowel full of a blended compost to that square, mix it in and you're replenishing the nutrients necessary for the next crop. Remember also that the next crop, in order to get crop rotation, should be a different crop than the one you just harvested. That usually happens automatically because its a different season and you're switching from cool to warm weather crops or vice versa.
Mel Bartholomew - Founder and Originator of the Square Foot Gardening Method. Est. 1976
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