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Bags of Compost
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

October 14, 2012

I like talking about compost because I think it is the soil amendment that most typifies us gardeners. For us mature hortulans, making and using compost is as natural a part of the process as planting a seed. I could also say that one often reads things like it is okay to use manure as long as it is well-rotted, or mature, or technically, well composted- in a fashion similar to some garden sages. Let’s start with a basic definition. Compost is decayed organic matter used to fertilise and condition the soil.

That’s a dictionary definition to which I’d like to make one small change. I’d like to use the word “feed” instead of “fertilise”. We are accustomed to adding fertiliser to feed the plants. Compost feeds all the wee creatures that inhabit the soil- microbes, bacteria, fungus, worms, mites, autotrophs, chemotrophs…??? Okay let’s not worry overly much about the last two, once you get past smaller and smallest there is a whole new category (smallerest?) that defies common language. To be sure there are names for all of these inhabitants of the soil’s eco-community; it’s just that the nomenclature boffins ran out of the easy words. All of these creatures are necessary to good soil structure (tilth) and good plant growth. In essence they take decomposing organic matter and turn it into a form that plants can use, take inorganic matter (e.g. minerals and even gasses) and turn them into a form that plants can use and they help control diseases. So, it is to the plant’s and our best interest to “feed” the soil.

There are 3 primary sources of compost: commercial, industrial/municipal, and home-made.

Of the three, home-made is easily the best. All of the ingredients to make good compost are right there on your estate. The other benefits of making your own include reduced land-fill needs, reduced energy to haul your organic materials away to be municipally composted, you are returning carbon back to its origin, you know exactly what is in it, and you reduce the energy cost of going to a nursery and purchasing it. is the website for the Canadian Composting Council. Not only are these the folks responsible- actually they are on a composting MISSION- for getting Canadians composting. They also help out with the national Plant a Row Grow a Row campaign. I have often used their materials and advice for both this column and for my profession at the nursery. For teachers and community group leaders, this is a gooda place to start when you are introducing “green” into your programmes.

Second best is the municipal source. Think of a city’s backyard, i.e. parks and commons, and how much stuff the crews clean up every year. Add to that the mountains of leaves collected during spring drives and, in the forward thinking places, the contents of all those household green bins. The result is a huge pile of stuff. In many towns all you have to do is show up with a truck or trailer and a shovel. Is it perfect? No. Is it good? Absolutely.

The third best, but probably the most complete in the sense of decomposition and nutrient balance, is the commercial compost available at box stores, garden centres and gas stations. There are 3 basic types available. Most are a combination of composted manure and peat moss. Some, such as Fafard’s Biosol add seaweed and shellfish flour which provides mineral elements not always available in our area, e.g. iodine.

Another formulation includes decomposed wood chips and bark and peat moss. The Fafard version is Biofor. Don’t confuse this with forest litter or duff. While this material is beneficial to your garden it’s proper place is right where you find it, in the forest. Leave it there.

The third form of compost is the pelletized version as offered by Easy-Flo ( which uses leaf and yard trimmings. Pelletizing allows you to use your fertiliser spreader and it is much cleaner.

Gentle Reader, you don’t need soil tests to know if your piece of this good earth can benefit from compost. The answer is a clear, “Yes.” You don’t need folks like me explaining it to you- in any greater depth than I just did. You just need to do it.

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