Healthy Beginnings

Successful Growing in Nevada Soils: It’s All About Quality Compost, Soils and Humus

In our previous two articles for Healthy Beginnings Magazine, we covered soil tests and the minerals Nevada soils crave. We hope you dug deeply into them and understood the big picture of healthy growing here in Nevada. With the knowledge-seeds we planted in those first two articles, it’s now time to grow. In this piece, we’ll discuss how to find quality growing products at affordable prices.

There are numerous providers of soils, composts, humus and other growing media. From the big box stores down to your local nurseries, everyone is selling something they claim will have you growing big. But, how do you gauge quality among products? Here are some important questions to ask when preparing to buy. If the sales person you’re talking to cannot answer these questions, stay far away (because you’ll know they are, well, full of compost).

  1. Get Your Hands Dirty.

What does the media look like and what does it smell like? Don’t overlook this pretty darn simple step. Compost, humus and quality soils should smell like the earth. When shopping for humus (which is the final product of composting, commonly referred to simply as compost), the material should be broken down and fully composted. You shouldn’t be able to recognize what the original materials were; if you can, it hasn’t been fully composted. If you can clearly see a banana peel or pine cone in your humus, it’s not quality. Likewise, if the material smells like poop, it is poop (not compost). If the material looks like wood chips and horse manure, it is just wood chips and horse manure. You want materials that are fully broken down and composted so they are converted into the plant food your garden and landscape craves.

  1. Where’s it Come From?

Ask detailed questions of your providers about where they source their materials. For example, in Nevada, buying topsoil may get you a dose of noxious weed seeds because someone scrapped up the soil from an empty lot full of undesirable weeds. Or, even worse, many compost companies have contracts for recycling human waste! Yuck. If you’re not diligent, you could be planting your garden and veggies in human sewage. We think you should always be sure of what you’re growing your food in.

  1. Don’t Disregard the Facts.

Every growing product should have a detailed and recent analysis of the nutrients and also potential harmful materials they contain – such as heavy metals. If your local nursery or compost manufacture does not keep detailed records of their analysis, you could be buying something that actually hurts growth. Stay away from products with no analysis.

  1. Says Who?

There are many 3rd party organizations that watch over soil, compost and growing media manufacturers. For example, the United States Composting Council has their Seal of Testing Assurance program. The purpose is to ensure full disclosure. If your local composter is not a member of this program, no one is watching over their processes and you can’t be sure what you’re buying. Locally, compost and growing media can be approved for use in organic growing by Basin and Rang Organics and CCOF. These organizations place strict rules on the materials composters and soil amendment manufactures put into their blends to be used by organic growers. These are just a few examples of credible 3rd party outfits.

  1. It’s All Part of the Process. 

Your local compost, soil or growing media supplier should be able to tell you how the product was made. Everyone makes their products differently; however, the level of care they put into the process could make all the difference for your plants. If the company just takes a tractor and mixes up two piles of dirt and calls it “garden soil,” is it really going to help your garden grow? Nope. Look for a producer who can explain their processes in detail. For example, a good composter will run their products between 135 to165 degrees Fahrenheit for multiple weeks while turning in air and water to help the microbes grow. If they are not doing something to have a consistent and successful process, you may be getting a product that will hurt your soil. Many of us have experienced “hot soil” which has not been broken down enough and burns your plants. Or soils with too much manure. Watch out!

  1. Show Me. 

Photos are evidence of growing results. Check the company’s social media pages and website. If they do not have pictures of big growing with big harvests, be weary. Why wouldn’t they be boasting about how big and lush plants grow in their products? A picture speaks a thousand words. If the company can show you pictures of people growing successfully all over your local area, they know more than the guys posting stock photos of fake tomatoes and smiling faces.

Our final tip is on the house. If you have a truck or trailer you can buy in bulk and save cash. Here is an example: You can go to a big box store and find a great sale on 1 cubic-foot bags of garden soil for $5. You have a 4×7 foot raised bed that is 12 inches deep. You need 28 cubic feet to fill it. You would need 28 bags at $5, which is $140.

But, if you go to your local nursery for bulk garden soil, you’ll find most prices range from $25-70 a cubic yard, which is 27 cubic feet. You’re welcome, you just saved big money!

At Full Circle, we take extreme pride in helping people grow big, healthy plants. We hope after reading this article, you’re better suited to make smart buying decisions as you get excited for spring.

Want more? Feel free to ask us any questions by calling or writing. You can find Full Circle products at 20 locations across Northern Nevada. Check out our website for specifics. While you’re at it, check our social media for big pictures of local Nevadan’s growing successfully right here in the Silver State.