Well, we had a major gardening tragedy this year thanks to a dump truck load of compost that hasn’t fully composted. The total loss was about 575 pepper plants…the number may climb as the 50 or so plants that didn’t completely die are in critical condition and may not make it through the week.
Before I get into the gory details, here’s the list of casualties:
Jimmy Nardello, Anaheim, Serrano, Yummy Orange, Fooled You, Red Beauty, Lilac, Purple Beauty, Hot Cherry Bomb, Peter Pepper, Tepin, Hidalgo, Thai Bird, Hungarian Yellow Wax, Jalapeno, Californi Wonder, Sweet Banana, and California.
Of these, i had backup plants in limited quantities of Jimmy Nardello, Lilac, and Anaheim…these may or may not be available or will be available in limited quantities.
I have plenty of back up plants for Sweet Banana, California Wonder, and Jalapeno…should have enough for everyone that wants these.
I had no backup plants for Serrano, but seeded 48 plants today…they may be small when it come time for plant pick up time or they may not be available at all as this is very late to start pepper seeds (I start in mid-late January)
I will probably not have any Fooled You, Hidalgo, Purple Beauty, Peter Pepper, Yummy Orange, Thai Bird, California, and Hot Cherry Bomb at all. If you had any of these on your pre-order list, consider some substitute varieties or we can talk about subs when you get here.
As most of you know, I advocate planting in straight compost mixed with perlite and vermiculite. I have used the mix of 8-1-1 for many years both in my potting mix for seedlings and in filling my raised beds. I have always bought my compost from Suburban Lawn and Garden and have been vary happy with their product. It’s always been a deep, black color with a sweet and earth smell and very few identifiable pieces of wood left in it. It’s been light and crumbly and a delight to work with. The only drawback has been the price…it runs a little less than $40 a yard which is not bad, but a bit higher than other places that sell compost. Suburban is always a bit high on all of their stuff, but they have a great variety of everything, excellent customer service and sell high quality merchandise. I highly recommend them. Despite all of these great things, I decided to save a few bucks and buy compost from another company this year.
I’m a firm believer in learning from other people’s mistakes. I do a lot of research ahead of time before I try new things in the garden. My learning curve over the past decade has been very steep and I’ve had very few problems over the years because of this philosophy. When my customer and friend Rod McBride lost all of the plants he bought from me when he planted them in a load of compost that was so hot it was uncomfortable to touch I should have learned from his experience and not bought from the same company. However…the allure of saving $9 a yard and a $25 off coupon caused me to throw my better judgement to the wind and I placed my order.
When the compost arrived during a brief thunderstorm, I immediately noticed a very sour odor and large amounts of steam coming off of the pile. The driver assured me this was normal and the smell and heat would go away in a day or two. After a week, the smell was still there and when I dug into the pile a few inches, the heat was as hot as a hot cup of coffee. Of more concern was the fact that after the compost hit the air, it changed to an ashy white color and started to smoke!
The compost was also not the typical deep, rich black color…it was a chocolate brown. It also had a lot of large wood chips in it. I made a sifter and figure it was about 50% wood chips and 50% fully composted material.
I called the manager of the company I bought the compost from and after playing some phone tag and sending a few e-mails back and forth he was finally convinced that in his words that the compost was ” just is not the right compost for your application.” He was a super nice guy and offered me a refund…two weeks and several reminders later I have received a picture of the refund check, but no actual refund. I’m hoping it comes this week, but I’m not holding my breath.
The guy was really convincing not with his data analysis sheets from a laboratory that the compost was not bad,” just is not the right compost for your application.” With all of this data and the guy’s confidence in the product, I decided to sift out a quantity of it and mix it with perlite and vermiculite and get started by transplanting a few plants. Well…once I get in motion, I keep moving and I had over 600 pepper plants potted up in a few evenings in the greenhouse. The strong smell was re-activated as soon as I watered in my plants, but I figured they would be ok….WRONG!
After a week, most of the plants started showing signs of stress…browned leaf edges and a general wilted appearance. After 10 days…almost all of them were dead. The compost was so strong, that it completely destroyed almost all of the plants to the point that you could not tell a plant was in the cup…they were literally obliterated…gone… finished…dead beyond dead. I couldn’t bring myself to un-do all of my work, so my gracious wife, sorted through the half a greenhouse full of casualties, emptied each cup and saved 75 or so plants that still had signs of life. They are in critical condition, but mayyyyyyyyyyy puull though.
I bought 5 yards of enriched topsoil from Suburban Lawn and Garde and am using this, peat moss, perlite, vermiculite and a smalllllllllllllll quantity of the sifted hot compost as my new mix. It’s a LOT heavier and not nearly as fluffy as the mix I’ve used for years, but I think it will work. Fingers crossed!
I have not mentioned the name of this company that sold me the un-composted compost…yet. I have been promised a refund for over two weeks, but still have not received my $375 back. For now, I can only recommend buying compost from Suburban Lawn and Garden to fill your garden beds this year.
Lesson learned…some things that seem like a value are not very valuable.