The story behind how we make Quoddy Lobster Compost at Coast of Maine is truly fascinating! We don’t know of any other compost produced with such high quality residuals and careful attention to the composting process.
In this article, I share our special recipe and teach you a little about the steps for making great compost. Keep in mind that we work on a commercial scale and many of the techniques we use are not suitable or practical for home gardeners.
First, let’s talk about why we use lobster bodies to make compost: During the evolution of our company, we’ve composted many different residuals from the Maine agriculture, forestry and seafood industries. Early on, we started hearing back from our gardening customers about the amazing results they were getting when they amended their gardens with lobster compost. As we learned more, we discovered that the composted lobster shells imbue the end product with lots of calcium, which is a key plant nutrient, especially for vegetables. Basic soil testing revealed a pH averaging 6.8, which helps sweeten soils which tend to be acid. Then, microscopic analysis conducted by the Soil Food Web, showed that lobster compost is extremely high in biological diversity and activity……. It is basically energized with life!
So, we know we have the most unique and effective gardening compost on the market. Now I’m going to share with you how we make it.
First, the ingredients:
The lobsters: We receive our lobster shells by the truckload from local processors who cook the shellfish and remove the meat for freezing and canning. These shells contain considerable nitrogen in the residual protein. The chitin-rich shells also provide food for microbes in the composting process.
Blueberry brush: We receive the leaves, twigs and culled blueberries from local Maine blueberry harvesters.
Wood fiber: We buy in very specific wood shavings and sawdust. It’s important that we use wood from the right trees and in the right blend of textures.
Second, setting up the row:
When the lobster shells arrive, they are promptly blended with the wood fiber. The ratio of carbon (blueberry brush and wood fiber) to nitrogen (lobster shells and protein) is about 25:1. It takes a lot of carbon! We pay for our wood shavings and sawdust. We could use leaf and yard waste for free, but the end product could not be approved for organic growers because there is no way to effectively monitor contaminants. Buying clean shavings and sawdust assures a clean compost end product.
Then, once the start pile is large enough, it is moved and formed into a windrow, which is a straight pile about 12’ wide, 6’ tall and several hundred feet long.
Third, let the composting begin!
We own what is essentially a giant roto-tiller, called a Scarab, which is used to “turn” the windrow. The Scarab, chops, fluffs and aerates the pile as it passes through. After the first turn with the Scarab, the pile will start to heat up from all the biological activity of the microbes having a feast. Our composting guru monitors the pile with three-foot-long temperature probes that indicate how conditions are progressing in the pile. The temperature should be in the 131 – 150 F range when the pile is “cooking”. The high temperature is important for promoting the good microbes and killing any pathogens and weed seeds. The composting process is a relay race of microbes each working on their specific decomposition task. Once their food source is used up they go dormant or are eaten by the next microbe. Through time, the diversity of the pile increases and larger, more complex creatures start to appear and eat their food and do their decomposition work.
Dropping temperatures usually indicate the biology is short on oxygen. The temperature is how our chief composter determines when the pile should be turned with the Scarab. After 4 to 6 months, and when the temperature stays low and stable, the pile is considered finished. The windrow is then moved to a curing pile to rest for an additional 3 months or more before it is finally time to go into the beautiful green Quoddy Lobster Compost bag.
As you can see, we make our Lobster Compost using art, science and great Maine ingredients and ingenuity. The end product is dark, rich, has an earthy fragrance and is rich in plant available minerals and nutrients.
Written By: Pete Bottomley
Updated by: Felicia Newman