Confused about Compost?

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on February 2, 2012

One of the things I recommend over and over is adding compost to your vegetable garden each season.  Compost adds nutrients to the soil, breaks up clay, and helps the soil hold water longer.  All compost is not created equal, however.  Some compost is made in hot piles that sterilizes the result so you do not get weed seeds or pathogens in your garden, and some is barely compost at all.  What is a consumer to do to find the good stuff?

Fortunately, the US Composting Council, a trade and professional organization, has come up with some standards that are research based and objective and can be used to pick good compost from bad compost.    As part of the Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) program, compost will carry one or more of three tags:  trees & shrubs, flower and vegetable gardens, and lawn.  Each icon is linked to test results performed on the compost batch by the producer.  These tests look at the chemical, physical, and biological components of the compost.  They also test for compliance with the EPA standards for heavy metals and pathogens.

The specific things tested for are as follows:

  • pH
  • soluble salts
  • nutrient content
  • organic matter
  • moisture percent
  • maturity
  • stability
  • inerts
  • trace metals
  • weed seed and pathogens

Using ten years of data from the STA program, standards were drawn up for minimum and maximum values for each of the three categories of compost.  The categories are represented by easy to understand icons that will begin to appear on the compost bags, literature, and signage.  For more information, see the Consumer Compost Use Program.

Gardenbookfrontcoverthumbnail For more help gardening, buy my book, Preparing A Vegetable Garden From The Ground Up
Available in print or ebook from or other retailers, this book walks you from choosing the site of your garden all the way through what to do after the harvest. Buy a copy for yourself or a friend today!

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