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    How to Get the Most Out of Your Compost

    By Donna Dawson, Master Gardener
    April 14, 2012, 6:12:34 AM EDT

    I will be the first one to say that if you have a garden – COMPOST! This is black gold for you and your plants. We had three large compost bins and got the most incredible compost to lay on the garden each year. We even kept one bin empty during the winter so that I could trudge out there in the snow and dump our vegetable waste. Now I also know that if you are starting up a new garden that you will not likely have compost handy so here are some tips for buying that might help.

    27 BAGS = 1 CUBIC YARD = SAVING! What's the BEST way to find and BUY the best compost for your gardening needs?

    Spring is in the air a bit earlier than usual across most of the United States and the bulbs are popping, as thoughts of gardening needs pop into the minds of homeowners across the nation. These needs will vary from home to home; from a few plants needing re-potting, to a lawn needing topdressing, to a vegetable garden needing planting; and everything in between. What's your best option for dealing with this myriad task list? Conventional thinking typically involves trip after trip to the local garden center or mass merchandiser to fill up the trunk with bags of "stuff". Sometimes it’s good "stuff" and sometimes it's not so good. The costs of those trips, in time, travel and actual product costs sure do add up, and do you even know what you're buying in all of those bags?


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    The US Composting Council presented you with a solution to the "what" question in late January, with the introduction of the Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) and the Consumer Compost Use Programs. Look for the logos to find the compost that WILL work for all of your gardening needs. So now you know what to buy. We'd now like to suggest HOW to buy it to maximize your purchasing power and get the most value for your hard earned dollars. A bag of compost typically holds about 1 cubic foot of product. That's usually enough to amend the soil when planting one medium sized shrub or a few bedding plants. Most consumers need several bags for routine uses, and far more than that for putting in planting beds, topdressing their lawn or planting the annual veggie garden. The same needs apply to planting larger shrubs or trees. You just need a whole bunch of bags, often requiring a whole bunch of trips to the garden center. Also, you need to "do the math" on the actual out of pocket costs for all of those bags. Forget about the trips and the hassle, just look at what a 1 cubic foot bag of compost, usually of uncertain origin, will cost you. There will likely be 27 of those bags in 1 cubic yard of compost. THINK BULK purchasing when your gardening needs dictate more than a few bags of compost!

    ● First off, the vast majority of compost producers participating in the programs listed above (STA and Consumer Compost Use) are not packaging their products. They sell them in bulk form through area garden centers and landscape suppliers. ● Secondly, you'll find that your delivered cost for that same cubic yard of compost is likely to be less than bringing home the 27 bags. ● Finally, you won't need to deal with the mess and waste involved with 27 plastic bags!

    Most local garden centers will deliver a relatively small volume of bulk products to their customers. You may be able to purchase a cubic yard or two by merely picking up the phone and placing your order. Just make sure that its STA or Consumer Use quality compost, because you really don't know what you're buying if not! Here's an easy guide to help you determine the volume that you'll need: 1 cubic yard of compost applied as a 2 inches layer (suitable for most soil amending needs) covers 162 square feet (~10' x 16'). So do the math and make the decision that will solve your gardening needs and keep your costs low. Please visit the US Composting Council's website at www.compostingcouncil.org, for more information on the Consumer Compost Use Program, a list of STA compost producers and all issues related to compost.

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