Bulk compost question

Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by JoJo1990, Jan 31, 2011.

  1. JoJo1990

    JoJo1990 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 244

    I'm interested in offering organic compost topdressing to my customers. There is a large recycling facility that makes their own compost in bulk by combining leaves, brush and 'source separated food waste'. They then let it decompose for 6 months and monitor the process. They have reports available on the finished product which says it has 48% organic matter, 7.08 PH, and the following % dry weight results:
    N 1.7
    P .84
    K .77
    Ca 2.5
    Mg .5

    I'll admit, I'm a 100% synthetic licensed applicator looking for another option. I'm humble and looking for some input here guys. I really like to know what I'm using before I offer it and wanted to see if the above information is helpful in recommending this product or not for turf topdressing. Maybe I'm reading into this too much, but I prefer to be informed.

  2. JoJo1990

    JoJo1990 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 244

    I know this material will improve the soil structure, aid in drought tolerance and allow the turf to process nutrients from both the organic material and native soil more effectively. I would plan to offer this service at the time of aeration to help incorporate it into the native soil. I guess my question is do you guys that topdress use straight compost or do you ever use a blended material? This site has blends with 1/3 topsoil & 2/3 compost, compost & sand, compost and brown dirt...

  3. ICT Bill

    ICT Bill LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,115

    Straight compost is fine unless you are trying to correct another long term issue at the same time
    for instance if there is puddling or compaction issues you may want to work on soil structure and getting some air down into the soil by adding 20% to 30% sand or if the site just stays too moist adding compost may hold even more water

    the analysis of that compost seems fine, usually good finished compost is below 1% N but it differs depending on the mix

    good finished compost should not smell like anything really, but may have a simple earthy smell, if it smells like ammonia, manure, rotten eggs it is either not finished or has gone anaerobic, which means the anaerobic microbes have consumed most of the nutrients and the compost has putrified, not great if you are trying to grow stuff
  4. starry night

    starry night LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,314

    jojo: I hope continue to study and find out the great value to using organic fertilizers. Good quality compost is the best topdressing you can use.
    I was one who previously thought compost was for the purpose of improving soil structure (alone.) Now I realize all the improvements made to the soil biology.

    On the subject of compost analysis: do not fall into the trap of paying very much attention to the amount of N in compost. It will promote the production of N by soil microbes.

    I was at an Ohio State University short course presentation last week where the speaker was trying to compare cost of N between synthetics and organics based on analysis of the organics. But I am not college-educated in soil biology so I didn't try to dispute a college professor in front of about 400 attendees.

    Glad to have you on this forum. One good thing is that there is always someone who will jump in and confirm or deny what someone else has stated.
    I stand to be corrected.
  5. JDUtah

    JDUtah LawnSite Silver Member
    from UT
    Messages: 2,636


    Welcome. It will be a fun expansion for you. If you stick around here long you will find there are really two sets of people. One that believe in bridge programs (using both organic and chemical compounds in their programs) and then the organic only. I am bridge. I catch crap for being so, especially when I challenge some of the extreme statements made by the organic only people. Which one you decide to be should depend on you, your preferences, and those of the people in your area (you can't sell a product or service that people don't want). Others may try to convince you how horrid your chemicals are and that you MUST go all or nothing. I personally don't believe it.

    Anyways... this may help you connect with your current thinking...

    Being synthetic you should be able to run the numbers and calculate application rates. Suppose you put down 1/4" of compost. This equates to roughly .8 cubic yards. A cubic yard weighs roughly 1,000 lbs by moist weight. Dry is about half that weight. Thus you are applying roughly 400 lbs dry compost per 1,000 square feet of grass. Knowing application calculations as the good steward you are should allow you to figure how much NPK you are really putting down.

    400 lbs dry per K multiplied by...
    1.7% N = 6.8 lbs N
    .84% P = 3.36 lbs P
    .77 Lbs K = 3.08 lbs K

    6.8 lbs N is quite a bit. Now you must understand that this number probably reflects total N. In which case, most of it will not be plant available the first year. (roughly 5 to 10% of N from compost is made plant available the first year, depending on the compost and/or maturity)

    Usually this is enough. Sometimes it isn't. When it isn't you must ask yourself how you are going to supply just enough nutrients from other sources (organic or not) to get the result without adding too much.

    As far as weed control... the only effective organic system so far is cultural practices. Keep the grass healthy and long (usually no shorter than 3.5 inches) and most weeds can't take any ground.

    Insect control is similar. There are various oils and nematodes (tiny worms) that you can apply if you want to stay organic, but I have found them to be too hit and miss for the standards of this area.

    Fungal control is similar. Cultural practices first. Let the lawn & soil surface dry out between watering. However, there is a pretty effective natural product called chitin (or various enzymes related to it). Bill sells it as his 123 NPP. ICTorganics.com
  6. JoJo1990

    JoJo1990 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 244

    Thanks for the replies guys. Many good points in the posts. The compost they make is all mixed in a giant mixing pot and water is added by weight. They then place it in windrows and porus tubing pipes through the piles with a blower system on it to allow air to move through the piles. They tarp it for about 90 days and constantly measure the temperature so it maintains at least 130F, they say it's usually around 150F.

    I've used the product in gardens before and even though it is screened, there is still some small sticks or woody type material that sometimes gets through. I can see this being an issue with some types of spreaders. I may have to double screen it or just see how it works out.

    My plan is to offer a truly organic program as an alternative to my synthetic one. I have been asked about this in the past but never had any options for someone. I believe the truly organic people will not have a hard time understanding that living with a sustainable turf stand includes some weed crop. If I can also convince some of my synthetic customers how important soil structure is, maybe they will at least bite on the topdressing aspect. My dad lives in an area that is extremely course sandy material with very little loam to the structure. By adding compost at .25 inches per year for only 2 years, he already has the best grass in the area!
  7. starry night

    starry night LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,314

    Heyhey. That's what we like to hear. True life testimonials. :clapping:
  8. Kiril

    Kiril LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 18,335

    What is the C:N of the compost and EC of the compost and your site soil?
  9. Kiril

    Kiril LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 18,335

    The amount of N available from a given compost varies widely. Even if you were to put numbers on it, a generic first year availability might be more like 10-30% N available the first year, and that isn't even considering historical management and other natural sources of N (clipping return, N deposition, N fixation, etc...). Without knowing the breakdown of N in the compost or the site conditions, it is impossible to make any informed management decision on N availability, much less put a number on it.
  10. JoJo1990

    JoJo1990 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 244

    I don't believe the report gives the C:N ratio unless it could be listed as something other than that on the report? I understand the concept but this is my first compost report I've looked at.

    EC 7.0 dS/m

    I always recommend soil testing at each site. I collect the samples and send them to the U of MN for analysis. I bet about 2% of my customers actually want to spend the $20 or so to have this done (I even offer them my time to collect the samples for free if they sign up for the year) It will be interesting to see if the organic crowd percentage that will want a soil test is higher than my synthetic customers.

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