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Municipal compost: Better than nothing or worse than nothing?

 
Posts: 81
Location: Long Island, NY (Zone 7)
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I live in a township where I can get essentially unlimited amounts of "compost" for free. I have been to the location where it is made and it looks like it is composed of every bit of yard waste that comes through the facility from both homeowners and commercial landscapers.

I am pretty certain that it is tainted with chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc), but I obviously have no real idea to what extent.

I would never use this stuff on any location where I would grow a food crop, but how bad is it really?

Am I better off going without compost for ornamental and lawn usage until I can build up my own supply? Or am I just over-thinking the whole thing?
 
pollinator
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Remember that all of these pesticides and herbicides are being decomposed by fungi. If the compost was done in a "hot composting" process, the chemicals that you are concerned about are only subject to bacterial breakdown, so there may be more than if it was done by ambient temperature fungal processes.

I would say take it. Inoculate it with some fungi (anything you see popping up after a rain is fine to use), let it sit for a few weeks, and then you can use it. Even for food crops.
 
pollinator
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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I have used it before (last city I lived in had the same program). It was good, but often not composted long or hot enough (still had a lot of viable weed seeds).

I brought home tons of it, mixed in some of my own compost as an innoculant and made a hot Berkeley pile for 3 weeks, then used it everywhere but the beds going straight to root crops. I never had a problem with residues stunting beans or other sensitive crops or loss of worms.
 
R Scott
pollinator
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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If you really are worried, use it for everything but the garden so you can save the precious stuff for the garden.
 
Frank Brentwood
Posts: 81
Location: Long Island, NY (Zone 7)
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R Scott wrote:I brought home tons of it, mixed in some of my own compost as an innoculant and made a hot Berkeley pile for 3 weeks, then used it everywhere but the beds going straight to root crops.



This sounds like an excellent idea.

Thanks for the advice.
 
gardener
Posts: 1029
Location: Northern Italy
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I took it. It had a lot of plastic bits, like shards of frisbee plastic. There are pieces that get through their mesh and make their way into your soil. No weed seeds as it was thoroughly composted. No worms or other creatures which was kind of weird.

I used it in the soil, plastic shards and all. Things are growing much better than if I hadn't added anything.

Anything off-site is a gamble. Sometimes your soil situation is so dire and the resources so lacking and the space you need to cover is so large that you bite the bullet, place your bet, and hope that things will adjust as things move forward.

After I got the dump-truck load of questionable material, I bought 10 chickens to have them produce compost on-site and started vermicomposting on a larger scale. That's going relatively well, but I doubt they'll be able to produce as much finished compost in a year as the dump-truck load, so I might still be getting that stuff again.

In the end, it's a question of how rich you can get your soil ecology. If your soil is rich, the plants won't want to eat plastic or anything else that's nasty.

William
 
pollinator
Posts: 1388
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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Municipal compost is usually made in six weeks in a hot process. It can have foreign stuff because people throwing rubbish in the wrong bin. Usually they (in Europe) sieve it and manually sort it out and they have a magnet to get metal out.
If you are concerned simply ask the people who make the compost and if they would use it to produce food. Go were the compost plant is. I guess they will have analyzed their finished product because they use it on playgrounds etc.
 
William James
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Location: Northern Italy
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Angelika Maier wrote:I guess they will have analyzed their finished product because they use it on playgrounds etc.



The people at the composting plant gave me a readout of that week's analysis, so I knew what I was getting. And they did say that it gets used in organic food production which, although it makes me even more suspicious of organic production, did calm my anger at not getting purity from off site.
W
 
Posts: 395
Location: west marin, bay area california. sandy loam, well drained, acidic soil and lots of shade
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here we can get omri certified compost from several different 'dumps' none of what we have purchased has had weed seeds or plastic in it. they actually separate out all the wood chips too for mulches. you can buy wood chips from different types of trees depending on what you want it for and different types of compost. maybe what we have here will become more widespread. I keep working on making enough of my own compost to not need to buy any but we have lived here only a year and have not reached hat point yet.
 
Angelika Maier
pollinator
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Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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If it gets used in organic food production I would really stop to worry. They are really careful.
You don't get purity even not on your own little piece of land. Do you know what the previous owner did?
 
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