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If you want to do something for the environment and also improve your gardening environment next spring, read on. One Cache Valley company has your interest at heart as it recycles what are often considered waste products into soil amendments or into growing mixes for your plants.
Miller Companies LC is in the soil-blending, soil-amendment, composting and mulch business that works with rock and other mulches. Its location in Hyrum, Cache County, comes from the fact that the company owner, Jr. Miller, started a very successful meat packing plant there many years ago.
Miller and others became concerned about the amount of manure being generated. They realized that it was a valuable resource that would help improve garden soils throughout the state if handled correctly, so they sought a solution.
Touring their facility is a unique experience, as you walk among piles of this and piles of manure. Each component has a specific purpose with each soil mix. There is a recipe to get just the right blend for a specific crop or a specific soil improvement need.
Miller hired Floyd Faucette a year after starting his company to help him with this process. Faucette's expertise was gained from years in the landscape products business in Colorado and Wisconsin, and he is committed to creating products that help grow better gardens.
"Soil improvement is many times as simple as adding organics to blend with the soil," said Faucette. "I would recommend a soil test to determine the pH and the salinity of your soil so you will know where to start," Faucette explains.
"We would like to have a neutral pH and a low salt level. If we know where a soil is, we can then make the right choice of what we are going to add so we do not add more salt or raise the pH."
He emphasizes that gardeners need to know their soil. "Look at your soil, and determine if you have a clay soil or a sandy soil, because they are treated differently.
"If you have a clay-type soil, avoid peat-based products that absorb the moisture like the clay does. You need to add a coarse amendment because aeration and drainage are key factors for a good, healthy soil.
"Products that we add to this soil include steer compost, poultry compost and soil prep products. If your soil salt level is high, look at the soil prep products that come from the byproducts of the lumber industry. Bark-based products are low in salinity and help lower soil pH.
"With a sandy soil, you generally want to add those products that increase both the water- and nutrient-holding capacity. For these soils, we recommend our premium organic compost, which is fine-screened compost that is a mixture of black peat, forest humus and other products.
"Each component of these mixtures serves a specific function and helps make your garden grow better. While manure-based products are not the best product for every need, they have higher N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) content than plant-based compost materials."
While the soil improvement aspects of composting are well-known, Faucette also is glad that their recycling is helping the environment in other ways. Most of what they use is byproducts of another industry that they recycle and use.
"With our recycling, we are dealing with water quality and other environmental concerns. We are trying to keep phosphorus out of the water," he says.
"When we compost, we need a carbon source. We were using straw with the undigested hay and grass from the packing plant, but we switched to ground wood. We take the waste from truss plants, pallet plants and other sources and run that through our screener.
"The fine material goes into our compost products. The coarse material goes into another area, and we add a biodegradable dye and then use that as mulch. We also get tree bark from the lumber mills. Just a few years ago, this was burned, which added to the carbon in the air. Now, we use it as a soil conditioner with the larger chunks going into ground-cover mulch."
His final comments were about the grow box mix that they have formulated for those who are trying to grow in containers or beds.
"We found a need for a product specifically for those who want to grow above ground. We tried the traditional 1/3 peat, 1/3 compost and 1/3 vermiculite but could not get the pH/salinity balance we needed. We changed and used perlite instead of vermiculite and reduced the peat moss.
"We replaced part of the peat with coconut coir (the husk material of the coconut). That helps retain the moisture, which is so important for those above-ground boxes. That makes a good starting point, but we add Millers A-Z Plant Food with slow-release fertilizer."
That makes their mix ready to go and ready to grow. You as a consumer do not have to add anything but the pot, the plants and the water.
Soil really does make a difference. Learn about yours and learn how to improve it. No matter what your soil is like, Miller's likely has the amendments to improve it.
Miller products are available at many local nursery outlets and available in bulk at select locations.
Written by: Larry A. Sagers Extension Horticulture Specialist Utah State University Thanksgiving Point Office