This compost will destroy your garden!

GrazonDamageAminopyralids5

I’ve written many times on Aminopyralid contamination in compost, on herbicides in manure and on the danger of bringing amendments from outside on to your property. Unfortunately, Karen Land didn’t find out about me until it was too late. After posting a heartfelt YouTube video (subscribe to Karen’s gardening channel here) on her ruined plots of tomatoes, Karen discovered a video I’d done and contacted me personally about the issue. After hearing her terrible story of killer compost, I asked Karen if she would share her story here. This is a serious problem and I don’t want any of you to go through what she went through or what I went through a few years back.

-David The Good

Karen’s Story

 

Karen Land got hit by aminopyralid

Karen Land

Many of us have heard the term “herbicide drift.”  Some of us have experienced it.

Herbicide drift is when a neighbor or nearby farm sprays an herbicide like Round-Up or 2,4-D on a breezy day, and some of that herbicide gets picked up by the wind and lands on someone else’s innocent plants. The result is herbicide injury, which can cause deformed leaves and even death of the plant.

Not cool.

There’s something even less cool lurking in our midst.

Unfortunately, most people have never heard of it. This thing that’s even less cool than herbicide drift is compost contamination. Specifically, herbicide contamination of compost.

This just happened to me, and I’m not happy about it.

My main garden consists of six 4×24-foot raised beds. This year, I needed to raise the soil level about 4-5 inches, so I ordered 7 yards of compost from a local supplier and had it delivered to my house.
My awesome neighbor then spent hours moving it, tractor scoop by tractor scoop, from the front of the property to the back, and into my raised beds.  The next day, my husband tilled the new compost in with my existing soil.  It was a beautiful sight!!

Contaminated-compost-Aminopyralid-Karen-Land

A few days later, I began planting out my tomatoes (which I’d been growing from seed in my house since January).

Tomatoes-ready-for-planting

I got about 20 plants in the ground and for the first week or so, everything was fine.

After a week or so though, I noticed some slight distortion on the new growth on the plants. I tried to ignore it and pretend I didn’t see it, but that became increasingly impossible.

Contaminated-compost-aminopyralid-effect-on-tomatoesSo I began researching and Googling every tomato virus I could think of, and comparing hundreds of images to my plants’ new “look.” I finally decided my plants had sadly suffered herbicide injury from herbicide drift. But because my knowledge of herbicide names was limited to Round-Up and 2,4-D, I spent another few days trying to decide which of the two was the culprit, and finally decided it was 2,4-D.

In this midst of my obsessive researching, I was also continuing to plant out my other tomato plants. About 50 more plants went in.

(Can I rewind my life at this point?)

Unbelievably, after about two weeks, every single plant had the same deformed new growth.  And I was pretty much freaking out.

Here are some of the possibilities I contemplated during that time:

Tomato Mosaic Virus

TMV causes new growth to come out deformed and curled up beyond recognition (that symptom, by the way, is impossible to differentiate from 2,4-D damage).  Check!  However, TMV also causes other symptoms, like, you guessed it, a mosaic pattern on the leaves.  I don’t have this on a single plant.  Moving on.

Nitrogen Toxicity

With nitrogen toxicity, while you may have some burnt leaf edges and that sort of thing, you’ll also have a massive blast of new growth.  My plants are completely stunted.  Not that.  Moving on again.

Some Other Virus Spread by Bugs

I will begrudgingly say this is “technically” possible, but with viruses that need to be spread by a bug (in other words, not a virus that can spread by contact or soil splash), it’s not very likely that all 70 of my tomato plants would simultaneously fall victim to such a disease.

The Answer Appears

At this point, I’d done as many different Google searches, rearranging words and phrases as many different ways as I could think of, but I still really didn’t feel I had a definitive answer.

Leaning toward 2,4-D, I finally called on my local extension office to get their take on the situation.

I told them the whole story and sent in pictures. Within minutes, I received an email telling me it was definitely herbicide injury, but not from 2,4-D. Instead, they blamed it on a word I’d never heard before: Aminopyralid.

I wish I could go back to never having heard this word.

What is Aminopyralid?

 

Aminopyralid is a broad leaf herbicide. David the Good goes into this issue in multiple posts on this site.

In a nutshell, if it’s sprayed where livestock grazes, the manure from said animals is not to be used as compost.

Why?

Because the herbicide goes straight through the animal and into their poop. It doesn’t break down or deactivate at all. So it goes into the poop, and there it stays for years. Yes, even in aged, fully composted manure.

St_Petersburg_Garden_SquashSidebar: Not all plants will show signs of aminopyralid damage.

 Plants like squashes and cucumbers will likely appear just fine.

 My tomatoes and potatoes were the canaries in the coal mine. The sacrificial lambs. If I hadn’t planted them in that compost, and only planted less sensitive plants, I would be feeding all of that poisoned food to my family.

 So, in a bittersweet way, I’m grateful I put my beloved tomatoes in first.

So let’s say you’re lucky enough to be BFFs with a super cool farmer who you KNOW doesn’t spray herbicides on their pastures or fields, and he’s offering to give you composted manure for your garden.

Think you’re safe? Think again.

Unless your BFF farmer friend is BFFs with his hay supplier and knows for an absolute FACT that that hay was never treated, you’re really not safe. And, even if your BFF farmer friend is super great and never sprays herbicides, and knows for an absolute FACT that his BFF hay supplier doesn’t treat their hay, what if you super cool BFF farmer friend lets his cows graze all the way down to the ditch on his property, where herbicide has been carried down to from the not-so-cool farmer next door who sprays herbicides?

Guess what you have… herbicide laden manure.

So what’s the answer?

 

Compost_960I have no flipping idea.

Oh wait, yes I do. Read David’s book  Compost Everything and stop buying compost from outside sources.

One last little shove of info for those still skeptical that this was herbicide-contaminated compost.

Remember my initial theory of herbicide drift?

Well, guess what: my potatoes have the exact same deformed new growth.

Here’s the kicker . . . my potatoes are nowhere near the tomato beds. In fact, the potatoes are on our deck in pots, about 50 feet from the tomato beds, and are among a myriad of other sensitive nightshade plants (tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos), and none of those plants have any issue.

(Ed. note: look at how Karen’s potatoes exhibit the same deformed growth as the tomatoes pictured above):

Contaminated-compost-aminopyralid-effect-on-potatoes

Herbicide drift would not come onto my property, only land on the tomatoes, ignore the cucumbers that are four feet away, then hang a left and make a beeline for my deck, but then ONLY drop into my potato pots and spare every other plant.

How could this be, you ask?

Because the potatoes are the only thing on the deck that were planted in the same compost as the tomatoes.

So this probably isn’t the most uplifting story you’ve read today. But don’t worry.  I haven’t wasted this enormous learning opportunity. I’ve not only learned about this herbicide and how to avoid it, but I’ve also learned how to improvise and grow in containers.

On three-quarters of an acre, there aren’t many reasons to learn how to in containers, but now I am! I had a few pots of tomatoes that hadn’t yet gone into the raised beds, so I potted them up!

I’m also growing peppers, rat’s tail radishes, bush and pole beans, lettuce, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, and a few different squashes… all in containers!

It is my dearest hope that my story will help you avoid having this issue yourself, and to show you that, even when really bad things happen in the garden, you can always plant another seed somewhere.  Soldier on and keep growing.

~Karen Land of Love Your Land

 

Karen is an accomplished gardener and highly knowledgeable on a wide range of horticultural topics. Despite her catastrophic encounter with aminopyralid she isn’t giving up. Subscribe to Karen’s YouTube channel here and visit her Facebook group here.

Get my FREE booklet Stretch & Grow Your Compost – click here to subscribe to the newsletter!

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48 comments

  • Also be aware that some of the pine straw balers spray weed killers in the planted pine acreage. I wasn’t aware of this and was going to use pine straw rather than hay for mulch.

  • Gail--Infinite Possibilities

    Hi David
    thank you for sharing about THis again. It’s important for us to keep educating each other about what is happening in the world.

    Here is a question. What about as far as bringing straw bales for home building onto the land. Where to store them until they are stacked into the framework? DO we cover the ground where they will be sitting before being used?

    just some thoughts…

  • So this is probably a loaded question(s), but how long does this Aminopyralid last? Does it break down at all? I have watched a couple of Youtubes telling me that the roundup products are lasting 7-10 YEARS in the soils they have been applied to (monoculture) fields. How do we test for this in the soils? Is there soils testing that can be done by the local/county Ag Center to identify these poisons? I ask this because we are currently looking to relocate to a more rural area and I know that the folks who currently own one of the places we are looking at have a tractor and sprayer system. I’m assuming that they are using it on their hay fields/pastures as the property is mostly pasture/hay. How do we keep from buying contaminated lands?

    • most soil test do not test for herbicides. These tests are for individual chemicals and each one must be tested.. so it gets pricey. Much land has been contamidated. Woods End Lab in Maine does extensive testing and could probably answer your questions

      • Thanks for the reply Sharon; I/we will have to add soils testing into inspection process for any offer on property(ies). So sad that this is what Big Agra/all the chemical companies, Biotech, & unaware landowners looking at only $$$ have done to our lands and food supplies. But I see unaware landowners as a plus for Big Agra, et al., as they only tout the plusses to their products, not the side effects lasting generations. I understand that everyone needs to make a living, and one never knows when the next “bust” year is going to be, but there must be some kind of accountability/reverse-ability with this kind of technology, IMHO. Maybe I am just naïve to think we should be able to grow our own clean foods. Thanks for the heads-up for Woods End Labs.

    • The testing for herbicides is usually quite expensive. After a few years of rest, the land should be safe; however, I wouldn’t garden anywhere I knew had been sprayed for a while. Graze some animals on it, mow it, even till it and plant a cover crop… and wait.

      Growing clean foods is basically impossible now but at least we can do our best.

  • Hi David – I read your book – but without access to a woodchipper to chip up whatever I can collect from a truck haul of leaves and logs from an unmanaged piece of land, I’m not sure what else to do – I don’t have enough food scraps or land to ‘grow’ extra compost. What about the compost from the organic mushrooms at Monteray? Just use the diluted barrel method and be satisfied I can’t do lasagna gardening? Thanks for your time.

    • There are a couple of options. You could bury larger chunks of wood in hugelkultur mounds or let them pile up and rot down into good stuff over a longer period. And you could also do as you suggested and go with the barrel method I recommend in the book. Also, fall leaves are your friend! Gather them and pile up where you wish to plant the next spring’s gardens. Most of my growing is now on double-dug beds with diluted anaerobic compost tea as the main source of fertility.

      • Hi,
        I live in Central Florida and we don’t have much for far leaves. Not much is near us that I can get anything that would be organic to ammend the soil. I have a compost pile going, but I’m not good with that and I won’t have enough to add.

  • This is very scary. I’ve been making my own compost but it certainly doesn’t make enough to prepare all the beds I want for fall. What about mushroom dirt from a local source? Do you think that’s safe since I believe only mushrooms grow in it?

    • I wouldn’t trust it as mushrooms often thrive in contaminants that would kill plants.

      In the book I share how you can rarely make “enough” compost. Stretching it by making homemade compost tea is probably the next best option.

  • Around here you can buy organic mushroom soil but they do add about 10% commercial chicken manures in the mix with the horse manure and I am not sure if the horses were beeded in straw that was organic . It is almost impossible to find ANY organic straw and the organic regulation probably allow non organic straw to be used as bedding because they do allow CAFO manures used on organic farms and in fertilizers . I make my own compost but use my horses manure AND am careful about what is used. If you get free horse manure you have to see what they are bedded with What medications are used as well as IF herbicides are used on the hay . I do not think Roundup persists though.. from what I have read other herbicides can pass through an animals digestive system and persist in the manure as well as soil for years . I used to have a list of what they were . I don’t buy anything that has any herbicides on it.

    • I’ll bet it’s a risk. The farmer that sold me the contaminated manure that wiped out my own gardens had no idea that the hay was going to be eaten and passed on through into garden-killing manure. And you’re right – you could also be bringing in antibiotics and other things that cause soil damage in the garden. Very frustrating all around. I used to scrounge for every bit of organic matter I could gather and drag it home for my gardens and compost piles. Aminopyralid changed all that.

    • My uncle spread horse manure on our 4-5 acres of garden years ago, we had the best weeds in the country! Horsed eat anything, and they are not like cows with 4 stomaches. Cows chew, digest, chew, digest in a separate stomach, chew, etc… they grind the seeds to pulp in the process. Horses swallow whole, and the seeds come out coated in fertilizer in the end, not any good for fertilizing a garden. I am not sure if it was composted if you could use it safely, I would not want to risk it again.

      • Donna Mattingly

        The very BEST garden I have ever had was 3 year composted Horse manure
        mixed with sawdust that was in their stalls. I am 81 now and gardened for years
        and that stuff was the best ever. Sad that they are no longer there. Then I bought
        commercial compost and started having problems. Tomatoes and potatoes
        were the worst ever, non-producing for both, where before I had 2 lb or larger
        tomatoes and 1/2/ bushel of spuds under each plant. Donna

      • It definitely needs some composting. Sounds like Donna did it right. Otherwise, man alive – it is full of weeds.

  • This is just terrible news. I certainly appreciate Karen sharing her experience with us.

  • This is exactly what happened to us and I didn’t understand until my husband recently read something you had written in the past and I just read the Compost Everything book. Our garden would grow ok for Florida sand but no great; so then we’d say, “next year we’ll get some animal manure and mix in more of the chicken hay and manure.” So we then would, and the garden would be pretty miserable and we’d blame it on Florida. So I would wonder, how did people used to live in Florida if it was so hard to garden (we had the $54 tomato), and so we would try again. Because we were always trying new things in different parts of our yard our results were inconsistent. This year, though, our hay for the chicken bedding came from a different store, Rural King. We put it around our tomatoes that were growing in a Walmart bag, and ta-da…I rushed to my larvae bin and started pulling out the little bit of hay I had just dropped on the top. I’m so glad we know now. Thanks so much. I’m going to start again, since I can, cause this is Florida.

    I wish I had known you were going to be in Gainesville. : ( What was the name of the nursery so I can check it out because I go up there a lot. (We live in Crystal River.)

  • Just found the site. Very good to know, and I think a friend of mine has an issue similar to this. will definitely remember this for the future.

    one thing I would like to point out is your Amazon store widget in the sidebar is showing up 2, 4-D as a sales item. I am sure you have that widget just pulling based on the content of the post, but thought you should know about that. That crap is nasty, and obviously, not something I think you would be wanting to promote.

    thanks.
    -bryan
    ps. I found you from your post in the permies forum. definitely will check out more of your site now.

    • That stupid Amazon widget is getting canned! I like it when it recommends gardening books, which it normally does, but definitely don’t want it selling pesticides. Thank you for the heads up – and thanks a bunch for stopping by.

  • Additionally, if the compost was found to be ‘ok’. Did you ‘harden’ the plants before you planted them? What this means, if you’re not aware, is that seeds started inside, must be moved outside while still in their starters for a few days to a week. This hardens them to the environment. You will lose almost all of your seedlings if you don’t harden them first.

  • If there are non-organic vegetable scraps in the compost pile that could be a contributing factor. Forty different -cides are used to produce potatoes, for example. Manure from commercial operations contain many different inorganic chemicals, also mushroom compost nearly wiped out our community garden one year because of what was not broken down in the medium. Contaminated compost tea can be toxic, because water dissolves the salts in animal waste.

  • OK, I have 2 large pots on my 2nd story deck, one with a languishing tomato with deformed curled leaves, and one with equally languishing sweet peas. I have been fertilizing them with a liquid fish and seaweed-based fertilizer. The soil is a combo of my own compost, my own worm castings, some bagged potting soil, and coir that came in a block. Could the coir have been treated? My compost system is not “closed”, as I compost scraps from grocery produce (coffee grounds, avocado peels, etc.) as well as the organic and homegrown stuff, plus yard waste. Any thoughts?

  • OK, I have two large pots on my back deck; one with a languishing tomato plant with deformed curled leaves as shown above, and one with non- thriving sweet peas.

    I don’t use pesticides or herbicides. The soil in the pots is a mix of coir, my own compost, my own worm castings, and some bagged potting soil. I have been fertilizing with an organic fish and seaweed liquid fertilizer. The plants (including one tomato) that I have in the ground 20 feet away are doing well. I did amend those with compost and worm castings, and some Espoma granular fertilizer.

    Could the coir be possibly treated with herbicide? Any thoughts as to possible contamination sources?

  • Sorry about the repeat question, I didn’t see the “awaiting moderation” message!

  • this happened yrs ago to my Mother-in-law’s african violets. she was constantly starting new plants and giving away. then I asked her to repot some of mine that were outgrowing their pots and needed more soil. we bought a bag of violet dirt and all died. she would not believe me that it was probably the dirt-of course she believed if you bought it from the store it had to be great. she always thought I was crazy growing organic veggies.

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  • I just found this in a local gardening magazine:
    The-Ag-Mag, May 2016, p. 18-19′ “Manure Destroyed My Gardens” by David The Good.
    I can’t forward the website from my pad, but it is worth the trouble finding it. About ‘aminopyralid’.

  • This is just a thought, tell me what you guys think… I know carrots are used to pull impurities from the field, so I buy organic carrots, knowing they may not even be 100%, but better. Say we get some bad manure/compost, can we plant a crop or two of carrots (to give to horse/rabbit farm) and help to pull out the toxins? Or do we just move the dirt and start over?

  • So if I use my kitchen scraps for compost and knowing that I bought my fruits and vegetables to make those kitchen scraps (peels etc.) at the local supermarket (which is NOT organic in this scenario) or, in my case, at the local 3rd world outdoor farmer’s market (very likely heavily used unregulated pesticide use), you’re saying I am contaminating my future garden produce and my family who eats it?

    • Unfortunately, you will end up with some of that pesticide in your garden. The composting process is usually quite good at reducing and making inert quite a few toxins; however, it’s not perfect.

      The best idea (in my opinion) would be to plant extra plants just to use for making your own compost. Or make compost tea, like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZquKZ6EVEY

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  • David, how far “down the chain” should we worry about? I purchase rabbit pellets and chicken feed pellets. What concern should I have in using the manure from these animals in my plants? I have absolutely no idea what & from where the feed comes from!

    • David The Good

      The rabbit pellets may be alfalfa-based, which would make them safe from aminopyralids. Chicken feed should be okay as well. It’s any grass-based feed, hay or straw that is the concern.

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  • grow and cut your own hay with hedgecutters

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