Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some answers to the most common questions we're asked about compost, using compost, and about our products and services. Click on any question below to start reading.
About Compost & Loam
About Using Compost
About Benson Farm Products
About Compost and Loam
Q: Why should I be using compost in my garden?
A: Compost is a soil amendment, which means that it improves the existing soil's structure and restores important nutrients to support healthy plant growth. Soil structure - the combination of inorganic particles (sand, silt, clay) with decayed organic particles (humus, compost) - is major factor in any garden. It determines what types of plants will grow, how well new plants will take root, how many nutrients plants will have access to, and how much moisture they will be able to absorb. Adding compost to your soil will "fix" issues of water, air, and nutrient retention in soils by binding to the existing particles to either add more substance to better capture water and nutrients (in soils that are predominantly sand) or break up hardened soil to allow it to better aerate and drain surface water (in soils that are predominantly clay). Compost also carries important nutrients (phosphorous, nitrogen, potassium) and micronutrients (nutrients needed in very small amounts, like manganese, copper, iron, zinc) to the soil. And because of compost's ability to attract microrganisms that continue to break down the material, it serves as a slow-release source of nutrients for plants over the season. It's pretty cool stuff! Head over to the University of Illinois Extension to learn more about how the process works.
Q: What's the difference between loam and compost?
A: Loam refers to a type of soil that is balanced. Technically, loam is soil that contains less than 52% sand, 28 - 50% silt, and 7 - 27% clay. Compost is added on top of or in addition to loam to give it extra nutrients and texture that help plants thrive. Benson Farm offers a blend of loam and our own Surf n Turf compost to build up plant beds or plant a lawn for the first time. This mixture gives plants both the support of a balanced soil structure as well as the added benefits of a boost of nutrients to kickstart growth and having a "sponge like" texture to help retain water. Our mixture is screened to a 1/2 inch to remove any rocks or debris, which makes the blend easier to rake and prepare than regular soil.
Q: What should quality compost look like?
A: Organic Gardening magazine recommends the “Touch, Look, Lift, Sniff” method. High quality compost should feel like loosened soil. It should be slightly dark in color, with little distinguishable evidence of what went into the compost, so that you can be confident that it's fully decomposed. When lifted, compost should feel slightly lighter and more airy than regular soil. Finally, compost should smell earthy! It should have absolutely no smell of ammonia or rot.
About Using Compost
Q: What should I use compost for?
A: Compost is used for a variety of gardening purposes. The most common uses include: house plants, lawns, trees & shrubs, flower beds, bulb plantings, vegetable beds, potted plants/container plantings. Talk to our friends at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Master Gardening Program for recommendations on how to best use compost.
Q: How much compost do I need to order for my garden?
A: You'll want roughly 2-3” of compost per square foot, and about 8” of Super Soil for starting a raised bed. This nifty calculator can help you refine your estimate!
Q: Can I plant directly into compost?
A: We recommend using a 50-50 blend of compost and soil to give your plants, raised beds, or new lawns the best start. If you choose to plant directly in compost, be sure not to overwater. Our Surf n Turf compost acts like a sponge, and retains water much longer than soil will. If you water your seeds or new plant too frequently in straight compost, you run the risk of drowning them. For further information, contact the Maine Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program at 207-780-4205.
Q: Will using too much compost burn my plants?
A: No. Burnt plants - plants that turn brown after being too-heavily fertilized - result from using either a chemical fertilizer or a compost that hasn't reached maturity. When compost is applied to gardens before reaching maturity, the organisms that break down matter in the compost compete with plants for nitrogen as they continue to do their work, leaving plants to wither, turn yellow, or die. Our compost is analyzed every year by Woods End Laboratories. We use a Solvita test, which tests the compost sample for maturity. Each year since we started testing, our process has yeilded very mature compost that will not burn.
Q: Is it possible to use too much compost?
A: No - in fact, continuous use of compost builds up your soil's resevoir of plant nutrients and maintains its population of "decomposers" (read more about this process from MOFGA). However, while it's not possible to harm your plants by adding too much compost, it is possible for run-off from excessive use of fertilizer to contribute to phosphorous pollution in nearby bodies of water. Be sure to have your soil tested if phosphorous pollution is a concern.
About Benson Farm Products and Services
Q: Do you use biosolids? Leaf and yard waste?
A: No, we don't use either. Not all commercial pesticide and herbicide residuals will break down in the composting process. In particular, there are many chemicals in sewage sludge - including household cleaners and pharmaceuticals - that run the risk of damaging gardens and crops, making it unsuitable for high-quality compost products.
Q: Why do you use seafood waste?
A: We're glad you asked! We take in sea waste for two reasons. First, sea waste adds diversity to our mixture, and the more diverse the components of the compost are, typically the more nutrients are available to the plants that use it. Lobster and other crustacean waste are especially important because their shells contain a protein called chitin, which has antimicrobial properties that prevent certain plant diseases. Second, we use sea waste because we believe in composting as a sustainable waste management process for our community. In the early 2000's, the Department of Environmental Protection passed a law that prohibited fishermen and fish processors from dumping fish waste back into the ocean, in a successful effort to preserve the ocean ecosystem. As a result, processors in Maine had limited options for waste disposal, and the majority of the waste was sent to landfills. We decided at that point to expand our operation to incorporate sea waste, repurposing it into a product that's part of making our community a more sustainable place to work and live.
Q: Are you MOFGA approved?
A: We are approved for use on certified organic crops.
Q: Are the waste sources you take in organic?
A: Not all of them are certified as organic. We are committed to recycling waste streams from local businesses to promote sustainable waste management practices, and most of these businesses (and homes) are not 100% organic. But, because nearly all non-organic compounds are broken down in the high temperatures of the composting process, and because we're selective about our input sources, our products are approved for use on certified organic crops by Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association (MOFGA).
Q: How far do you deliver?
A: We deliver up to 30 miles away from the farm. Our delivery fee is based on the amount of time the delivery takes.