I hate that my first review of a product has to be negative. In fact, I'd been holding out on posting this because I wanted to first have a lab test the product. But I've gotten the results, and I have to say, Master Nursery brand's Bumper Crop Soil Builder is just not a product I will ever use again.
Here's the full review...
Where do I begin this epic saga of contaminated bagged soil and out of pocket soil testing costs?
I've been buying Master Nursery products for a while. Occasionally I'd noticed the odd piece of plastic pot mixed in with the bag, but I never questioned the overall quality of the product. I did notice there was quite a lot of not-fully-decomposed wood particles, but again, I didn't sweat it. At least not until now.
In October, I was refreshing my vegetable beds. I had some problems with root knot nematodes this past summer (you may recall this topic in a previous post). One of the common recommendations to prevent nematodes is to mix in more organic matter. My compost bin is pretty small so I didn't have enough homemade stuff to work into all my veggie beds. No biggie, I just decided to also buy some planting mix from my regular nursery.
Well I bought 5 giant bags of Master Nursery Bumper Crop and brought it home. I started mixing in the stuff when I began noticing lots of junk in my veggie beds. Junk like little bits of cloth, some wire, plastic film, hard plastic, chunks of painted wood, etc. Since I live in an urban area, I first assumed that this trash was stuff already in my yard that I was digging up, but there was just so much more trash than I was used to seeing. After I was almost done with my amending, I started to get a little suspicious and decided to pour out some of the planting mix into an empty wheelbarrow. I was HORRIFIED to find that the trash was actually coming from the bagged soil that I had purchased!!! This was NOT the forest humus that was promised on the label! Or if it was forest humus, it was from a forest growing on a landfill/e-waste facility.
I am a freak about keeping my vegetable garden organic and clean. I do not need to be adding garbage and paying for the privilege. Well, let's just say I was not going to let this one slide. I called the Master Nursery company several times. To their credit, they were very nice about the incident on the phone. They said the product is processed at the Kellogg plant, and they were going to contact them, and get to the bottom of this situation. Then they gave me five more bags of the same product to replace the tainted batch I got. While I appreciated the gesture, that didn't really help the fact that I'd already mixed four bags of the garbage humus into my vegetable plots. There is no way to undo that!
I had saved a couple samples of the last bag of garbage humus in my wheelbarrow, as well as picked out some of the choicer bits of trash from the bag (fabric, electrical wire, plastic, plastic, more plastic, painted wood chips, etc.). I gave a sample of the soil and the sample of the trash to the Master Nursery people to help them figure out what happened, and they promised they would test the sample to make sure there was no really toxic contaminant and send me the results. I was giving them the benefit of the doubt because they were being very nice. Well, for a while I heard nothing, so I pestered them. Then finally, they contacted me to say they never tested the soil and weren't going to. The people at Kellogg said that I hadn't saved enough of a sample. BULLSHIT. I saved exactly as much as I knew was required by the soil lab I normally use.
Well what I hadn't told them up to that point was that I had actually taken an extra sample of their tainted product and saved it. I had held onto it as collateral, but hadn't sent it to a lab yet because I was waiting for Kellogg/Master Nursery's results. So I paid for a lab test myself. It's not cheap, you know. I mean, I use a lab where the actual testing is really affordable, but it's in Massachusetts and shipping is not cheap. (By the way, I heart the University of Massachusetts Amherst soil testing lab big time.)
The images above and below are the results from this soil testing. In the end, there wasn't a ton of heavy metals, but there was a little bit of lead and chromium which is not cool. This testing does not include screening for contaminants like pesticides and hydrocarbons, so I don't know if those were present. But the craziest thing I learned from the soil test was that this "soil builder" has literally no Nitrogen at all. I mean not one iota of the most important nutrient for plants! And, on top of that, the pH of the soil builder is too high for most vegetables to grow well. So regardless of the trash, the product itself is poor quality and not at all good for your soil.
This test result totally corroborated what was already going on in my vegetable beds where I had used the product. My seedlings growing in the beds where this stuff was used are totally anemic compared to the vegetables planted at the same time in garden soil I amended with my own little bit of homemade compost I had.
This is why Master Nursery Bumper Crop is worse than poop. If I had bought bags of steer manure instead of this fancy mix, I would have gotten less trash, and more nutrients for sure. So sorry Master Nursery, you get the worst rating I can give: F-.
Epilogue: Though this particular tale involved only the Bumper Crop product, I've actually sworn off all Master Nursery and Kellogg products. From now on, I'm only going to amend my veggie plots with aged hay and organic fertilizer. As for potting mixes, I've switched to Fox Farm. Apparently, it is the soil of choice for weed farmers. And that's a recommendation I'm going to heed.