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Compost questions for my Mel's Mix

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Post  goodtogrow 4/5/2022, 7:43 pm

Hi there, I'm new to SFG and these forums.  I've been browsing here and have learned a lot, but I'm still trying to find some composts for my Mel's Mix.  I think I made some progress, but then heard a few things that slowed me down.

It has been a learning experience, that's for sure...

I've narrowed it down to the following 5 or 6 sources:
- Composted cattle manure (from a nearby farm)
- Composted chicken manure (from a local garden centre), apparently made locally.  But recently I was told that composted chicken manure is not great because it can be lacking in "good and bad bugs"...?
- Bagged compost from the local Co-op store (has some peat in it, but will compensate).  Not really sure what's in this one, but I think some of it is from the forestry industry.
- Worm castings (spoke to a legitimate soil scientist phd and he said it's ok to use more than 10% of worm castings, up to 25%, and that worm castings are also a root stimulator, so they're also very good for seedlings and young plants)
- Miracle-Gro Sea Compost
- A local product called "Sea Soil" - made from "fish waste" (not sure what exacty that is, and they don't elaborate) and wood fines.  It's in all the stores up here in BC.  Heard some good and some bad reviews (I can't post the link yet, apparently I'm too new on here).  Supposed to be pretty good when mixed with soil like in a Mel's Mix.

I'm steering clear of all municipal city compost because I just don't trust that many people contributing to a pile of compost for growing vegetables from - someone somewhere is going to be a bad apple (pardon the pun!) and potentially poison the mix.

Also, I've since been told other conflicting info such as "don't use cow manure because it has heavy metals in it, as well as weed seeds" (from the Sea Soil people - but she's probably just promoting her own product, who knows).

My questions are:
- Is cattle manure commonly known to contain heavy metals (in small farms here in North America)?  How is it even posible to know other than a lab test?  Where would these heavy metals come from?  Apparently plants absorb them.
- Does composted manure have weed seeds?
- Sea Soil brand compost has wood fines and fish waste - are wood fines "bad"?  I think I read someone on here say they were.  If so, why?
- Is composted chicken manure devoid of "good and bad bugs" (micro-organisms)?
- Has anyone had any experience with Miracle-Gro Sea Compost?
EDIT (two more questions!):
- What is biochar and is it good to throw into my Mel's Mix?  Where would I get some?
- What about throwing in a little bone meal and blood meal?  Worth it?

It sure has been a struggle to find decent compost options.  Mainly because the more I learn the more questions I seem to have!

Anyway, this forum looks great, and I look forward to any help.  Thanks very much.
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Post  markqz 4/5/2022, 11:19 pm

Welcome goodtogrow!

goodtogrow wrote:don't use cow manure because it has heavy metals in it, as well as weed seeds
Well, I hope not! If cow manure has heavy metals in it, I don't see how beef or milk could help but also have heavy metals also.

Composted steer and chicken manure is about all I can obtain easily where I live. I haven't detected any weed seeds sprouting from either. I also doubt that microbe populations couldn't be restored once they're mixed in with the other composts, no matter what their starting conditions.

But we have some real compost experts here. I'm sure they'll be popping in by tomorrow to give you the real scoop on compost.

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Post  goodtogrow 4/6/2022, 1:30 am

markqz wrote:Welcome goodtogrow!
goodtogrow wrote:don't use cow manure because it has heavy metals in it, as well as weed seeds
Well, I hope not! If cow manure has heavy metals in it, I don't see how beef or milk could help but also have heavy metals also.
Thanks, markqz.

Yes, I agree, it doesn't make sense, does it?  But it was from the Sea Soil people, and it's a family business, so maybe she was just trying to give me reasons to buy her product...?  I don't know.  That seems like lacking in integrity to me, though, not the right way to do it, imho.  You'd think she'd need more facts to make a claim like that.  But who knows, maybe there are some?  I dunno - but you're right, you'd think that would suggest all milk and beef is contaminated - which I doubt that it is.  Wouldn't they test for that type of thing (heavy metal levels in beef and milk)? I would hope so.
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Post  sanderson 4/6/2022, 8:29 pm

GTG,  Welcome to the Forum from California!  glad you\'re here  It sounds like you are doing some good research on the topic of composts.

goodtogrow wrote:. . .
I've narrowed it [composts] down to the following 5 or 6 sources:
- Composted cattle manure (from a nearby farm) Is it piled up and just aged, or did he compost it?  Composting involves high temperature that kill pathogens and weed seeds.
- Composted chicken manure (from a local garden centre), apparently made locally.  But recently I was told that composted chicken manure is not great because it can be lacking in "good and bad bugs"...?  Phooey.  If the manure was composted, the "bad bugs" / pathogenic microbes will be dead.  As the compost cools, the "good bugs" or microbes reestablish in the cooling product.  And, like Mark stated: I also doubt that microbe populations couldn't be restored once they're mixed in with the other composts, no matter what their starting conditions.
- Bagged compost from the local Co-op store (has some peat in it, but will compensate).  Not really sure what's in this one, but I think some of it is from the forestry industry.Good, you already know to compensate for the addition of peat moss in some compost.  Forestry byproducts usually means wood chips or sawdust from the milling process.  That's fine.  But, find out what high nitrogen material was used.  Just be prepared to sift it (in, fact, ALL composts with a 1/4" hardware cloth secured to a frame.  You will be using it over and over, even if you make home made compost.  Sifting removes visible wood chips, rocks, bottle caps, straws, etc.
- Worm castings (spoke to a legitimate soil scientist phd and he said it's ok to use more than 10% of worm castings, up to 25%, and that worm castings are also a root stimulator, so they're also very good for seedlings and young plants)We recommend 10% because they are rich and you will be using composts, also.  Worm castings are expensive compared to some other cheaper kinds.  Hopefully the castings weren't made in beds with some added peat moss or that PM was added post harvest.  I visited an organic grower who only used worm castings as fertilizer in his row gardens (dirt).  But, he had a mega worm bin, like 20' x 3' x 4'.  And, it was used as an organic fertilizer.
- Miracle-Gro Sea Compost This also contains peat moss
- A local product called "Sea Soil" - made from "fish waste" (not sure what exacty that is, and they don't elaborate) and wood fines.  It's in all the stores up here in BC.  Heard some good and some bad reviews (I can't post the link yet, apparently I'm too new on here).  Supposed to be pretty good when mixed with soil like in a Mel's Mix.Their web site mentions tree bark, not wood chips.  It may be okay, but since it will only be a percentage, you can try it.  Again, get out that sifter!!

I'm steering clear of all municipal city compost because I just don't trust that many people contributing to a pile of compost for growing vegetables from - someone somewhere is going to be a bad apple (pardon the pun!) and potentially poison the mix.Some folks have good luck with municipal compost.  Others steer away.  We used it in our non-veggie beds, where it is not such an issue.  You worry about "bad apples," I think doggie presents and germination suppressants used as part of weed control.  I know, I know, municipal waste is hot composted and is safe to use.

Also, I've since been told other conflicting info such as "don't use cow manure because it has heavy metals in it, as well as weed seeds" (from the Sea Soil people - but she's probably just promoting her own product, who knows).

My questions are:
- Is cattle manure commonly known to contain heavy metals (in small farms here in North America)?  How is it even possible to know other than a lab test?  Where would these heavy metals come from?  Apparently plants absorb them.This is a quote: "Some heavy metals, like iron and zinc, are essential nutrients at low concentrations but toxic at high concentrations. Other non-essential heavy metals, like cadmium, mercury, and lead, are toxic even at relatively low concentrations." from the USGS. If cattle were grazing on land of a previous industry or military base, I would be concerned.  But then again, the rancher / dairyman would be wondering why the bovine didn't thrive or had low viable births.  Metals come from the earth (rocks and soil) so we can't get away from them entirely.  We recommend a limit of 20% manure-based compost because of salts.  Oh, and weed seeds?  If the manure was heat composted, the weed seeds will be dead.  Go out in a field and collect cow patties, then yes, there will be weed seeds. silly me  
- Does composted manure have weed seeds?Shouldn't
- Sea Soil brand compost has wood fines and fish waste - are wood fines "bad"?  I think I read someone on here say they were.  If so, why?Wood fines or bark are not composted if you can see them in a compost.  They offer no nutrients until they are fully broken down.  That's why we are leaning towards sifting ALL composts.  
- Is composted chicken manure devoid of "good and bad bugs" (micro-organisms)?See early comments.
- Has anyone had any experience with Miracle-Gro Sea Compost?
EDIT (two more questions!):
- What is biochar and is it good to throw into my Mel's Mix?  Where would I get some?SFG doesn't use additives such a biochar.  We use composts to provide carbon and the compost and coarse/super coarse vermiculite have good electrical conductivity.
- What about throwing in a little bone meal and blood meal?  Worth it?Nope.

It sure has been a struggle to find decent compost options.  Mainly because the more I learn the more questions I seem to have!

Anyway, this forum looks great, and I look forward to any help.  Thanks very much.
thanks

Just my personal suggestion: Use one manure-based as 20-25%, one sea-based, some co-op compost, and some worm castings. Buy one bag of each and sift for quality. ?? Make a sifter with 1/4" hardware cloth fastened to a frame, large enough to sit on the wheelbarrow or what ever collection unit you use. Adjust for peat content. If you can buy a small amount of the municipal compost, you can test it by growing radishes in pots or other small container. If they sprout within the 3 days or so, it should be good. PS: peat is a cheap filler to make a better profit, or it is sometimes used in the compost process.

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Post  goodtogrow 4/7/2022, 4:28 pm

sanderson wrote:
goodtogrow wrote:. . .
- Composted cattle manure (from a nearby farm) Is it piled up and just aged, or did he compost it?  Composting involves high temperature that kill pathogens and weed seeds.
It is composted.

- A local product called "Sea Soil" - made from "fish waste" (not sure what exacty that is, and they don't elaborate) and wood fines.  It's in all the stores up here in BC.  Heard some good and some bad reviews (I can't post the link yet, apparently I'm too new on here).  Supposed to be pretty good when mixed with soil like in a Mel's Mix.Their web site mentions tree bark, not wood chips.  It may be okay, but since it will only be a percentage, you can try it.  Again, get out that sifter!!
Yeah, I guess they use "forest fines" (an industry term for bark, forest soils, needles etc.).

I'm steering clear of all municipal city compost because I just don't trust that many people contributing to a pile of compost for growing vegetables from - someone somewhere is going to be a bad apple (pardon the pun!) and potentially poison the mix.Some folks have good luck with municipal compost.  Others steer away.  We used it in our non-veggie beds, where it is not such an issue.  You worry about "bad apples," I think doggie presents and germination suppressants used as part of weed control.  I know, I know, municipal waste is hot composted and is safe to use.
Well, I'm talking about people intentionally adding chemicals and other things that aren't destroyed in the composting process.

Just my personal suggestion:  Use one manure-based as 20-25%, one sea-based, some co-op compost, and some worm castings.  Buy one bag of each and sift for quality.  ??  Make a sifter with 1/4" hardware cloth fastened to a frame, large enough to sit on the wheelbarrow or what ever collection unit you use.  Adjust for peat content.
Okay, I will put together a sifter.

Thanks again, Sanderson!
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Post  sanderson 4/9/2022, 2:08 pm

Soose, I merged your 2 newer topics into "Soose in North Alabama." I mentioned Florida in the reply above. My mistakes as you are in Alabama.

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Post  Soose 4/9/2022, 3:12 pm

sanderson wrote:Soose, I merged your 2 newer topics into "Soose in North Alabama."  I mentioned Florida in the reply above.  My mistakes as you are in Alabama.

TY Sanderson, I was going to ask, trying to figure out how to PM you and do just that! Smile
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Post  Frost? 4/9/2022, 3:19 pm

sanderson wrote:Soose, I merged your 2 newer topics into "Soose in North Alabama."  I mentioned Florida in the reply above.  My mistakes as you are in Alabama.

How egregious!  Florida is definitely NOT Alabama!  (OK, so I'm a little biased.....)
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Post  goodtogrow 4/9/2022, 3:24 pm

Sorry, just curious, but does anyone have any further insights to my original questions above?

I ended up ordering my vermiculite from Uline.  Compost is next on our agenda.  I think I'm going to reduce the manure amount to 20-25%, as recommended, though.  Especially since I read that it is usually the culprit when it comes to MM compaction in the next year or so.  Any other answers or adivce is much appreciated.  Thanks again!
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Post  Frost? 4/9/2022, 3:28 pm

goodtogrow wrote:I ended up ordering my vermiculite from Uline.  

Curiosity; how much was it?  Delivery?
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Post  goodtogrow 4/9/2022, 3:33 pm

The vermiculite was C$53/bag (US$42), for 4cf coarse grade, and shipping was C$40 (US$32), 1 day shipping.  Was a better deal than the local Co-op, which cost more (C$60) for less (3.8cf) and might not even be getting any in stock at all.  Plus I know the grade with Uline is coarse, but unknown at the Co-op.
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Post  sanderson 4/11/2022, 6:00 pm

goodtogrow wrote:Sorry, just curious, but does anyone have any further insights to my original questions above?
I already blathered on about your compost finds.  I wrote: "Just my personal suggestion: Use one manure-based as 20-25%, one sea-based, some co-op compost, and some worm castings. Buy one bag of each and sift for quality. ?? Make a sifter with 1/4" hardware cloth fastened to a frame, large enough to sit on the wheelbarrow or what ever collection unit you use. Adjust for peat content. If you can buy a small amount of the municipal compost, you can test it by growing radishes in pots or other small container. If they sprout within the 3 days or so, it should be good."

I ended up ordering my vermiculite from Uline.
This was valuable information so I created a new topic  for other Canadians. "2022 - Sourcing coarse /super coarse vermiculite in Canada"

Compost is next on our agenda.  I think I'm going to reduce the manure amount to 20-25%, as recommended, though.  Especially since I read that it is usually the culprit when it comes to MM compaction in the next year or so.  Any other answers or adivce is much appreciated.  Thanks again!

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Post  goodtogrow 4/11/2022, 8:32 pm

Sorry, Sanderson, I just meant in case anyone else had suggestions for a newbie such as myself (I was just a bit worried the thread got derailed, to be honest).  In particular, if anyone has had experience with other good compost sources, or if they've used Miracle-Gro Sea Compost, primarily.

And I do really appreciate your reply.  It helped me a lot!  In fact, I've changed a few things about our compost plans to use only about 20-25% manure as you suggested, for example.
:D
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Post  sanderson 4/12/2022, 5:02 am

I've never heard of the Miracle Grow Sea Compost. It may be okay as the nutrients are listed as though it really is a compost. However, you will have to adjust down the peat moss 1/3 to compensate for its peat moss.

Yes, your thread got highjacked but Soose realized it and asked me to remove her mushroom dialogues. Very Happy It does happen when the subject is exciting.

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Post  goodtogrow 4/12/2022, 4:08 pm

Thanks, Sanderson.  I wasn't upset, just curious if there were any other takes out there.  Soose's question was relevant, definitely no big deal.

Good point about the peat moss in the Miracle-Gro Sea Compost.  I'll have to think a bit more about that one if it is one I want to get, after all.  Although I might be able to use the extra peat moss in the mix, we'll see.  Then again, I just noticed Miracle-Gro is owned by Scott's, who is owned by Monsanto/Bayer, so I'll be removing it from my list.
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Post  sanderson 4/12/2022, 5:04 pm

No, you don't want more peat moss because it does not feed the plants. Only the composts with the work of microbes and roots feed our plants. I bucket of Sea Compost + 1/2 bucket of coarse vermiculite = Mel's Mix recipe. But you will want to have lots of non-sea composts also. The peat moss and vermiculite contribute to the tilth, friability, moisture, oxygen, nutrient exchange and electrical conductivity of the qualities of MM. The composts do the feeding.

Regarding Miracle Grow-Scotts-Mansanto/Bayer, sometimes we have to "sleep with the enemy" until our compost piles are producing our needs. Or, we can find alternate sources. If you want some "sea" in the MM, you can always order kelp meal or crab meal from kelp4less.com. I talk to them from time to time. Right now, their kelp products are from the Oregon area.

Without reading back through the posts, just concentrate on green waste, forest waste, manure waste, veggie waste type composts.

Gotta run - PT today.

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Post  goodtogrow 4/12/2022, 8:23 pm

Oh, I just meant that I may end up needing more peat moss from that compost only because I might not have enough peat moss for the cf I want to make.  I won't be using more peat moss than the 1/3 total amount for the MM, though.
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Post  sanderson 4/12/2022, 10:25 pm

Got it.

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Post  Chuck d'Argy 4/15/2022, 9:09 pm

Are there prefered worm casting online vendors?
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Post  goodtogrow 4/15/2022, 9:15 pm

Chuck d'Argy wrote:Are there prefered worm casting online vendors?
If you can't find anyone local, I recently discovered Uncle Jim's, which is supposed to be good:
https://unclejimswormfarm.com/product/organic-fertilizer/uncle-jims-worm-farm-compost-free-shipping/
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Compost questions for my Mel's Mix Empty Re: Compost questions for my Mel's Mix

Post  Chuck d'Argy 4/15/2022, 10:21 pm

Thanks!! I will check them out
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Post  goodtogrow 4/16/2022, 1:42 am

An update:

After looking around online a bit more I found out that bark can contain compounds that can inhibit plant growth, so composts with too much bark can be a bad choice.  Sea Soil appears to have bark in it, so I might try to avoid that.  Found this info from this page:
https://www.smilinggardener.com/organic-soil-management/where-to-buy-compost/

I see there are some on Amazon.com, but not many compost options on Amazon.ca.  Charlie's, Dr Earth, and Malibu all seem pretty good but very expensive to ship to Canada, if they do at all.  Plus I'd rather not support Amazon.

Boy oh boy, this isn't easy finding good compost.  Much less 5 different sources...
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Compost questions for my Mel's Mix Empty Re: Compost questions for my Mel's Mix

Post  sanderson 4/16/2022, 4:30 pm

This is 2022 and composts are hard to find in many regions. Focus on quality instead of varieties this year. I tell people that if they can get a decent mushroom compost or green waste compost, and one manure-based (20-25%) to get started, that's forgivable this year. A good veggie-based, even better. A tiny bit of worm castings - sweet! Black good leaf compost or cotton burr, a miracle.

Focus on making sure the Mel's Mix is NOT more than 1/3 fluffed peat moss by reading the labels.

Focus on coarse or super coarse vermiculite, never perlite. The emergency MM for this year may have to be 1 part fluffed peat moss and 2/3 compost if it's just impossible to get the C/SC vermiculite. This fall or next spring, the 2" of C/SC vermiculite can be added instead of more compost.


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Post  goodtogrow 4/16/2022, 5:14 pm

True.  Thanks again, Sanderson.  I still think we'll be able to find enough compost - some of it might just be lower quality than I'd hoped.  We'll see.
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Compost questions for my Mel's Mix Empty Re: Compost questions for my Mel's Mix

Post  Chuck d'Argy 4/16/2022, 6:41 pm

Black Kow compost seems readily available at big blue box store at a pretty reasonable price. I was hoping to use some worm castings plus Black Kow, plus maybe another to heavily feed my beds. I had very disappointing results with my first year 100% by the book 1/3 each of Peat, 5 component blend compost, and coarse vermiculite.

So hopefully a serious does of this mix will help things grow better. Although my potatoes did fine, everything else was exceedingly disappointing.
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