I help gardeners grow
& beginners blossom.

No seed left behind,
no soil unturned.

Together we can have lots of fun growing
great gardens using simple practical tips.

- Featured in -

These tips will help you grow the "CLEANEST", strongest and most productive vegetable patch ever.


All Compost is not created equally: It’s Buyer Beware

by | May 15, 2017 | Soil | 2 comments

Compost sold commercially isn’t always all it is cracked up to be. Sometimes it is completely dead and void of life and sometimes it is downright dangerous.

Distinctly curled leaves on Prairie Sun Rudbeckia is a sign of herbicide damage – possibly added with compost

So when I was asked by Calgary CBC’s investigative reporter Allison Dempster to contribute to a CBC interview this week I suggested she think about a few tough questions before she completed her interview. I am passing those tough questions along to my readers so that if you need to buy compost this weekend you can be more informed.

#1 Is your compost packed with humic acids? These acids are the stable carbon left in the compost after the microbes break down big chunks of organic matter. They are stable in the soil and can last for a long time. They are the bits and pieces that make you hands dirty when you handle soil or compost. If the water leaking from your compost is not brown something is wrong. Or, if your hands are clean after handling compost, something is missing. Stay away from compost that is too clean.

Compostable bags and other garbage can be added to commercial or home compost

#2 Does your Compost smell good? If it is stinky in any way something is wrong. Maybe it hasn’t aged enough or maybe it was made under low oxygen conditions so you are left with too many anaerobic bacteria. Remember E. Coli is an example of an anaerobic (oxygen starved) bacteria. Your compost should smell fresh like a field in the spring or good rich earth. Bad smelling compost is bad for you and bad for your garden.

#3 Is your Compost alive and full of living, breathing organisms?

Microbes are numerous in worm castings created by worms in your special bin or in your regular compost

If the compost is bagged and the words ‘Sterilized’ or ‘Pasteurized’ are on the bag stay away from the product. Buy bulk if you can because there is a better change bulk products have life in them. If you can, ask the compost maker if air was added and piles were turned. This all contributes to life in the finished product.

#4 Is your compost fresh and full of good ingredients or made from garbage?

The old saying “garbage in = Garbage out” is so true of compost. it is buyer beware with compost. Instead of relying on buying compost made from questionable materials including toxic wastes or heavily sprayed produce, or garbage that has been sitting in oxygen-starved piles, buy yourself a composter and start making your own green gold this spring with the best materials from your yard! If it heats up so much the better! Your soil life will be more variable.

Blog Categories
Donna Balzer Blog Categories
follow me

No Guff Gardening Book

What Would Donna Do?

Get my growing and gardening tips and pointers throughout the season.


  1. Donna Balzer

    Thanks for your input Rob. As gardeners we are always working and improving our soil so it builds our plants!

  2. Rob Lavoie


    Just love this piece and the video! More of us should be looking at what is actually going on in our soils. Thank you for this encouragement!

    Currently have several “experiments” happening at the same time in my back yard; compost pile, compost rotating bin, mulch, vermiculture (red wigglers) bin, and just plain amending materials as a top dress.

    I am starting to favour the top dressing approach because it feeds the earthworms that are already doing their work in the garden. The theory is that they will drag it down into their burrows and into the soil zone near plant roots, digest it, adding metabolites, making it more available to other micro organisms, in turn, making it more available to plants. All in real time!

    Perhaps skipping the composting phase altogether is beneficial.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What Would Donna Do?

Get my growing and gardening tips and pointers throughout the season.

Blog | Speaking | Meet Donna | Appearances | Shop | Services | Contact | Privacy Policy | Media Kit

Branding + Web Design  & Development: Swag Design Factory | Illustrations Mariko Patterson | © Donna Balzer