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Organic Compost

Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by timcuts, Nov 28, 2007.

  1. timcuts

    timcuts LawnSite Member
    Messages: 8

    Does composting break down the fertilizer residue? Or do I have to know where the debris is coming from before composting if I want it to be organic.
  2. tadhussey

    tadhussey LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 294

    Personally, I think you should know all of the inputs in the compost if you are going to compost the material yourself. This tells you what you're working with, and what problems may arise. If you have inorganic inputs, some will be easier to break down for the organisms than others, though it's hard to know without testing if you don't know what you started with.

    If you're buying a compost, you should be able to get information from the supplier as to the composition and biological content in their compost. I would ask for lab tests to see what existed in the compost. Or even better....look at it through a microscope.

    I was just looking at some vermicompost yesterday, and without a microscope, it looks the same as the previous batches we had been receiving. When I looked at this batch under the microscope though, there was very little biological activity....it wasn't worth buying or applying to our plants.

  3. Gerry Miller

    Gerry Miller LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 504

    What is clopyralid and why is it a problem in compost?Clopyralid is a long-lasting herbicide used to control broadleaf weeds such as dandelions, clover and thistles. It doesnot pose a threat to humans or animals. It passes through animals and the composting process with little breakdown.The fact that it doesn’t break down presents a problem for compost. Compost contaminated with clopyralid may harmcertain types of broadleaf ornamentals and vegetables such as beans, peas, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes.


    Clopyralid and Other Pesticides in Composts
  4. ICT Bill

    ICT Bill LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,115

    Gerry makes a very good point.
    In fact New Zealand is banning clopyralid because of the damage it does in the long run in compost. The NZ's obviously take thier composting much more seriously than we do.
    I have been told by a very reliable source and have read it a few places as well that when composted correctly (aerobically) all seeds and pathogens are "burned" up in the process of composting. Temps get to 165F which in theory should destroy anything bad in the compost. The trick is know who is a reliable source of compost, believe it or not they have a national council. http://www.compostingcouncil.org/index.cfm

    I believe the composting action would eat up most of the NPK in the process
  5. Gerry Miller

    Gerry Miller LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 504

  6. Smallaxe

    Smallaxe LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 10,082

    2 questions come to mind. 1) What will breakdown the chemical make-up of clopyralid? and, 2) What is the commercial NPK fertilzer made of and how is IT broken down?

    Thanks for a great question :)
  7. Kiril

    Kiril LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 18,334

    1) For the most part microbial breakdown -> check MSDS for specific products.

    http://www.macspred.com.au/pdf/uploaded/Clomac MSDS.pdf

    2) Variable sources -> primarily dissociation and microbial

    It is important to understand that there is no chemical difference between plant available nutrients supplied via organic sources vs. conventional sources. The primary difference between the two is organics provides a source of carbon along with the nutrients, conventional sources do not.
  8. Gerry Miller

    Gerry Miller LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 504

    From David Hall, exmonitor of this forum:

    The problem with using even small amounts of chemicals is that they do
    not provide any food to the microbes. There is no protein, carbohydrate,
    vitamins, minerals, or enzymes in these purified chemicals.

    Here's a list of things an organic program can do that no chemical can
    do. The beneficial microbes in the soil do the following.

    1. Decompose plant residues and manure to humus.
    2. Retain nutrients in humus.
    3. Combine nitrogen and carbon to prevent nutrient loss.
    4. Suppress disease.
    5. Produce plant growth regulators.
    6. Develop soil structure, tilth, and water penetration/retention.
    7. Clean up chemical residues.
    8. Shift soil pH to neutral and keep it there.
    9. Search out and retrieve nutrients in distant parts of the soil.
    10. Decompose thatch and keep it from returning.
    11. Control nitrogen supply to the plants according to need.
    12. Pull minerals out of inorganic soil components for plants.
    13. Provide the exact chemical nutrients to the plant that the plant has
    evolved with rather than man's cheapest chemical approximation.
    14. Provide exactly the required quantity of nutrients that the plant
    15. Provide the nutrients at exactly the right time that the plant needs

    No chemical can do any of that. To be fair, no single microbe can do all
    of that either. In fact, it could be that it takes 10 different species,
    one working right after the other, to do any one item in the above list
    - sort of like a microbiological assembly line. But at least it's real
    easy to get all the right microbes. The biology of the soil is very

    At the same time, many chemicals inhibit the microbe's natural abilities
    to do these things. Herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides are all
    designed to kill various biological life. As a byproduct, they often
    kill off the beneficial microbes that are doing 1 through 15 above. Any
    break in the assembly line can interrupt the process, damage the mini
    ecosystem, and lessen the benefit of the organic methods. This leads to

    Naturally occurring urea is most commonly found in urine but I suppose
    it could be made from uric acid (bird waste). Being only an ingredient
    in urine, purifying it in bulk is pretty much out of the economic
    question. Usually urine is used directly without further purification.
    My only objection to a purified urea is that it is not much of a food
    source for microbes. There is no protein, carbohydrate, vitamins,
    minerals, or enzymes. Natural urine may not have much of that either. I
    have never bought urea on purpose, at least not since I stopped using
    chemicals. I might have used it in the synthetic fertilizers I once

    Organic gardening is about feeding real food to the microbes in the soil
    - at least in my world. Urea is not on my list of foods. Some things
    that are alive and go into the soil include bacteria (from sources like
    compost, milk, and urine), fungi (from sources like compost), and
    nematodes. Some bacteria, fungi, and nematodes are grown and harvested
    for the purpose of being a soil additive. Materials that were recently
    alive include ground up grains, blood meal, feather meal, seaweed meal,
    fish hydrolysate, etc. These are great sources of protein, carbs, etc.
    These are real food for the microbes.

    Why does organic gardening work? Because once the soil microbes become
    healthy, they do all the work for you, just as Nature has been doing for
    billions of years. The microbes just need food. Before we came along to
    tame the wild, animals died on the ground. When they did, after the
    visible scavengers had their fill, the microbes finished the
    decomposition. Meat, blood, bones, hair, and feathers were the foodstuff
    for literally billions of years. The other source was plants trampled to
    the ground. But since we came along to build homes, we hardly ever allow
    the dead carcasses of wild animals to fertilize our property. For a
    loooooong time we improvised by using compost and manure. In my opinion
    compost and manure are not fertilizers in the sense that they provide
    very little protein. Since the turn of this century we are getting a
    little more sophisticated by using grains at the surface to simulate the
    dead animal proteins that used to end up on the surface. Any ground up
    bean, nut, or seed makes good fertilizer. Many ground up grasses and
    legumes also make good fertilizers because they have protein in their
    stems or flowers. Alfalfa is a perfect example of that. I would like to
    see someone come up with a way to pelletize kudzu like alfalfa is
    pelletized. We could feed the world with the kudzu in Alabama."
  9. Gerry Miller

    Gerry Miller LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 504

    Generations of growers have composted organic waste to obtain the benefits of this nutrient-rich material. However, the optimum practical use of any compost depends not simply on its nutrient content, but also on a series of other physical, chemical and biological characteristics, including:

    • Maturity and stability
    • Water-holding capacity
    • Microbial activity


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