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Monday, September 5, 2016

Lobster compost and the peat-free future

This week I had the pleasure of meeting with the Holden Garden Club to give a talk about some easy and time-saving sustainable gardening approaches. Club president Robin Van Liew, a champion lily grower whose relaxed effectiveness I greatly admired, asked about a slide showing Coast of Maine’s Quoddy Blend Lobster Compost. 

I had raised this product as a possible alternative to homemade compost for making potting mix. In case you haven’t run across Coast of Maine at your garden center, here’s the lowdown.
    Coast of Maine Products is the kind of sustainable business that it feels good to support. The company is the brain child of Carlos Quijano, who settled in Camden, Maine and conceived the idea of selling compost made from discarded mussel shells. Since 1996 Coast of Maine has been using local waste material to make organic compost, potting soil and mulch.

    Maine already had a tradition of composting. In the 1980s, the state had formed the Maine Compost Team, bringing together specialists to help processors of salmon, wild blueberries and shellfish to set up successful composting programs. The Maine Compost School at the University of Maine teaches participants from around the world to make compost on a medium to large scale.

Maine Compost School

    I did some research to answer Robin’s question, what's lobster compost? On first thought, that sounds like spinning gold into straw. I learned that Coast of Maine uses lobster bodies and shells that are left over after processors cook the lobsters and remove the meat. In addition to organic material, lobster bodies in compost provide essential macronutrients for plants: calcium and nitrogen

The shells are high in calcium. Nitrogen is provided both by protein in the shells and by chitin, a long-chain polymer found in crustacean shells and insect exoskeletons. 

    Other local Maine components in the lobster compost are waste from blueberry harvesting--leaves, twigs and rejected berries. 

There’s also composted cow manure, sphagnum peat moss, and composted bark. Coast of Maine ships its bags of potting soil and mulch to independent garden centers along the East Coast.

    I love the black richness of Coast of Maine’s compost and potting soils. It’s also great that they’re relatively local products, made about 350 miles from my yard. My only complaint is that they still contain peat. We need to get past this in the United States. In Britain, non-peat garden products are already widely available. I wrote about why peat is not a sustainable product in my post of August 17, 2015

    In brief, peat forms too slowly to be harvested sustainably. 

A peat bog in Ontario. Peat forms at 1 millimeter per year

And because it sequesters carbon, using it for gardening means we’re chipping away at a major carbon sink. I prefer to replace peat with coir (coconut fiber) in my potting mix. It’s one little thing we can do to help slow climate change.

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