Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Organic Compost Survey

I am in the planning stages for adding the final two raised beds to my garden. These will be 4x6 foot beds and will house 12 tomato plants along the long edge, trellised up nylon cords, leaving 36 squares for other plants. Since I have to fill these beds with Mel’s Mix and my own supply of compost is limited, I have been researching what types of organic compost are available in my area west of Boston. First of all, I have written off Lowes, Home Depot and Wal-Mart. I am only looking at what is available in bags at  local garden centers and nurseries.

The following is the list of bagged organic composts I have found and review in this diary, along with my own compost:
  • Dave’s Own Compost
  • McEnroe Organic Premium Compost
  • Dr. Earth Natural Choice Compost
  • Vermont Compost Company Compost
  • Coast of Maine Quoddy Blend Lobster Compost
  • Gro-Well Organic Garden Compost
  • Jo-Barb Farms (Bolton, MA) Compost

Dave’s Own Compost

I have a black plastic compost bin behind the shed which I use to produce my own compost. I used to use 4” square plastic-coated fencing cut into sections and rolled into cylinders. I could fill these with leaves and pine needles, then throw in kitchen scraps and some top soil. Harvesting was easy by just pulling the fencing straight up, leaving the pile standing there. The top layer of partially decomposed material could then be pitch-forked back into the bin, leaving the pile of completed compost sitting there to be screened and used in my garden.

Unfortunately, the open nature of the bins made it easy for squirrels and raccoons to play around and toss the contents all over the place, plus they tended to dry out very easily in warmer weather and were easily crushed by heavy snows and falling tree limbs. I switched to the plastic bin two years ago and it has worked out fairly well. The bin gets some leaves, plus garden refuse and kitchen scraps, including egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, melon rinds, corn husks and cobs, spoiled produce, stems from collards and kale, etc. I fuss at my wife to keep fruit and avocado pits out of the scrap bucket since they do not decompose in anyone’s lifetime and are as obnoxious as rocks in the compost.

My own compost is dark brown in color, crumbly with good tilth. Some partially composted egg shells and pine needles are present but that doesn't bother me. It looks lighter in color than the bagged composts because it was drier when I took it out of the bottom of the bin.

Harvesting my own compostDave's compost closeup

McEnroe Premium Organic Compost

McEnroe Organic Farm in Millerton, New York runs a large composting operation largely for use on their own farm. They do bag and sell some of it  under the Premium Organic Compost label and I found it being offered at Applefield Farm in Stow, Massachusetts at $6.50 per cubic foot bag. The compost is made from livestock manure, food waste and leaves and is composted at high temperatures in windrows. The compost is very dark and almost odorless with a very slight earthy smell. It is crumbly, very good tilth, with a few small twigs and bark chips visible. And this is from a bag left over from last year, since the new shipment had not arrived yet.

McEnroe CompostMcEnroe compost closeup

Dr. Earth Natural Choice Compost

Dr. Earth is a more exotic (and more expensive) compost that comes from California. The shipping must play a part in the cost of it here on the east coast. Dr. Earth has a range of organic products including fertilizers, insecticides, and potting soils which are available at Agway and Lancaster Gardens. I have not seen the Natural Choice Compost offered before but found it at Green Path Garden Supply in Northborough, where I went to buy coarse vermiculite.

It comes in a 1.5 cubic foot bag for $13.95. The compost is made from forest humus and fir bark, peat moss, worm castings, alfalfa meal, kelp meal, soybean meal, fish meal, fish bone meal, oyster shell and dolomitic lime. It is inoculated with Dr. Earth’s blend of probiotics including Ecto and Endo Mycorrhizae preserved with Aloe Vera gel and Yucca Extract. It is very dark in appearance, fairly fine and dry with lots of larger pieces of bark and wood chips. It has a strong earthy, musty smell.

Dr Earth CompostDr Earth compost closeup

Vermont Compost Company

Vermont Compost is located in Montpelier, Vermont and produces a Manure Compost as well as various soil mixes based on the compost. The compost itself is made from bovine, equine, and avian manure along with bark, late cut hay, spoiled silage, food waste and mature compost. Some sphagnum peat moss is added to the bagged product for “moisture retention.”

I have had trouble locating this product locally (within a half-hour drive). Green Path in Northborough is sold out and has no plans to re-order. They tell me they usually order a pallet in November, which makes no sense to me unless the customers for it use it indoors during the winter. I could have bought a small bag to review for this diary, but that is pointless if you can’t buy the cubic foot bags needed for the Mel’s Mix.

Coast of Maine Quoddy Blend Lobster Compost

This Coast of Maine compost is named for Passamaquoddy Bay in northeast Maine. It is made from crab and lobster bodies (sans the meat) blended with aspen bark. It is rich in nitrogen and calcium from the shells and is less acidic than other composts made from forest products. The Coast of Maine products are sold at independent garden centers and around here can be found at Lancaster Agway, D & D Farms (Stow), Ace Hardware (Stow) and Sterling Greenery.The compost is very dark, moist and crumbly, with a fine grain and hardly any smell, just slightly earthy. It has a few tiny twigs and bark chips, and a few granules of sand.

Coast of Maine Lobster CompostCoast of Maine Lobster closeup

Gro-Well Organic Garden Compost

Gro-Well is a large national company based in Tempe, Arizona which has a local operation in, I believe, Connecticut. Their Organic Garden Compost is made from composted forest and organic materials.I would guess that the exact composition varies based on the region of the country it is produced in. This was one of the composts I used last year when I put in my first set of raised beds and is available at Lancaster Gardens for about $5 for a 1 cubic foot bag. Gro-Well is also the producer of the official Mel’s Mix in bags. Some Lowes stores carry the Mel’s Mix but none in this area

The Gro-Well Organic Garden Compost is a dark brown color, very fine particles with tiny twigs and bark chips and some pine needles present. It is drier than the other composts and has a fairly strong resinous, woodsy odor, probably from the forest content.

Growell organic garden compostGro-Well_closeup

Jo-Barb Farms (Bolton, MA) Compost

Jo-Barb Farms in Bolton raise pigs and beef cattle for meat which they sell from their farm. They claim their livestock is organically raised without hormones, antibiotics or animal-based feed The manure is used along with bedding, leaves and wood chips to produce an organic compost that is sold in bulk or in bags at a self-serve stand.

The compost is very dark, fine grained, with some small twigs and chips. It has a very faint woodsy smell. A few small rocks wee found but were easily picked out. This compost is similar to the McEnroe compost which is also manure based. It sells for $3 for a small bag, or 2 for $5. I would guess that two bags is about a cubic foot, maybe less.

JoBarb Farms compostJo-Barb compost closeup


  1. Thank you for posting on McEnrow Farm compost and thank you for showing what the product looks like. I've been wanting to get this particular compost for my garden bed.


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