What to look for in compost depends on your soil and what you hope to grow. However there are common characteristics you should always look for to get a good sense of whether it will best suit your needs. I always use my hands, my eyes and my nose to get a quick read.
It doesn’t matter what store I might be in, big box stores or mom & pop garden centers, I am always looking at the compost that they have for sale. The ones that sell it in bulk are the easiest to evaluate because you can walk right up to the pile and smell it. The bagged composts obviously pose a slight problem. Most bags are not translucent and it makes it difficult to see, much less touch, the product. I usually look through the pile of bags hoping that one has torn. Most of the time I end up finding a bag with a hole in it because some other smart consumer also wanted a look! I get a small handful and take a close look. I look to see what might be in the compost and try to determine what kind of filler might have been added.
Avoid Black Composts
I like my compost very broken down, with not many pieces of wood or other identifiable material left in it. I don’t want it to look like potting soil that is clumpy and dry. Also, I like it to have a very rich dark brown color not black. Black composts could mean that the temperatures in the pile, as the composting process was going on, exceeded the 150 to 160 degree mark and started turning the organic material into charcoal.
Use Your Nose
One of the most important things you can do is smell the compost. You want your compost to have a very earthy smell, like fresh turned earth or like the forest floor, a very pleasant smell. There are several smells that I have come across that would keep me from buying. One would be a metallic smell, this is hard to describe but to me it might be somewhere between a metallic and a chemical aroma that just doesn’t smell good. Another would be an ammonia smell. This one is easy to smell and to me it just means the compost wasn’t completely finished when it was bagged and is in need of some Oxygen for the bugs in the compost. I just would quickly find a different product to purchase.
Occasionally I run across a product that smells like manure. Many different things could cause this, but in many cases if manure is composted for 15 days and kept at 131 degrees Fahrenheit and turned 5 times during that 15 days, it can technically be called compost. However, to me this product is not compost, but a weed free manure, which in its self is a great product to add to your arsenal, but it is not compost in my opinion.
Hopefully this has shown you what to look for in compost. Remember to use your senses when buying your compost. If it feels good, looks good and most importantly, if it smells good, like the earth, your plants and soil are going to love it.
Latest posts by Justin Rogers (see all)
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