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bought compost worse than none at all?  RSS feed

 
                                        
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I know you stress that homemade compost is much better than any you can purchase, but unfortunately my compost needs vastly exceed my production capacity (at least in the short term).  Given that limitation, would you still recommend against purchasing compost from an organic supplier?  Is bought compost worse than none at all?

Thanks for any advice.  Very happy to have found this site.
 
John Meshna
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Hi,
    I'm John Meshna from DIRT WORKS.  I just want to say that, I encourage everyone who gardens or farms to make as much compost as they can.  It's something you can't have too much of.
  However, it's not true that you can always make better compost than you can buy.  I oughta know.  I make it and sell it.  The stuff I sell is as good as any I've seen made at home by anyone.  this doesn't mean that there isn't some on the market that's more hype than substance, just that, buying compost is an okay thing to do.  Just check it out before you buy.  If you buy by the truckload, get to know your local dealers and go and view their production sight.  Some dealers are just contractors that bring home crap off of excavation jobs and mix it around a little.  Some really make good stuff and, like myself before I got out of the contracting business, I made special mixes for my clients based on their needs.
  Be wise and ask a lot of questions.  You'll do okay.  PEACE,
RT WORKS
6 Dog Team Road
New Haven, Vt 05472-4000
Ph: 1.802.453.5373
Fax: 1.802.329.2107

http://www.dirtworks.net
http://www.newenglandnatural.com
http://wwwdirtworks.blogspot.com/
 
                                        
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Thanks for the reply.  Are there steps that companies like yours take to ensure that pesticides and herbicides don't make their way from a farm somewhere through a cow, into its manure, and eventually into your compost?  I suspect that would be one of Paul's biggest concerns (although perhaps he can weigh in here if he disagrees).

Also, any advice on a good supplier who will deliver to central New Jersey without the shipping costing more than the compost itself? 
 
paul wheaton
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hennagaijin,

What is it that you are wanting to do with the compost?

dirtworks,

okay, let's visit for a bit about this.  Pick your very best compost.  What goes into it?  Where did you get the ingredients?

Every best composter I've ever met that does anything on a commercial scale, at some point gets ingredients that might have clopyralid residue in it.  Or, it could be food scraps that might not be organic.  Or it could be manures from animals that may have been medicated or consumed non-organic feeds.

 
                                        
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Hi Paul,

Thanks for weighing in!  I'm making my own compost which I'll use in small quantities to feed my perennials and such.  But I'd like to do a major top-dressing of my lawn, which I estimate will require about 2 tons of the stuff.  I doubt I can produce that much anytime in the forseeable future.
 
paul wheaton
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Adding lots of compost is the fastest way.  And now you understand the upsides and downsides of commercial compost. 

An alternative is to fertilize:  the grass grows faster and when you mow it there are more grass blades left on the ground.  Those decompose and add organic matter to the soil.

 
Gerry Miller
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Actually, in regards to your lawn, if you feed your soil protein meals during the course of the year and use Aerated Compost Tea, you don't ever have to topdress you lawn with compost again.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with topdressing, it just cost too much to buy good compost/organic material to put down, too much work to spread, and takes awhile to take effect in your soil. The use of ACT and protein meals in your organic lawn care practice removes the need for topdressing.

There are some that will argue that the need for topdressing isn't necessary. And that by using protein meals as soybean meal, alfalfa meal, corn gluten meal, feather meal, you are in fact adding organic matter.  The use of ACT will supercharge your soil with the soil organisms to keep your soil healthy.
 
John Meshna
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    Good Question,
            the answer is, pretty much what I recommended in the text.  Know who you're dealing with.  We do.  I personaly check out each site and company I buy from.  The best ones let you walk around and ask any question you want and even take your ideas and put them to work.  I don't know what it's like other places in the country but, the people here in Vermont and New England are quite serious about keeping the food system clean and safe and don't take any chances with it. I've been in this industry for such a long time in Vermont that some of my suppliers ask me for input and about ways to improve their product and they pay attention when I show up.  It was a long journey but well worth it.
  Not only that, there are organizations life NOFA and MOFGA who set standards, sometimes more strict than the Federal Standards and some people in the organic industry have standards better than any organization that inspects their products.  I only hope this is true elsewhere as well.
  I use the products I sell too and, if they don't perform as advertised I won't sell them.  I even reject products because I don't like the packaging.  Sometimes you get a product that is pretty good but, it's hard to use because the package is cheap or inconvenient.
  So, it really is about knowing who your source is and developing a relationship with them.  John

hennagaijin wrote:
Thanks for the reply.  Are there steps that companies like yours take to ensure that pesticides and herbicides don't make their way from a farm somewhere through a cow, into its manure, and eventually into your compost?  I suspect that would be one of Paul's biggest concerns (although perhaps he can weigh in here if he disagrees).

Also, any advice on a good supplier who will deliver to central New Jersey without the shipping costing more than the compost itself? 
 
              
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Dirtworks,

Do you have tests done professionally to check for undesirable trace chemicals?
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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I'm reviving this thread because I just ran across a news story about Seattle's own Woodland Park Zoo Doo being tainted with clopyralid. The article says: "herbicide is a party pooper." But what I read doesn't have me laughing.

The zoo determined the source of the clopyralid was hay purchased this year. The zoo spokesman said the zoo will use the Zoo Doo on its own grounds--that it's safe for the animals, just not for some veggie plants in home gardens--and will buy organic hay from now on.

Since I've heard that clopyralid has a half-life of 11 years, doesn't that mean it could remain in the zoo's soil and be in the next batch of Zoo Doo? Either by way of seepage from an ornamental area to an animal area, or by way of scooping up doo from tainted soil, or from plants that become tainted and then eaten by the animals, or by tainted ornamental clippings added to the compost?

Perhaps the zoo hasn't been told the correct half-life, or is under the impression the clopyralid will be diluted or reduced enough next year not to be noticeable. Even so, I still find this disturbing...and yet encouraging at the same time. Disturbing that the zoo used clopyralid hay in the first place and is now going to use the tainted Zoo Doo on zoo grounds. Encouraging on the other hand because they found it, admitted it, and word is getting out about this herbicide - which I myself hadn't heard about until recently.

 
Susan Monroe
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They may just be trying to do the best they can with what they've got.  I wish the stuff would just be banned.

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
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yikes. I had never heard of the stuff. a quick google shows it is bad for alfalfa so I suppose I can feel better about feeding to my goats. but I worry about the compost i use from horse stables since they are fed mostly grass hay. I am hoping since they buy the cheaper stuff it won't contain it. apparently even low levels can affect the growth of tomato and pepper plants and I have always had good luck with maters especially so maybe that is a sign it is safe -er........
 
Gwen Lynn
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I've met the guy KJ gets his hay from. I just can't imagine him treating it for anything. I can find out though. I may be naive, but I really didn't think they needed to use a herbicide to grow that grass hay. I thought it was native to these okie grasslands.
 
paul wheaton
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Susan Monroe wrote:
They may just be trying to do the best they can with what they've got.  I wish the stuff would just be banned.

Sue


Sue,

It is far scarier than that. 

First, it was banned.  I think about ten years ago. 

Professional composting operations were put out of business because of it.  Sooooo many gardens were wiped out.  All sorts of plants/trees there were not killed outright just got sick. 

Good thing it was banned. 

And then out came a sister product.  Quickly approved and not yet banned.  I haven't kept track of it. 

Before clopyralid there was picloram (part of tordon) with a half life of seven years.  I'm not sure if picloram has been banned because it tends to not stick to soil as much (ending up in the groundwater) and when passed through a composting process, it can wipe out a garden, but it hasn't wiped out as many gardens as clopyralid. 

This is a massive and very scary area to research, and I have to admit that I've kinda let it go years ago.  It's just too depressing to keep up on.

 
Susan Monroe
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I bought four cubic yards of clopyralid before the news hit the media.  I used some when repotting some ornamentals, and many of the plants died.  I just let the mound sit, as I knew something was wrong with it, but didn't know what.  After a year, the mound was still bare except for two poison hemlock plants (I'd never seen that around here).  I pulled them up and dug into the mound.  Not a single earthworm, sow bug, beetle or slug could I find.

I knew it had been banned in WA, but I wasn't sure about other states.

Leah, there are a lot of grass hay farmers around here, and the only thing I know of is that a few of them spray liquified manure on it.  Most of them don't use anything, as it would cut into the meagre profits.  I can't help but wonder if there's any nutrition in it at all.  Most of them just grow, cut and sell it, year after year.  It would be interesting to see what a few soil tests would show.

Sue
 
Leah Sattler
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wenvan that is good to hear. Iwould rather have poor nutritive hay without pesticides and herbicides than super hay with ick.

I see lots of hay ads saying "sprayed and fertilized"  hay for sale. I always avoid them.  I know it might be ok but I just don't know if I would get a straight answer from most of these hay guys. I have a feeling that some of them don't really have a clue what they are spraying or fertilizing with, just that some chum at the coffee shop suggested it..
 
paul wheaton
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For me:  I just don't bring organic matter onto my farm anymore - well, unless I have done a lot of research on it.  Better to focus on things that will build the soil without that.

 
Gwen Lynn
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Checked on the hay. Was told that when hay is grown around here, some growers will spray (something) to control thistle outbreaks. Couldn't find out any specifics. I usually see the hay grower during the summer. Will try to remember to ask him.
 
Leah Sattler
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at this point I can't imagine not bringing in additional organic matter. I don't plan to live forever and would like to see the fruits of my labor. right now I'm mostly growing rocks. not very tasty at all.
 
paul wheaton
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Go out to a spot you would improve with compost.  Dig as deep of a hole as you can in five minutes and post here pictures of the area and pictures of the hole.

Tell us how cold it gets there and how much rain you get there.  Tell us what you can about the soil.

Then tell us what sort of thing you would like to have there.

 
Leah Sattler
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can't do pics right now unless I can figure out how to convert the pics from my phone to jpg which I haven't been able to do succesfully. but I can tell you that I tried to dig a hole in what I want to be a nice mixed species pasture and hit solid rock at about 6 inches. there are lots of larger surface rocks also. it is going to wreck havoc on a brush hog and there is very little for roots to take ahold of. I was thinking of just slowly burying them in compost. soil is likely acid (moss thread) . pretty silty in this particular area.
 
Gwen Lynn
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Leah, you've always been successful at using the manure from the barn, so if it ain' broke, why fix it? If you can find a trusted source locally, all the better. If not, I'm sure we could arrange to haul some down there, at the price of gas only. I know, it's not the permie way, but sometimes ya gotta do whatcha gotta do!
 
paul wheaton
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Did you hit "a" rock, or is your whole property sitting on one massive slab of rock? 

What are the deepest spots like?  Only eight inches deep or at least a few fee deep?

What sort of thing would you like to end up with on this terrible patch?

Are you familiar with "hairy vetch"?
 
paul wheaton
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Brenda Groth
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i purchased a truckload from Morgan composting..outlet..nearby ..it is called dairy doo and there are two posts on here about it..i really was very happy with it..so easy to use..very very potent stuff..it immediately boosted the growth of my plants..i'm very happy with the purchase...and would happily do it agian if i had to.

fortunately i'll be able to make the compost i  need for the rest of my garden needs but at the time i needed more than i could provide any other way
 
Leah Sattler
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well for some reason the colors aren't coming through true but I think you will get the idea. I drew a simple diagram to show what I know about the property as far as very basic soil conditions and layout. it is a total of 30 acres. the brushy woody area is nowhere near a mature forest and has lots of honey locust, blackberries and shrubby brush that seems to be typically the first things to take over disturbed/new growth areas.

the area between the house and the fence is about 3 acres that I would like to plant with something that can be cut and composted or left to break down to try and get some top soil. right now I'm thinking millet although it looks as though I'd best wait a bit because the gas company will be putting another pipe in sometime in the future right through there. it is obvious now where the rock was broken out and then re buried in pieces from a previous pipeline. I was hoping to bring in loads of manure also to help contribute and give the millet (or whatever) a bit of soil to bite into.

edit to add - the slab of rock area is where the rock is with less than a foot of the surface. I'm sure it is elsewhere also it just has enough soil on it to make it an insignificant problem for most purposes on the rest of the property. I am unaware how deep the slab is under the wooded/brushy area because I haven't tried to drive t-post or dig holes there yet. it is very rocky but seems to be supporting quite a bit of vegetation especially in comparison to the soil in the 3 acre area I am wanting to 'renovate'.

 
                                  
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paul wheaton wrote:
Sue,

It is far scarier than that. 

First, it was banned.  I think about ten years ago.   

Professional composting operations were put out of business because of it.  Sooooo many gardens were wiped out.  All sorts of plants/trees there were not killed outright just got sick. 

Good thing it was banned. 

And then out came a sister product.  Quickly approved and not yet banned.  I haven't kept track of it. 

Before clopyralid there was picloram (part of tordon) with a half life of seven years.  I'm not sure if picloram has been banned because it tends to not stick to soil as much (ending up in the groundwater) and when passed through a composting process, it can wipe out a garden, but it hasn't wiped out as many gardens as clopyralid. 

This is a massive and very scary area to research, and I have to admit that I've kinda let it go years ago.  It's just too depressing to keep up on.




Wow, I am so glad I found this site. I have been doing the devils work by using all these chemicals for far to long. The irony of all this is this new information on picloram, which I have used to control broad leaf weeds. DAMN IT!

The irony is that I also stupidly composted my grass clippings that had been spot sprayed with this stuff and contaminated my flower gardens by top dressing them last fall.  All spring I have been fighting some plant problems and now, after looking at some pictures of plants affected by this toxic crap, I think that's what my problem is.  No wonder!

I had already decided to discontinue using them, but now I'm vehemently opposed to their use.

Assuming I'm correct, and I did infect my plants with this junk, is there anything I can do about it? I thought is was a fungus and was treating it with some success with organic fungicides.
 
Leah Sattler
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it is possible that the plants were weakened with the herbicide residue and had less defense to outgrow a fungus. hence some improvement with the fungicide. the negative results of many bad gardening practices result in a subtle or not so) "syndrome" of poor growth and disease resistance. plants are just sort of sick with no one particular definitive disease,fungus or nutrient seeming to be the ultimate cause. with todays society people want an easy answer and an easy fix. such as....its a fungus....use fungicide......when the real answer is much more broad and ill defined. the real long term answer is cultivate healthy soil, healthy air, healthy insects and animals, healthy nutrients in combinations suitable for what you want to grow. then you have the best chance at healthy plants. not that they don't need a little extra help here and there in that situation but they are much more likely to take care of the problems with vigourous growth and general disease resistance.

the consequences can be vast and often hard to trace with the use of these types of chemicals. just like in medicine things are thought to be safe unless the consequences are immediate and severe. it is very hard to trace disease in humans and the enviroment when the consequences take years to be revealed. who knows how many problems we have that can be attibuted to pesticides and herbicides. we probably never will know because often by the time the problem shows up the original instigating cause is long gone or cluttered by a zillion other possible causes.
 
                                  
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Thank you Leah. I agree with you which is why I am not using them any more.

Here's to 100% pure organic gardening
 
paul wheaton
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I had already decided to discontinue using them, but now I'm vehemently opposed to their use.


In 1996 I took the master gardener training.  When I started I could see how farmers might sometimes use herbicides, but I elected to use none because I was finding ways where I didn't need it and the toxicity was an unknown that I didn't want to bother with.

During the class we were required to read the MSDS and get a thorough understanding of quite a few herbicides and insecticides.  It makes you want to curl up in the corner and weep. 

I came to the conclusion then that there was no time that it would be worthwhile. 

And as time passed, I've learned much more and this opinion has only become stronger.  The downsides far outweigh the upsides.

Assuming I'm correct, and I did infect my plants with this junk, is there anything I can do about it?


The only thing that destroys it is UV radiation.  So, you have to till your soil, let the sun hit it, till, sun, till, sun, till, sun ...  gradually turning all of your soil into dirt.  Killing all life in the soil.  And you still won't get all of it.  Figure that each till will eliminate 30% of your organic matter and soil life, and about 1% to 2% of the clopyralid.

Another technique is to grow deep rooted grass which will thrive in soil treated with this stuff.  The grass will become loaded with it and then you can take the grass clippings off site - pushing the poison somewhere else.  But, this is the process that will take decades to come to the same conclusion. 

You could dig out all of your current soil and haul it off and then replace it with something from an organic source:  a field loaded with big healthy weeds, for example. 


 
                                  
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paul wheaton wrote:
In 1996 I took the master gardener training.  When I started I could see how farmers might sometimes use herbicides, but I elected to use none because I was finding ways where I didn't need it and the toxicity was an unknown that I didn't want to bother with.

During the class we were required to read the MSDS and get a thorough understanding of quite a few herbicides and insecticides.   It makes you want to curl up in the corner and weep. 

I came to the conclusion then that there was no time that it would be worthwhile. 

And as time passed, I've learned much more and this opinion has only become stronger.   The downsides far outweigh the upsides.

The only thing that destroys it is UV radiation.   So, you have to till your soil, let the sun hit it, till, sun, till, sun, till, sun ...   gradually turning all of your soil into dirt.  Killing all life in the soil.  And you still won't get all of it.   Figure that each till will eliminate 30% of your organic matter and soil life, and about 1% to 2% of the clopyralid.

Another technique is to grow deep rooted grass which will thrive in soil treated with this stuff.  The grass will become loaded with it and then you can take the grass clippings off site - pushing the poison somewhere else.  But, this is the process that will take decades to come to the same conclusion. 

You could dig out all of your current soil and haul it off and then replace it with something from an organic source:  a field loaded with big healthy weeds, for example. 





Well being an acre and a half I guess bagging and storing the clippings are the best option. FYI, I only spot treated the lawn.

If I understand you correctly if the 24D which I used (similar to clopyralid) is in my grass clippings and will be for a while? I hate to admit this, but it's also in my flower gardens  ops: That said you also mentioned that UV kills it.

I have already composted grass clippings from this year to add to my leaf and kitchen scrap pile. A practice I will discontinue thanks to your advise. I've already orderd the mulching attachment for my deck. Anyway... I have three large piles on the ground and the mixture of green to browns seems to be just right. The piles are heating up nicely and I turn them every two or three days. Will the exposure of the top layer of compost be enough to kill the clopyralid? Or should I just dispose of the piles and start a new pile with next years leaf fall?

Thanks again!
 
paul wheaton
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2,4D is different.  It doesn't last nearly as long and I cannot remember what gets rid of it.  I think it might just rinse away pretty well. 



 
                                  
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paul wheaton wrote:
2,4D is different.  It doesn't last nearly as long and I cannot remember what gets rid of it.   I think it might just rinse away pretty well. 






Well that's better news. I still think that is what  has effected my plants even though the organic fungicide (serenade) seems to have  helped. When I looked at these pictures of clopyralid effected plants I was convinced it is my problem. http://www.puyallup.wsu.edu/soilmgmt/ClopyrPixPeas.htm. This is exactly what some leaves of my plants look like

Anyway, thanks for the help
 
Leah Sattler
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I'm worried that something was used in the garden area at our new place that at the very least is affecting germination. I didn't get any swiss chard come up. I have planted 4 packets of varying squash and have about 6 confirmed plants. my peas had pretty pathetic germination rates and are the most pathetic peas I have ever grown. my tomatoes have finally started taking off. some of it I think was due to the constant rain but I am having trouble convincing myself that it all it is. the place was literally littered with old pesticide, fungicide,hebicide and fertilizer containers. the potatoes are doing well and so are the strawberries. go figure. I might get some pigs in the fall to stir up a new garden spot.
 
Brenda Groth
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OH Leah, I'm so sorry that is really scarey, yeah i did use some crap on the tent worms, but i'll admit it was my last defense..and i wouldnt' do it had i not felt i had to..but to use pesticides and crap in your soil and then not be able to grow anything healthy ..that is really awful..and if you found the containers..likely you are right..they were probably used on the property if the containers were there and empty.might have even been dumped ??

i hope your seed was just slow and sprouts ok..

here everything is really late cause of the extreme cold..our forcast for June 1 through 14 is " below normal temps"
 
Leah Sattler
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yeah. its really starting to bother me. I also planted a bunch of beans among the strawberries and only a few have come up. the soil may be more dead/contaminated than I anticipated.    we'll see how it goes. were back to a more normal rain/heat pattern hopefully for a while. if things don't seem to look better by the end of the season I will have to formulate a plan.

I don't know what would be the best and fastest way to get the chemical crap out of there.

possible plan 1. layer upon layer of hay. leave it dormant for a while and move the garden area. maybe some raised beds near the house or use pigs and hay  this winter to get some more ground going.

possible plan 2. plant a tolerant cover crop. would this speed the 'detox' (I hate that word but the context is obvious) process along?

possible plan 3. remove and replace some topsoil. this sounds drastic and i don't know how deeply it is affected if this is truly the problem. and honestly If I by top soil I want to put it next to the house anyway.
 
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you might want to contact some local organic composting producers and see if you can get some product on your property. I was really glad I was able to buy the 100 % organic dairy doo..they test theirs for chemicals and it really is doing wonders for my garden..i saw the change immediately.

i bought one truckload, was $90. but to me it was worth it..i spread it fairly thinly out over the gardens, i also spread about 2 truckloads of wood and bark chips..

you might have better luck finding FREE stuff in your area..but build build build that soil.

i feel bad that you bought the new place and are now facing this.
 
Leah Sattler
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i'm really trying to hold off judgement for the year and see if everything perks up with my standard practices. still can't figure out the germination thing. I was out there yesterday and remembered I planted canteloupe among the peas. its always been a great combo for me before because the canteloupe gets really wound up about the time the peas are croaking because of the heat. anyway. that was weeks ago and I have no canteloupe seedlings out there. these are mostly just cheap seeds from local businesses but I have never had such awful germination rates before with them. still trying to blame some of it on the swamping rain we were having. I will be replanting alot of things today and with the weather we have now and is predicted there is no excuse.

even with this problem I am still incredibly lucky to have this place. at least I have some dirt to fix!
 
Brenda Groth
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Location: North Central Michigan
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Amen Leah I sure agree with that ..dirt to fix..good deal.

 
Chad Sentman
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I don't know much of anything about herbicides, but I've heard plenty of warnings against bringing any sort of resources from off-site.

I've been implementing some of the methods I've picked up from Karl Hammer regarding feeding my chickens with compost, and I'm curious what sort of things I should watch out for when sourcing food waste from restaurants or grocery stores.

I very much like the idea of eliminating waste from the waste stream by putting it to use, and while I don't want to be cavalier about it, my general thinking is that if it is fit for human consumption, it is also fit for chicken consumption, which is also fit for the soil.

Am I way off here? I know other people (whom I deeply respect) who also import food waste or vegetable scraps as animal feed or for composting, but I'm starting to wonder if I could be shooting myself in the foot.

How can I know, what should I watch out for, or should this practice be altogether abandoned?

A detailed response would be appreciated.
 
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