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What's in Your Compost...

A bag of compost in front of planted garden containers on top of pebbles
Ready to topdress containers in spring garden

Compost is one of my favorite things! I love compost. I love composting. As someone who has spent a decade and a half building a compost company, and now another one, I better love compost. What I don’t love is all of the confusion that surrounds compost. Why? Why should there be any confusion about compost?

There shouldn’t be. In nature compost is happening nonstop, 24/7 as leaves, grasses, flower heads, twigs and branches are in a constant state of decomposition. As they collect on the ground, rain falls on the natural compost pile and animals scurry across and fly above adding to the breakdown. Then, the soil microbes and soil animals break off, eat, digest and excrete microscopic particulates of nutrient and mineral for plants and other soil biology to survive. It's beautiful. It's perfect. It's nature as God intended.

What could be more simple? Well, the problem starts when people join the equation and what was once natural becomes a "too many cooks in the kitchen" scenario. We get the garden chatter from all directions - master gardeners, master composter’s, garden experts, municipal compost global strategists and corporate composter's who manufacture woody looking stuff that they call compost. Most of the stuff that I see in stores, in community gardens and from the muni composter’s is unfinished, unbroken down, almost, kind of, maybe compost that has a lot of issues with it besides my description.

Again folks, let's go back to the basics - greens and browns, carbon and nitrogen. Let’s all make some decent compost at home with good, clean inputs and then supplement that with the best store bought stuff we can find. I only use real, farm made, organic compost on and in any of my gardens, landscape projects, consultations and farms that I work on. I want real biology and clean organic matter that is one hundred percent broken down and finished. I love to mix a real good, clean, farm made organic compost with my homemade compost and leaf mold compost. It’s how I control the inputs in my garden, in the food I grow and in the ecology of the environment that I garden in.

When you search for a good compost, here are some tips to ask yourself:

  1. What’s it made out of?

  2. Where is it coming from?

  3. Could there be any toxins in it from the ingredients?

  4. Is it finished?

  5. Is it black or brown?

  6. How does it feel?

  7. Does it smell?

  8. What does my instinct, my gut tell me about it?

  9. Do I trust who made it?

Compost being added with a scooper to the top of a planted container
Topdressing container with 1/2" of Farm Made Organic Compost in the spring

Those are my rules for the compost that I use in my garden at home. Nothing fake. Nothing toxic. Nothing from green municipal waste. And, nothing from conventional Ag waste. You want to ask yourself what is in all of that stuff that could end up in your garden, your veggies, your flowers, your body or in your children and pets. Keep it simple. Love compost and it will love you. Happy spring gardeners…

© Randy Ritchie 2023


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Kenneth Neal
Kenneth Neal
Apr 30, 2023

Hey Ritchie,

What would you suggest regarding weed n feed lawn clippings And “sod”.I imagine the Chemicals have a carbon life of some sort?

I’ve got a few piles out back that I suspect were ”pumped up” - judging by the ”green-ness” of a certain portion of the lawn (this is the south)

thanks for the content and I love the name.


Norma Ritchie
Norma Ritchie
May 27, 2023
Replying to

Hi Kenny, thanks for your question and your kind words. I would personally never use those grass clippings, nor the weed n feed anymore. If you want to use the clippings, I would not use them anywhere near an edible garden. I'd also use some compost tea sprays on them so the biology can help remove some of the chemicals at least, but it wouldn't remove all of them.

You can transition your lawn into organic by using only a good compost and compost tea sprays, no synthetic fertilizers are necessary. Make sure you compost in the spring and the fall, and compost tea spray in the early mornings in the months between composting.

Once you've transitioned your lawn to…

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