Post date: Jul 15, 2012 2:57:10 PM
Compost plays a crucial role in the garden. Compost is organic materials - such as food scraps, yard waste and even animal excrement - that is left in a pile to decay. The decaying process is a bacterial and heat process that magically turns the organic materials into dirt. This dirt is crazy rich in vitamins and nutrients that plants need to grow.
When we started Unity Orchard's 1/4 acre vegi-garden we made the difficult decision to purchase over 50 cubic yards of compost. We say difficult because compost - done right - is not cheap. The decision came down to, if we start the garden off right then it is easier to amend the soil in the future. We plan on gardening here for a long time.
(Photos of compost being spread on the top half of our 1/2 acre garden - or just 1/4 acre)
We consider ourselves lucky to be located next to the largest composting facility in Vermont. Green Mountain Composting (part of Cittenden County Solid Waste Division) takes in food scraps, ice cream by products, cow manure and yard waste and turns it into rich organic compost. Insert foot into mouth here.
It has come to our attention, that over 60% (some 30+ cubic yards) of the compost delivered to our garden has been tainted with persistent herbicides. Herbicides that prevent plant growth. Green Mountain Compost Company released press statements Here and Here.
It suddenly made sense. We have, for a while, been fighting weeds on half of our garden. We assumed farmer compost was filled with seeds and weeds and it was because of this that the farmer compost was growing weeds faster than we could swing an ax at them. (see previous post "Old Tool").
We have come to realize, that good compost grows weeds. Poisoned compost kills weeds. About the above photo. This is our garden. The bottom of the screen is familiar to those who read our blog. This is where Michelle trimmed the weeds. What is startling about this photo is that you can see an eery and very distinct weed growth pattern. A growth pattern that almost exactly mirrors where the Green Mountain Compost was placed.
Quick refresher of previous photos - a little side by side comparison so to speak. We received compost from two sources. A farmer delivered compost light in color (seen to the bottom of the photos closest to photographer). Green Mountain Compost delivered darker colored compost (seen at the top of the photo furthest from photographer). These pictures do enlarge - feel free to click. We have not weeded the top half of the garden. All of our efforts have been the half of the garden closest to the photographer.
Let us start with - according to the Vermont Health Department, the levels of herbicides present in the compost are not high enough to be harmful to humans (link here). Let us end with - this situation requires the Vermont Health Department to analyze data. One of the herbicides found causes liver damage, development issues in young children, birth defects and mild toxicity. The US government has stated that 500 parts per billion is safe for people. The levels found in the soil was 15 parts per billion or about 5% of the safe level. This brings up a very old philosophical questions, "Is toxic material ever safe to eat?"
For now, the Green Mountain Compost has kept the public well informed. They do not know how the persistent herbicides entered the compost and are diligently working with the state to investigate. All we can hope is that they do the right thing. We know we are not the only people effected by this event.
This news all broke on our first wedding anniversary. Our plan was to take two days off around the 4th of July and have a "5 day garden clean-up marathon". Contamination levels were not known to be below hazardous levels until July 6th and we both had reserved 5days of vacation. Suddenly we found ourselves on vacation, not allowed in our garden, and with nothing to do...
This was a blessing! We took a well needed break. Gardening has consumed our lives. Being told "Soil may not be safe" was the best thing that could have happened. We spent our days taking walks with Blue and nights playing croquette, grilling and drinking fabulous home brewed beer and cider.
It was a scorcher. The heat was definitely on. In all the heat blue showed us he's willing to swim, much to Michelle's surprise.
(Michelle and Blue in Lake Champlain)
When Blue isn't dragging michelle in, he's reminding her how old dogs dry off... They shake water everywhere!
(Blue shakin it off in Colchester Pond)
We even got to spend some time relaxing with Charles helping him remodel Michelle's old home (his "new home").
Charles has decided to do a full kitchen makeover and it required all the help he could get... Safety glasses on folks, all hands on deck.
This meant that this old dog needed to lean a lot of new tricks. "Fetch the sawsall." "Pull out the king stud." and "Separate the nails from the trim boards so we can recycle the lumber." were just a few of the new tricks. Hopefully he didn't learn too many of the common vernacular terms that were carelessly tossed around.
HAPPY 4th of JULY!