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'Poison' Compost: A garden tragedy. Bioremediation?  RSS feed

 
Zenais Buck
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Location: PNW
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Sadness. I have been concerned about a few of my garden beds for a year now. They look great, but the plants have been stunted and scrawny looking. I blamed moles, the cold and damp, and bad timing. This spring while prepping my beds I found a pile of forgotten compost that I had brought in from off site, to save time (my compost was not ready yet). I could not believe it- it was dusty dray and had no weeds! What sort of compost sits out for a season and does not grow anything? Then I put two and two together and realized that the sick beds were also the ones that had received this compost.

I think the compost must have some toxins in it or was not finished and the nitrogen is completely locked up. I really don't want to spend the money to test the compost- it makes more sense to test the soil in my sick beds I think.

At least I can turn this tragedy into an experiment and work on bioremediation for the beds. I would love to hear any thoughts/suggestions on this.

And what do I do with the remaining bad compost? We live really far out, and hauling it back to town will be a big chore.

I am making ALL my own everything from now on!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Zenais Buck wrote:I am making ALL my own everything from now on!


I have pretty much come to the same conclusion... I've had too many problems in the past with composts and mulches being bad... I don't currently have a lab to test them, but I expect that there are a lot of -cide residues, and antibiotics from confined animal feeding operations, and heavy metals or industrial chemicals from sewer sludge. So I mostly stopped buying outside organic inputs... I've had a bag of commercial compost sitting around for years... I finally incorporated it into some potting soil this year at a rate of about 10%. I certainly wasn't willing to bet the farm on it, so I germinated some seeds in it to make sure they didn't turn out deformed.

If I had a lot of it, I'd choose an out of the way place to dump it. Eventually something might colonize it.
 
Pia Jensen
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In 1984 I took on a landscape job and was, after I had begun installation after design agreement, told that there were areas that had had some super harsh weedkiller (before EPA restrictions stuff) tossed in the soil and my client did not believe anything could live in that soil. I was pretty green but fairly informed on gardens and landscaping, then. I walked away from the job, moved forward with other work and education and never went back to see what happened.

Most people don't keep records of toxic events, nor do most inform upon transfer of property. Beware dead soil?
 
Zenais Buck
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Thank you all for you sympathy! I will take your suggestion, Joseph, and putting the remaining compost in thin piles on the edge of the property. I can then watch it and see what happens. One pile can be my control, while in the others I can add worms, fungus, etc. and record the event. Perhaps something good can come of this after all.

As for the garden- I think testing the soil so that I can fast-track to balance is the way to go. Unfortunately it will be to late to plant out all my lovely seedlings- I had better get to making some new garden space quickly!
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau, Zenais,

You might want to look into Mycorrhizal-remediation for that garden bed, the fungi will do wonders cleaning up the poisons.

 
Patrick Mann
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I think it's premature to blame it on toxic compost - certainly based on the information available. I don't think it's unusual for a pile of compost to be bare for a season. Commercial composting is so hot that all weed seeds are killed - so you can't compare it to your garden soil which is full of weed seeds just waiting to germinate.

I had a similar experience after terracing my yard - it took about 3 years for things to really start growing well. My conclusion is that the soil food web was destroyed and it just takes a while to reestablish the complexity of soil flora and fauna.
 
Zenais Buck
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Patrick Mann wrote:I think it's premature to blame it on toxic compost - certainly based on the information available. I don't think it's unusual for a pile of compost to be bare for a season. Commercial composting is so hot that all weed seeds are killed - so you can't compare it to your garden soil which is full of weed seeds just waiting to germinate.

I had a similar experience after terracing my yard - it took about 3 years for things to really start growing well. My conclusion is that the soil food web was destroyed and it just takes a while to reestablish the complexity of soil flora and fauna.


Hmm, very interesting point, thank you!
 
Zenais Buck
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:hau, Zenais,

You might want to look into Mycorrhizal-remediation for that garden bed, the fungi will do wonders cleaning up the poisons.



thanks!
 
Peter Ellis
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Healthy compost does a great job of boosting your soil food web. The entire compost process is a culture of good soil biology. Nothing premature in wondering why compost is not growing stuff in one season. My home grown compost (or leaf mold, since I can never seem to get a hot pile going ) spontaneously produced numerous squash plants for us in its first season, coming right out of the pile

So yeah, if the place with the dumped off site compost is barren, and the beds where you used that stuff are underperforming compared to beds where you did not use the stuff - you likely got some bad compost. Time may heal all wounds and eventually the beds may come around, but that would not be evidence that the compost was ok.
 
Zenais Buck
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Peter Ellis wrote:Healthy compost does a great job of boosting your soil food web. The entire compost process is a culture of good soil biology. Nothing premature in wondering why compost is not growing stuff in one season. My home grown compost (or leaf mold, since I can never seem to get a hot pile going ) spontaneously produced numerous squash plants for us in its first season, coming right out of the pile

So yeah, if the place with the dumped off site compost is barren, and the beds where you used that stuff are underperforming compared to beds where you did not use the stuff - you likely got some bad compost. Time may heal all wounds and eventually the beds may come around, but that would not be evidence that the compost was ok.


At least it has spurred me to soil testing! I have been a bit lazy (well, cheap) and have never tested. I am stopping by our Ag Extension office today!
 
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