Where To Buy Compost – Tips For Finding The Good Stuff
There are a few important things you need to know about where to buy compost.
When possible, I encourage people to make their own compost, but I understand, sometimes it’s just easier to buy your compost.
So in this article, I’ll discuss the main types of compost and then I’ll share a whole list of tips for how to buy compost.
So let’s get into it…
Main Types of Compost
- “Regular” compost. Sometimes called thermo-compost or aerobic compost but mostly just called “compost,” it’s made with a diversity of ingredients mixed together in piles or long windrows. Those ingredients are broken down primarily by microorganisms.
- Worm compost (vermicompost). Similar to the above, but it’s worms that break down the ingredients (along with the bacteria inside their digestive systems). Neither regular or worm compost is inherently better than the other. They each can have their own slight advantages but much more important is the quality and diversity of materials being used and the quality of the whole process. In theory, it could be optimal to use a combination of both and I say go for it if you have the chance, but you’ll get most of the way there from just one good compost.
- Composted manure. As for quality, it depends entirely on what’s in it. If it were just animal poo that was left to compost on its own, it probably wouldn’t be particularly nutritious or biologically diverse, but if it’s mixed with straw and other materials, it becomes more and more like regular compost.
- Mushroom compost. It’s generally not great. Yes, it is organic matter, but 1) It’s probably been sterilized, killing the microorganisms, 2) The mushrooms that were grown on it took out a lot of the nutrients, and 3) If they were non-organic mushrooms, it may contain a fair amount of pesticide residue.
Basic Compost Buying Tips
- You can buy compost in bags, and that’s fine for a small garden or for container gardening, but I almost always go for bulk compost because it’s much less expensive and I usually want to bring in at least a cubic yard (3ft x 3ft x 3ft), which is 765 liters of compost – that would be a lot of bags!
- When buying compost, it should smell good, not like garbage. If it smells like ammonia, it’s not done.
- I shouldn’t have to say it, but it should not contain garbage. I once received a load of 15 yards of compost that was full of pieces of plastic, produced by a recycling company. I got my money back.
- When searching for where to buy compost, it should look and feel like dark, moist, fluffy soil. You may see some wood fragments in there but if you can still make out a lot of the raw materials, it’s not done. That stuff may work well as a mulch but it’s probably not a great compost.
- For the most part, we want our purchased compost to be 100% compost – not mixed with soil. There are cases when you may want to bring in compost + soil, like if you’re building a raised bed or changing the soil grade, but for the most part, you probably want only compost.
Advanced Compost Buying Tips
When I say “advanced,” what I really mean is that these steps take more effort and I understand most people won’t want to devote the time, but if you’re growing a lot of food, for example, it’s well worth it.
- Find out what they’re using for raw materials:
- You want some combination of leaves, grass clippings, plant trimmings, food scraps and manure.
- Ideally, you’d want these raw materials to be organic or at least pesticide-free but that can be impossible to find (one reason why making your own compost is even better). So yes, unless you manage to buy compost from an organic farmer, you’ll probably have to live with a bit of pesticide residue from the grass clippings, leaves and plant trimmings. A lot of that should be broken down by a good compost pile and the small amount that is left over should eventually be broken down in the soil.
- Preferably, you don’t want peat moss. It just doesn’t add much value and we need to leave peat blogs alone.
- You don’t want toxic waste, industrial sewage sludge (aka biosolids) or “inert” ingredients.
- You also don’t want tree bark to be the main ingredient because it’s not particularly nutritious and it contains compounds that can inhibit plant growth.
- Ask for test results. A chemical analysis will give you element levels (e.g. nitrogen, calcium) and a biological analysis will give you microbial levels (e.g. bacteria, fungi). Most compost producers won’t have this info, and even if they do, the truth is that the results probably vary quite dramatically with each batch of compost they make, but here’s the point: if you can find someone who will give this to you, it shows that they really care about making good compost and they care about showing this to you.
- Test it out yourself. If you have a few compost options, bring home a little of each and do some tests in containers or trays. To be most accurate, you’ll want to mix each compost option with the growing medium you’ll actually be using, like your garden soil. I won’t go into detail on this here but hopefully you understand what I’m proposing.
Where To Buy Compost
I can’t keep tabs on the thousands of independent compost producers around the U.S. and Canada, not to mention the rest of the world, so I can’t create a list of local composts.
But here are some basic tips:
- Garden centers. They often have compost in bulk and almost always have it in bags. For the bulk, they may allow you to bag your own for a good price, or they’ll deliver by the cubic yard.
- Topsoil/mulch suppliers. You may also find businesses in your area that just focus on selling topsoil, mulch, and compost in bulk.
- Big box stores (e.g. Home Depot, Lowes). They don’t usually have bulk compost but they will have bags. The prices are good but the compost generally isn’t.
- Craigslist (or similar, e.g. Kijiji in Canada). You may find compost here. I’ve also found composted horse manure (side note: I’ve also found straw bales that I used as mulch). If you don’t see any ads, you could post your own ad requesting horse manure. You may find horse manure that’s already been composted, but it’s also likely you’ll need to compost it yourself for a few months. Horse manure often comes already mixed with straw, so it’s basically ready to be composted as is.
- Amazon. You can buy bags of compost on Amazon. Again, bagged compost is expensive, but if you have a tiny garden or are growing in containers, it could be an option:
- For “regular” compost, there’s Charlie’s Compost at $18 for 10lbs. The ingredients are “chicken manure, corn stalks, straw, forest products, hay, clay, and beneficial microbe inoculants” and it’s “Certified Organic by the state of Kentucky.” I actually emailed them and they promptly sent me their Soil FoodWeb test results, which were impressive.
- For worm compost, I found Wiggle Worm Worm Compost ($31 for 30lbs) and VermisTerra Earthworm Castings ($20 for 10lbs). Both are certified organic and look good.
- Peaceful Valley.
- They have certified organic bagged compost for a relatively good price at $7 for 40 lbs (1 cubic foot) and they also sell it in bulk at the ridiculously high price of $259 for 2 cubic yards. They have a note that’s disconcerting, “this green waste compost may still contain small amounts of non-organic foreign objects (glass, metal, plastic, wood, etc),” but the label just says “composted yard trimmings” so I don’t think they’re actually composting construction waste (some companies do this – I’ve seen it).
First of all, pricing varies dramatically.
For bags of compost, you could pay anywhere between $0.30 and $20+ per 10lbs (0.2 cubic feet).
For bulk compost, you could pay $10-150+ per cubic yard (27 cubic feet).
But even with these wide ranges, if you do the math, buying compost by the cubic yard is waaaaay less expensive than buying it in bags.
For example, let’s say the average is $10 for 30 lbs of bagged compost (0.6 cubic feet) and $40 for 1 cubic yard of bulk compost (27 cubic feet). That’s about 45 times as much compost for just 4 times the price, i.e. 10X less expensive (you do still need to get the bulk compost to your home, but it’s still a big difference).
So as I’ve said, I go for bulk. And I don’t tend to go for the most expensive stuff because I’ve seen too many examples of it being not only average but inferior.
For example, when I lived out west, there was a product made with a lot of bark that sold for $75/yard and caused problems on a couple of my friends’ gardens.
I’ve usually been able to find something decent for $30-$40/yard in the places where I’ve lived.
Here’s an article where I show you how to use compost in your garden.
I’ve gone ahead and tried to make a COMPOST acronym to make all of this easier to remember. I need something for the “O”, though. Leave me a comment if you think of something!
* Complete. Raw materials should be mostly broken down.
* Only. Should buy straight compost, not mixed with soil.
* Materials. Avoid sludge, toxins, inert ingredients, and too much bark.
* Price. Should be $20-$40/yard in most places – not more unless there’s a good reason.
* O. ??
* Smell. It should smell good, not like garbage, ammonia, sulfur, or putrefied disgustingness.
* Touch. It should feel light, moist and alive.
How about “Organic. No chemical or synthetic fertilizers or other ingredients.”
I read one time to use the ADAM principle for composting:
A – aliveness – compost is a ‘living creature’ full of worms & healthy microbes
D – diversity – mix in a variety of ingredients: eg food scraps, dry leaves, fine woody mulch, grass, hair, herbs etc.
Diversity is the spice of life!
A – aeration – aerate your compost regularly
M -moisture – keep compost moist at all times
Yessir!! I was totally going to say that, or 02- it should smell nice & have plenty of air in the medium- nice n FLUFFY- not dreggy, swampy, stinky or chunky- nor dry, crunchy, sandy or clumpy. OR if you want to go further with it- Optimal-finished compost should have a nutritionally beneficial content, be ph neutral, etc. ideally aim for a varied mixture base. If you find a source that does provide all of the ideal characteristics, jump on it, if the price is within your budget, and then let me know where you got it from. But I still think orgsnic is the best option:)
hi , I am planning to grow mushroom on compost, where can find bulk compost to buy , and what kind of compost should i use ,
is there a special name for it
There’s no special name for it. I would check out local garden centers and landscaper suppliers and take notes on whatever you can learn about their composts, not only prices but what are the raw ingredients, how finished is it, etc. And I would buy a small amount of at least 3 of them and use them all to see which ones works best for you.
Phil, your straw mulch looks unlike any I’ve seen available. Exactly what is it, and do I have to find a farm to buy some?
That was wheat straw from a local, organic farmer. Other than the organic part, I’m not sure what would make particularly different from other grain mulches.
0 = Organic
The best and fastest way I have found to make compost is using the Bokashi Method. I have used it for two years with awesome results and even sell the Bokashi Bran to friends here in Georgia. Recycling all kitchen and garden wastes into fresh compost in 4 weeks is the best I have found yet.
I like it too because you can water your indoor plants with the weekly drainage during the process of making it. Plus, here in the winter months, it beats going out the the frozen compost pile, which by now is full.
Amen to that.
Hi Phil – Found your info here super helpful.
About the ‘O” … How about changing the “S” for “Smell to “O” for “Odor” and finding something else for the “S”? Might be easier to find an “S” word than one starting with an “O”!!
Just an idea!!
O for Origin, know where your compost comes from. You don’t need to buy bags of compost shipped from out of state.
I want to know if mushroom compost is a good idea. I have purchased it in the past and seen good results but I am a little skeptical. It is delivered “unfinished” and smells very strong. Is it ok to use or will it cause problems?
It depends where you get it, but it often has a lot of pesticide residue and excess calcium that was added to grow the mushrooms.
I vote “O” for Origin, too. My dad was a commercial mushroom grower. While steam pasteurization was part of the grow cycle, the amount of chemicals used in growing mushrooms back then was incredible. Probably hasn’t changed much. The name that better describes the stuff is “spent mushroom substrate”, and from what I remember it was high in salts and too “rich” (as my dad would call it) to use on seedlings or starting seeds.
I am glad that I came across your blog while I am learning to compost and plan on starting out my first organic balcony gardening…which I find it to be really challenging , since there are issues concerning only to balcony gardening which I really hope I am heading towards the right dirrection.I have also find info. on E.M. and Bokashi composting helpful for my apartment dwelling and gardening combo. But how should I use the end product of Bokashi comosting–the solid part, if I don’t have a place to bury it, and I will be using container gardening? Can I just bury it using container loading with potting soil? How much potting soil should I use to bury for a bin of Bokashi compost and for how long before I can turn them into something I can use to nourish my container gardening soil? Thanks for your advice!
Hi Faith, I think it would take awhile to break down in a container. You might want to get a small composter to put on your balcony, since it will take awhile to become compost.
Hello. Where can I buy organic compost in Brooklyn N.Y.
Sorry, no idea.
Long Island Compost Co. Check the net for retailers/dealers. It’s literally your neighbor.Bumper Crop is good too from The Coast of Maine. Most independent garden centers carry the product.
Any idea where to buy good organic compost in Mt. Bethel PA area?
What are your thoughts on Sea Soil?
It’s been a few years since I used it, but I don’t think it’s worth the price, and it’s great that they’re recycling those materials, but I’m not sure I want to be putting a lot of coniferous wood/bark (even if composted) into my soil. The compost used to be very deficient in calcium, too, when I used it. So that’s just my opinion, but some people like the stuff.
O – odour. Shouldn’t smell like garbage or ammonia
O for odor. That good earthy smell.
Forget that. Smell is already there. My bad.
Sooooo very much out of date, but what the heck…I was thinking ‘O’ for occupied by beneficial living critters.
Recycles 1 million cubic meters of waste wood processing enterprises. I have to run 100 thousand tons of compost from rotting sawdust. I am looking for a firstname.lastname@example.org
I live in Blanco Tx would like to find a composting farm. I have around 20+ acres Iwod like to compost so my wild flowers will thrive.
I am on Cape Cod. Can go anywhere in SE MA or RI to get compost. Need couple of yards. Do you know where I can find it?
Sorry, no. I don’t keep tabs on compost across the whole country. Would be a nice website for someone to create, though.
That’s a great idea to ask about the raw materials found in a compost. Even if you don’t know much about the materials you are told, you can look them up and find out how beneficial to the soil they will be. I think it would also be a good idea to look up a few ideas of what you should find in a compost before searching so that you don’t have to waste too much time looking it up later. Either way works, though!
Organisms for O… Compost should contain life.. bugs, worms and living organisms
I have a large bail of Peat Moss that has been sitting outside for a long time it has gotten wet and there is a lot of worms in it. What can I do with it. Can I spread it on my front Lawn.
Yes, as long as you don’t spread it thick on the lawn, it should be fine.
In Atlanta, sandy Springs area, do you know of any compost, preferably organic, sources? The only one I’ve found so far is Gwinnett super sod and they want $178/cubic yard. I am looking for I believe 8 to 10 (is it cubic yards or just yards ) to put two inches of compost on my existing raised beds.
Currently I three 20′ by 4′ beds and three 16′ x 5′
I do compost but can not produce enough for even one bed, and that’s not to mention the copperheads that think they have died and gone to copperhead heaven.
thank you for any assistance
Alas, I don’t keep tabs on all of the compost sources across the U.S., but $178 is indeed too much. Note, however, that although I also occasionally put 2″ down on a new bed, the recommendations from the composting gurus tend to suggest much less, like 1/4″ or even much less than that, so evidently a little is all you need.
Organic Compost Done (OCD)
That should work! Lol
Thank you for the information and the advice! I currently live with my mum until I graduate from college. I am trying to convince her to let me keep a compost pile. It pains me to just give yard scaps to the yard waste company. I will also start my garden this spring! I am so excited! I didnt want to spend a ton on just compost so thanks for letting us all know what price is right and how to guage it.
HELLO pHIL DO U KNOW A GOOD PRICE for COMPOST in my aREA?
Thanks for the good advice. My local municipality has “green waste” compost for $20 a cubic yard so it’s about what you’ve mentioned. I’ll see if they’ll let me check it out beforehand so I can make sure it’s not mostly bark. If it is, eh, might use it for mulch and just beg my family and friends for one of those worm hotel composters.
I have a compost bin in my backyard that I started and have been adding to for six months. It’s just our household and yard, adding veg scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, and mulched leaves. I turn it once a week (except during/after snows), but it doesn’t show much breaking down, there are still a lot of recognizeable veg bits in there. At what point should I stop adding new materials? Should I add something to it to aid in decomposition?
It may be that it’s still not big enough (at least 3ft x 3ft x 3ft) to facilitate breakdown. This may help you: https://www.smilinggardener.com/collection/making-compost/
O-obtainable. Or is that too Obvious?
Had to smile when I read this opening sentence, “I encourage people to compost themselves if possible”. I do a lot of composting, but not of myself…. But then, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/washington-first-state-allow-burial-method-human-composting-180972020/
There is a fairly new business spreading across the U.S., named GoZero, that collected food waste from restaurants and grocery stores, composts it and sells the compost to farmers & consumers. Unfortunately, their compost is around $200 per yard. But, it is good to see this technology coming into modern life. You can check them out at https://gozero.org/, to see if they are in your area.
Hi Phil, My husband is saying we can get compost from our town transfer station (where we go to take trash and people take leaves and other yard materials) for free. This does not seem like a good idea to me as we have no idea what has been put in that pile. Also I would not want to be introducing things like poison ivy into our yard. What are your thoughts on this?
It depends entirely on the raw materials and how good of a job they’re doing with the composting. If they do a good job, the poison ivy would be killed entirely. But there will probably be some pesticide residues, which can cause issues. Of course, it’s also an issue to have poor soil with no organic matter, so it makes for a tough decision. If you have a big garden, it’s worth taking a sample of the compost and sending it to a lab for testing but I understand that’s not feasible for most home gardeners. Alternatively, you could use it on a tiny portion of the bed for one growing season to see how the plants fair there before applying it elsewhere next year.
Hi Phil, I had recently had the thought of trying to start a compost program at my school. If it was sold cheaply, do you think people (in Chicago) would pay for compost that was made from non-organic food scraps? It would also have the extra bonus of going towards a local school… what would it take for you-as a general compost consumer- to buy this compost? How much do you think it would sell for?
Thanks for any help you can give
Yes, I’m sure people would buy it. As for how much they would pay, you could look at the other compost options in your area and price somewhere in that range.
Less than whatever the organic options in your area sell for, obviously. But it’s all related to your demographic& the market in your area:) great luck with that tho- I’ve had an amazing mon profit idea for my neck of the woods that I KNOW would be a greatly appreciated& valuable resource up here in the Sierra nv mtns- I just dunno whom to pitch it to. Maybe city hall? Good thinking& researching tho& good luck to you!
I want to ask is there a way to make good compost from biosolids. Do you think it’s possible? if not why?
If by biosolids you mean sewage sludge, yes, I believe it’s possible. You need to be able to deal with heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, pathogens, pesticides, etc. but if you have systems for these, it should be possible and indeed we need to continue working on this.