Home-compostable – bane or boon for the industry?

Compost certifications can be a bit of a muddle, especially for consumers.  Will this newest category help clear things up?

There is a new kid on the certifications block.  It’s called home-compostable” and has arrived in many parts of the world.  

Products based on this standard include next-gen bio-based films and resins manufactured with processes that will allow these types of plastics to degrade in the typical home composting environment.

The US has yet to develop a certification for this new compostables category.  However, the products themselves (carrying European and other certification logos) are available online and at some brick and mortar retailers.

And just this past April, scientists at a US-based lab announced a related breakthrough in its own project.  It’s a plastic that can completely disintegrate, even in the wild, without fouling soil, air, or water.  Cambridge just announced the development of a home-compostable resin, too.  

With the increasing availability of universally-compostable materials comes the promise of clarity for individuals and businesses hoping to divert more organics away from landfills and incinerators.

Should the industry care about home-compostable?

Let’s give this one a resounding yes.  If an item can compost at home, it should compost in most professionally-managed operations, too – big or small, municipal or commercial, indoor or outdoor, basic or advanced technology.

Home-compostable sets the stage for more successful municipal and commercial composting efforts when the most common bio-plastics can be composted almost anywhere by almost anyone.  No need for consumers to read the fine print as long as an item carries a big “compostable” label.

This paves the way for increased flows of food waste streams from non-composting households, restaurants, and other commercial and institutional entities – good news for composting’s existing infrastructure.

Thanks to science, objectives like universal compostability and disappearing plastic bags hover brightly on the horizon.

Even the US military is getting excited about the potential of this new breed of plastic.

But wait, there’s more

New plastics aren’t the only developments casting a warm glow over composting.

Advances in optical sorting technologies now facilitate the separation of waste streams into individual components.  Once widely adopted, these types of developments should increase capture rates of everything from plastics to fibers to organics.

The ability to utilize technology to separate wheat from chaff at all stages of resource recovery can positively impact everything from source separation to MRF management to anaerobic digestion.

Along the way, composting benefits, too, as the recipient of higher processing volumes and lower contamination of the organics stream. 

When some are starting to ban compostable plastics, the introduction of universally compostable resins is more than timely.

Emphasis on consumer-friendly labeling, alluring consumer incentives, and the modernization of the recycling/composting industries are keys to maximizing resource recovery, creating efficiencies, and fostering true circular economies for organics.

Throwing up one’s hands and abandoning the recycling of any material is no solution, especially when new products and technologies are waiting just around the corner.

What can I compost?

Can I compost bread?  Can I compost corncobs?  Can I compost leather gloves?  In a perfect world and under ideal conditions, the answer to all of the above is yes.  Unfortunately, this world is far from perfect, so that yes can be followed by a long string of asterisks.

One of the most common questions asked by those new to composting is “what can I compost?”

In truth, anything derived from plant or animal matter will biodegrade … eventually.  But time, temperature, and a slew of other variables will impact the practicality of choosing composting as a recycling method for any given material.

Generally, the home composter will do just fine using a tight, easy-to-turn vessel that contains excess liquid and deters marauders.  

Any mesh, drainage holes, or air vents in the composting unit should be 1/4 inch or less if deterring mice and the snakes that follow them is a priority.

With this type of composter, almost any kind of food waste (except meats and dairy) can be used as a feedstock.  Tear or chop big/dense leftovers like chunks of bread and corncobs into smaller pieces to expose more surface area to feasting microbes.  This helps all of the food waste degrade at a similar rate.

As for those gloves, while leather is compostable, so many manufactured products these days are processed, treated, or coated with chemicals that the leather might not be compost-friendly for the home compost pile.

Unless the manufacturer says an item is compostable in a home system and proves it with certification from a legitimate third-party, don’t put it in your compost pile.

Read the certification information carefully.  A lot of so-called “compostables” available in the marketplace cannot be composted where processes are simply not sufficiently robust to break down the material – and that would include nearly all residential composting efforts, as well as some city-owned and commercial operations.

Only a few US facilities use designs and/or technologies that can handle the full range of urban organic wastes.  (McGill is one of them.)

Good prep = rapid biodegradation

Chopping and shredding is something every large composting facility does to create a uniform particle size prior to composting.

These plants also mix thoroughly, ensure adequate airflow throughout the composting mass, and make certain the blend is neither too wet nor too dry.  

They also screen the compost post-processing to break up clumps and sift out any bigger, partially composted materials.  These are re-blended and added to a new composting pile to complete their decomposition.

The closer the home compost-maker can come to emulating these management practices (which are all about process control), the faster the rate of decomposition and higher the rate of composting success … even when breaking down tough ingredients.

That’s why modern, high-rate composting operations can handle things like biodegradable plastics and petroleum hydrocarbons when the home compost pile struggles with corncobs.

Don’t try this at home

While most things can be successfully composted at home, meat and dairy, along with the cooking juices and fats-oils-grease (FOG) in which they were prepared, cannot.

These types of foods will harbor pathogens, and the typical home composting effort will not reach the kill point temperatures required to neutralize them.

Pet waste falls into the same category.

However, small amounts of plant-based oils – provided they were not used to cook meats or dairy – can be composted at home.

We are talking about the salad dressing swimming with the leftover lettuce at the bottom of the serving bowl or the spritz of olive oil coating those uneaten air-fried veggies – not the 3 gallons of waste oil from the turkey fryer.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do with banned FOG except pour it into a non-recyclable container and toss it into the trash.  It won’t compost in the anaerobic environment of a landfill, but it won’t clog your pipes, septic system, or sewer lines, either.

In other words, never ever pour fats, oils, or grease down the kitchen sink.  And – no – a hot water chaser will not make the gunk magically disappear from your piping system.

The good news is FOG will compost at a facility using a good, commercial process.

In fact, commercial kitchens routinely send grease trap waste to composting facilities.  If your community doesn’t have a composting operation that can handle this type of food waste, perhaps it’s time to give the folks at City Hall a nudge.  

READ MORE:

This post also includes information on reducing the amount of FOG going to the landfill or sewer system from your kitchen.

FAQ:  How do I add compost to mature trees and shrubs?

Q:  My established plantings need some compost, but won’t all that digging hurt the root systems?

A:  Think “massage” and not “excavation” to add compost to mature trees and shrubs.  It’s hard to overdo it when using compost and as little as 1/8 of an inch can net visible results.

While there are many ways to apply this soil amendment, these are among the easiest:

For mulched trees 

Scrape away mulch and, using the spreading method of choice, apply up to 2 inches of compost out to the drip line (the widest point of the tree canopy).  

Rake lightly to even out the surface.  But no need to dig in.  This application method is called “top dressing” for a reason.  Happily, over the coming weeks and months, Mother Nature will take care of soil incorporation for you.  Simply reapply the mulch once the area has been covered with compost.

If some of the area under the tree is grassed 

Gently work up to 1/2 inch of compost into the turf with a rake or broom.  You are giving the earth a gentle back scratch, not plowing.  But it’s okay to scratch a little harder where you have bare spots or fairy rings, because compost has been known to help solve some of these types of yard maintenance issues.

A light sprinkle with the hose or irrigation system can also help move compost from the grassy surface to the soil.

But keep the water use to a minimum.  If the application area gets too wet, you’ll just lose all that compost to runoff, wasting both the water and the compost while becoming a contamination source for receiving waters or the stormwater system.

For shrubs and planting beds

Remove mulch, lay down up to 2 inches of compost, and remulch. As an alternative, if you want to apply 3 or 4 inches of compost, it can serve as mulch.

Just be careful to avoid piling compost up around woody stems and tree trunks.  This practice invites insects and could, eventually, kill the plant.

Try compost to cut costs and boost profits

Farmers aren’t using compost just to help the environment.  They’re using it because compost increases the bottom line.

Like the cowboys of the old West, field crop farmers spend a lot of time in the saddle. That seat may be well-padded vinyl inside an air-conditioned cab or painted metal bouncing along atop an ancient Farmall H. 

But no matter how glitzy or simple the ride, the occupants of those seats spend many hours a day alone with their thoughts, traversing mile upon mile of terrain as they navigate back and forth across their fields.

One of the things they think about is soil.  And over the years, there has been a significant shift in thinking as conventional farmers embrace soil practices once thought to be reserved for sustainable/organic agriculture.

Organic production may only represent 2% of all agricultural acreage in the US.  But, depending on the information source and the crop, the number of farmers using one or more sustainable practices could now be as high as 95%.

From extended crop rotations to compost use, these types of environmentally-preferred applications have been shown to increase both yields and profits.  This success encourages other growers to try compost.

In fact, in regions served by McGill facilities, conventional farmers have been adding compost to their fields for decades for just those reasons.

Why has compost become such an integral component of American agriculture?  Because it rebuilds damaged, depleted soil.  It replenishes lost organic matter, beneficial soil microbes, and nutrients.  Healthy soil grows healthy plants that can better resist pests and diseases.  It holds more water while, at the same time, improving drainage.

And because compost use improves nutrient intake, farmers can reduce the amount of synthetic fertilizers applied to their fields, too.  All of these benefits contribute to higher profits.

Ready to try compost?

Compost is the thoughtful choice for organic, sustainable, regenerative, conventional, plasticulture, permaculture, biointensive, urban, vertical … almost any type of farming (or gardening) system, indoors or out, irrigated or not.

Apply it with a spreader truck, blower truck, pull-behind, push spreader, hand-cranked spreader, shovel, or broadcast by hand.

Use it with other soil products or as a stand-alone.

Buy it in bulk, by the bag, or make your own.

Join the ranks of progressive, thoughtful growers of all descriptions, and just try compost.

If the package says compostable, proceed with caution

There are a growing number of products making compostability claims.  But, sadly, the word “compostable” on the package is not a guarantee.

In an age when anyone can claim almost anything about a product and get away with it, fake certifications – imaginary marks and logos that manufacturers hope consumers will think are certifications – abound.  

While products can obtain third-party certification for compostability, there is no legal requirement that they have this certification before claiming their product is “compostable.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission website, advertising must be “truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.”

But somewhere along the way, the FTC seems to have changed the definition of the words “truth in advertising” without informing the public.

White glue is used instead of milk in cereal commercials, the fast food burger from the local drive-thru is half the size of its TV counterpart, and greenwashing has become a favored tool of unscrupulous manufacturers.

Saying a product is compostable is not the same as having that product certified as such by a legitimate certification agency.  Having someone on the manufacturer’s staff “verify” the product meets a specific ASTM standard is not the same as third-party certification.

In this day and age of lax FTC oversight over advertising language, consumers need to be extra cautious about compost–related claims.

Caveat emptor … is that seal legit?

Beware of manufacturers who make up their own “compostable” logos to fool the public into thinking their product has been vetted by a real certification entity.

When in doubt, pull out your phone and look them up before adding the package to your shopping cart.

Seals on the package should indicate testing and certification from legitimate third-party agencies like the Biodegradable Products Institute  and OK Compost.

A manufacturer certifying with a bona fide agency will be proud of that association and name the certifier on the product, in its shopping site product descriptions, and/or on its own website.

If that info is missing, give the item and manufacturer a pass.

Can your community compost compostables?

If you are not 100% sure your community is served by a high-rate composting operation that accepts compostable plastic, don’t buy “compostable” at all.

Even cardboard or paper products can be lined or coated with a bio-resin that requires an advanced composting process for biodegradation.

You won’t be able to compost the item or packaging at home, and it can’t be recycled any other way.  In fact, if a bioplastic gets tossed into the wrong bin, a compostable plastic is a contaminant for recyclers of traditional plastic.

Check out your city or county website or contact the local recycling coordinator to find out exactly what materials can or cannot be composted in your community.

Does composting need a puppetmaster?

For far too long, composting was relegated to a position on the fringe of waste management, despite the fact that 70% of the world’s wastes are compostable. Composters, quite literally, had to wait for someone else to feed them the leftovers.

A major chunk of composting’s potential feedstocks (yard waste, food waste, sludges, etc.) are “owned” by the municipalities in which those wastes are generated.  Traditionally, government has taken the lead in providing waste services of all types, from collection to final disposition.

Unfortunately, that ownership has made composting an ipso facto puppet dancing to the tune of others.  And that song is not a merry jig.  According to the American Bar Association, waste flow control is #2 on its list of the Top 5 most litigious MSW topics.

Numbers tell a sorry tale

There are about 89,000 local governments in the U.S.  But a November 2020 article in BioCycle estimated only 4,500 to 5,000 composting facilities serving those populations – less than 6%.  A mere 326 of 19,000 towns (less than 2%) offer curbside collection of food waste.

Granted, more than half of those are small governments managing jurisdictions of fewer than 50,000 people – our very rough estimate of the population base needed to support an industrial composting operation for urban organics.  

But that still leaves a sizable number of cities, counties, and towns that have the potential to generate the minimum volume of composting feedstocks required for commercial viability.  That support would come from municipal, commercial, institutional, and industrial generators.

Sadly, too many of those who control those wastes seem to be in no hurry to divert the bulk of that stream to a municipally- or privately-owned composting facility, even when it could be the most cost-effective management choice.  

Clearly, the prevailing paradigm needs to shift if composting is to become the management choice for all Urban organics.

Enter new models for resource recovery

Over the past 30 years, composting has matured to become an efficient, economical, dependable, and profitable technology for recycling the full gamut of urban organics. 

A big, 100,000 tons/year indoor plant can go from groundbreaking to start-up in 12 to 18 months, and when equipped with an efficient biofilter, can be sited closer to both waste generators and end use markets than windrow operations.  Its footprint is only 1/10 the size of that windrow operation, too.

When designed and managed with preemption as a priority, a composting facility generates no waste stream of its own, and the resulting compost is a much-needed product for restoring function to depleted urban soils. 

Compost use also sequesters carbon when soils will remain undisturbed for long periods of time, adding to its long list of benefits.

When a community can have all of this – privately funded by experienced commercial companies with no taxpayer investment – why do city and county governments hesitate to put out the welcome mat for composting? 

In recent years, the emergence of small businesses and community non-profits willing to cut the strings and do an end run around the municipal “middleman” has demonstrated new models for resource recovery.  

In the UK,  a bio-ware manufacturer, recyclables/food waste collection company, and composter are teaming up to create a service model outside of a municipal system. (READ: https://www.circularonline.co.uk/news/dedicated-collections-for-compostables-launched-for-london-and-brighton/)

In the U.S., door-to-door collection companies are picking up household and commercial organics and transporting the material to their own composting facilities and/or other established composting operations (of all sizes and descriptions) in the region.

Even companies who serve municipalities (like McGill) also work directly with high-volume generators in the corporate/industrial sector, bypassing the city or county collection system entirely.

While municipal composting programs can get tossed around and fumbled like a political football, collection services by independents providing direct service to the waste generator may offer more stability.

For municipalities struggling to set up composting programs on their own dime, the expansion of composting infrastructure via private-sector services and financing might be fostered and supported by local governments in several ways:

Exclude compostables from flow control.  Flow control is a contentious and much-litigated device used by governments to force all trash generated within its jurisdiction to be managed by a specific facility or facilities.  

At its worst, the practice protects the investment of a private waste contractor – typically a transfer station, landfill, incinerator, etc. – and eliminates any possibility of competition for the life of a project that can have an amortization period of 50 years.

This may be good for the private contractor investing many millions of dollars in the development of a facility.  But taxpayers can end up paying more over those decades when competitors (like composters) are barred from offering alternate services during the contract term.

Sometimes, specific streams are excluded from flow control ordinances.  If organics are included in those exclusions, then the door is open for independents to move in and offer direct services to organic waste generators of every size.

If not, this lock forces a community to use the contract disposal option even when composting might be the least expensive service.

Identify and advertise appropriate composting sites.  The best location for an industrial composting facility serving an urban area is not a farm field or landfill located 100 miles outside of the city.

It makes no sense from either an economic or environmental perspective to shuttle feedstocks out to the country only to truck the finished compost back to the city.  This strategy adds unnecessary cost to both composting services and products. 

So, when both intake and compost use markets are urban, that is where the composting facility needs to be, too.  But composting facilities of any significant size belong in areas zoned for heavy industrial use, not business parks or other locations with too much exposure to the general public.

Over the years, poor location choices may have had as much (or more) to do with facility closures as bad design or management.

While building industrial structures is usually cost-prohibitive on a closed out landfill, an old “dump” located within or near the city limits might be suitable for an operation utilizing tarps or other less permanent containment – with optional biofiltration, of course.

City managers and decision-makers know their jurisdictions better than anyone.  By identifying appropriate sites, acquiring and designating those sites for composting, and advertising/offering those locations to commercial composters, a local government can secure high-quality composting services for its city without a hefty capital investment or related management/operating costs.

Metro areas also benefit when multiple sites and/or companies serve the region, building redundancy into the composting infrastructure.

Mandate compost use.  As demand for compost rises, compost manufacturers will be able to hold steady or even lower tipping fees for composting services.  

One of the most effective mechanisms for increasing demand is for governments to mandate compost use for all new public and private construction projects, major residential landscaping rehabs, DOT construction and maintenance, and all publicly-owned parks, recreation areas, and other greenspaces.  

Typically, this is achieved through stormwater management and grounds maintenance programs.  As compost is one of the lowest cost stormwater capture solutions per gallon retained (native plants are a few pennies cheaper), it only makes sense to begin the restructuring of any stormwater program by mandating compost use whenever and wherever soil disturbance or maintenance takes place.

Working toward the win-win

The ultimate goal is to create a robust market for compost products, one that will generate an even stronger demand for the organic waste that feeds compost manufacturing processes.  

When this happens, manufacturers may be able to greatly reduce (or even eliminate) tipping fees for yard waste, food waste, sludges, and other urban organics received from local governments.

It’s a scenario where both small businesses and taxpayers win.  Isn’t that outcome worth the loss of a few strings?

Can I sell my backyard compost?

From time to time, a backyard composting enthusiast poses the question: Can I sell my backyard compost?  Unfortunately, the answer is complicated.  Switching from the backyard to the commercial world is like shifting the preparation of a plate of spaghetti from a home kitchen to a 120-seat Italian restaurant – even if you only want to sell one or two plates.

Rising interest in food waste diversion causes entrepreneurial spirits to think about starting a composting facility.  That’s great news and deserves encouragement. There is plenty of room at the table for composting operations of every size, including the backyard variety. 

Some pulling up a chair will come with little to no experience running a business, composting at scale, or managing wastes of any description.  On one hand, that is a good thing for the composting industry as a whole.  Fresh ideas and a non-jaded outlook (mixed with a dollop of desperation, naïveté, and plain dumb luck) drive progress.

But the budding entrepreneur must accept the fact that when money changes hands, the small-scale/backyard composter crosses over into the commercial composting world, one that is tightly regulated.

Fortunately, many states have exemptions or lighter “regs” for low-volume projects.  But that’s not the same as no regulation.   To find out more about regulations in your state, here is a list, compiled by the U.S. Composting Council.

If you are thinking about a for-profit or non-profit composting-related business, or even a public project, taking the time to do a little research before the planning process begins is the smartest and most economical first step any new business endeavor can take.

Can I sell my backyard compost?

There are many factors to consider before answering that all-important question.  Some are related to rules and regulations.  Others have to do with running a business.

Knowing the answers to questions like these can make the difference between success or failure:

  • If considering a door-to-door food waste collection and composting service,  what are similar companies charging in cities like yours?  What is the average size of their customer base?  What percent of the households that meet the identified customer profile (age, income, etc.) use the service?  How does your community compare and will you have the possibility of gaining enough customers to make your business profitable?  How are they marketing the service to potential customers? Talk to the local recycling coordinator.  Is s/he aware of any similar companies operating or considering start-up in your locale?
  • If you plan to intake waste from other household or businesses, most privately-owned composting facilities rely on tipping fees to support compost production, not compost sales.  Do you know the average tipping fee in your region?  Who are your biggest competitors for composting feedstocks?  What other competing companies or technologies are thinking about moving into your market?  A chat with your city or county business development specialist could be insightful.
  • What are the high, low, and average wholesale and retail prices for a cubic yard of compost in your targeted service area?  What about bagged products?  Will customers expect auxiliary services like delivery or spreading?  
  • Have you read all of the regulations, zoning ordinances, and building codes that will impact your operation?  Check in with the local planning department and correlating state agencies to determine if there are any changes in the works.  
  • Do you know where the high growth areas are in your region?  There is nothing worse for a composter than to open a remote facility only to find the land around it being gobbled up by housing developments a few years later.
  • Your annual reports to the state, including names of customers and volumes processed, as well as copies of your permit and any related violations, will probably be made available to the general public online or on request.  As a result, potential anchor accounts — large corporations, municipalities and commercial entities — may wait a few years before doing business with you.  They want to know the way you operate, the dependability of your service, and your efforts to protect the environment and local community are above reproach and will not negatively damage their own reputations by association.  Obviously, this can have a major impact during the initial years of operation.
  • First-time business owners may underestimate expenses and overestimate revenues.  Talk to people who actually operate composting facilities before developing financial projections.  Look for tradeshows, conferences, and other networking opportunities that will allow you to meet and learn from folks who have spent time in the trenches.
  • If you do plan to open a facility of any significant size, there are only a handful of engineering firms and technology providers with extensive experience in designing successful composting facilities.  Choose a designer with a resume that includes multiple, long-term composting operations with no technology/design-related problems.  

As with any business start-up, be prepared for long days and short nights.  The owner of a successful composting operation must not only know how to make good compost, but also keep the books, hire and manage employees, promote the business, and keep customers, regulators, and neighbors happy.

Until the business grows to the point where it can support others in managerial positions, the full weight of those jobs is carried on the shoulders of the owner.

More time will be spent on matters unrelated to compost production than on making compost.  Knowing how to make good compost will not be enough.  Before taking the plunge, be sure you have the drive, stamina, and desire to devote such a large portion of your day to shepherding a new business.

FAQ:  Should I use compost or topsoil to establish a new lawn?

Mixing compost with native soil makes topsoil.  So instead of either/or, when you use compost to establish a new lawn, you get both.

Simply incorporate the compost into the top few inches of in situ soil according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.   (Click here for McGill’s use instructions.)

Et voilà … a new layer of topsoil.

You can also broadcast compost with the seed or put down a layer under new sod.  The compost will accelerate establishment and green-up.  Compost use has been shown to encourage earlier green-up in the spring and extend the green season in the fall, too.

If you insist on buying topsoil, have it tested for organic matter content before application.  Because so much true topsoil has been lost over the years, especially in developed areas, that load of dirt may not be topsoil at all, but scraped up, nearly-inert subsoil.  If the product is mostly sand or mostly clay, you may need to add compost to boost its organic matter content.

Still not convinced?  Instead of buying topsoil and fertilizer, it can be cheaper to make your own topsoil, too.

But don’t make the mistake of using 100% compost when the job calls for topsoil.  Most plants will need the weight/density of soil to provide support and keep the plant upright throughout the growing season(s).

Planting in 100% compost may be too rich for some plants, as well.  

Remember, compost is intended to be used as a soil amendment, not a soil replacement.

Are you watering with tap water?

City water contains chlorine and chlorine kills microbes – both good and bad.  Will watering plants with tap water kill the beneficial microbes delivered through compost use?

 

Chlorine, chloramine, fluoride, and salts are used to treat city and household water systems.  None of them are beneficial to plants, soils, or the microbial populations contained therein.

The good news is that if your city’s water system maintains chlorine at recommended levels, most plants won’t be harmed and soil/compost microbes will quickly recover.

Generally, chlorine also dissipates quickly.  Fill a 5-gallon bucket with tap water and let it sit for a day or two before using the water on plants.

Chloramine, a compound that includes both chlorine and ammonia, is a little harder on plants and soils.  It is used throughout the US, including a number of metropolitan areas served by McGill composting facilities.  Check out this list to see if your water system is among them.

Over time, chloramine use can acidify soil and damage plants.  If this chemical is running through your watering tap, keep an eye on soil pH.

Fluoride is added to drinking water supplies to strengthen teeth.  It is also found in some fertilizers and perlite.  Burned tips and edges of leaves can be a sign of fluoride toxicity.

Using compost to maintain a neutral pH will limit fluoride availability, as will switching to rainwater or filtered water.

Household systems designed to soften water using salts can damage soil and plants, too. 

Short of installing a new spigot in the H2O line before it reaches the water softener, adding calcium to the soil through applications of gypsum or lime can help.  So does simple leaching (over-saturating the soil to flush out excess salts). 

But know that leaching will also wash away nutrients.  If you opt for this method, be sure to add some compost post-watering to help rebuild the soil.

Collecting rainwater and mixing it with tap water can dilute the harmful impacts of chemicals and salts.

For home use, rainwater harvesting systems can be as simple as a $5 bucket sitting in the yard or as sophisticated as a $2500 tank set-up.

Just make sure water in open-top collection containers is not allowed to stagnate and become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Want more information about using tap water for watering plants?  We found this article that discusses the various chemicals used in water treatment and how they impact plants and compost.

FAQ:  What causes acid soil and how can I fix it?

The leaching action of rainwater, CO2 from organic decomposition, and oxidation of constituents in fertilizers all contribute to the formation of acid soil.

While some plants, like rhododendrons and blueberries, prefer an acid soil, most do not.  But acid soil can be fixed.

Back in the day, grandpa may have added lime or wood ash to fix the soil.  Today’s growers, however, are more likely to add compost.

With its neutral pH, compost makes an ideal amendment for both acidic and alkaline soils.

Get it tested

Don’t guess.  Test your soil at least once every three years.  Keep copies of those test results so you can monitor soil changes over time.

Pull a sample for testing through your local Cooperative Extension Service office or buy a kit.  Sample several locations, then mix together.

Do not use a metal trowel, shovel, or bucket to do your sampling unless you are certain it is stainless steel.  Some metals can react with the soil and distort results.  For the same reason, don’t use painted tools, either.  Plastic will be the better choice.

An inexpensive meter will also get the job done and costs about the same as testing or a DIY kit.

Find the Goldilocks zone

A pH range of 6.0 to 7.0 is considered ideal.  (Acidic soils are on the low of the range; alkaline soils are on the high end.)

For overall soil and plant health, keep pH readings in the Goldilocks zone.

But if you want to match specific crops to their ideal pH, this article includes pH preferences for many common vegetable crops.  For ornamentals, check out this chart.

Sorry, but there’s no quick fix for soil pH

It takes time to adjust soil pH.  Experts say if you’re able to nudge the number .5 to 1 point in a season you’re doing a good job.

It takes at least three weeks for early results.  Making a start in the fall for spring planting is even better.

If you make your own compost, pH testing prior to soil incorporation can be a good idea.  The specific ingredients in your compost will influence pH.

The same is true for commercial compost products.  Compost manufacturers will provide copies of their product testing results, which should include pH.  If these types of analyticals are not available, either choose another product or test it yourself.

If you have a choice, and your soils are slightly acidic, opt for the compost product that leans toward the alkaline.  If your soil is more alkaline, choose a compost with a lower pH number.

In addition to compost, you can also add things like coffee grounds (acidic) and baking soda (alkaline) to either the compost or the soil to shift pH levels.