Answers to common questions about EARTHCO PREMIUM SOILS INC., Premium Organic Soil Mixes, Mulches, Blueberry Compost & Landscape Gravels

HOW MAY WE HELP?

Answers to various questions we have been asked over the years. Some are specific to Earthco others are relative to our industry in general. We only answer questions we feel we have experience with. You may wish to ask other manufacturers similar questions.

About EARTHCO

How can Earthco produce high quality products at competitive or lower prices than their competitors?

Earthco is a manufacturer not a reseller. This is extremely important when considering quality and price.

  • Being a manufacturer allows Earthco to invest in highly quality efficient equipment.
  • Size is important to streamline production and allocate equipment.
  • Our employees are capable of multi-tasking.
  • Quality and differentiating Earthco from our competition have been our priority.
  • Controlling our supply chain. Earthco owns sand pits which is critical for a soil manufacturer. Earthco is one of the largest purchasers in Nova Scotia of quality bark and sawmill cutoffs. Earthco also processes and cures blueberry compost, a high-end amendment, which we use in our triple mix garden soil.
  • Earthco has a 90-acre site in Rawdon where we stockpile and process wood for coloured mulch, cure our bark mulch, cure our compost including blueberry compost and excavate the sand for our soil production.
  • Resellers and small manufacturers do not have these capabilities.
How do you ensure quality?

We seek out the best sources of raw product that are close by to reduce costs or where we can have a strategic alliance which benefits both parties. We endeavor to be their biggest single customer or one of the biggest. Where we can we take all their product or as much as we can, and we ensure we honour our agreements and pay our sources promptly.

This helps us be a low-cost producer and have the best raw products for manufacturing and processing our soil mixes, mulches, and compost.

To complete the circle, we ensure our employees know Earthco is 100% committed to quality. From day one new employees are told that Earthco's success has been built on quality. Quality is constantly reinforced. Quality allows us to pay our employees well and take pride in their workmanship.

It is not uncommon for a new employee, after extensive coaching, to have difficulty because of wet or windy conditions when making garden soil or screening blueberry compost. It is a shock to them to have an owner point out what is not acceptable about the product they are making, inform them of how this can be prevented and then ask them to re-screen the many truckloads of product again. Generally, the employee will comment we never did that where he previously worked.

  • The key to Earthco's success is differentiating itself from the competition with quality products and quality raw materials. We have always done business differently.
  • Earthco developed and grew the market for blueberry compost which is acknowledged by homeowners and contractor as the compost of preference for triple mix garden soil. Most of the community gardens in HRM use our blueberry compost and triple mix garden soil.
  • Earthco grinds kiln dried lumber to make its coloured mulch. Kiln dried lumber holds the dye much better than green wood chips. Ground wood also nets together and does not wash out in heavy rain like wood chips do. Most of our competition use wood chips.
How much material do you have?

It depends on the product. Earthco is one of the largest manufactures and processors in Nova Scotia of soil mixes, bark mulch, coloured mulch and high-end compost.

For base products in the manufacturing of soil mixes we have enough sand to last us for many decades. We are one of the largest purchasers in Nova Scotia for bark and cut off lumber from sawmills for our bark mulch and coloured mulch. Earthco is the largest processor of high-end compost in Nova Scotia.

Can I pick up the material myself?
How large of a load can you deliver?

That depends on the product and size of truck or trailer we use. We have:

  • A small dump truck for homeowners ordering up to 5 cubic yards of soil and 8 or 9 cubic yards of mulch or compost.
  • We have a tandem dump truck that can haul up to 16 cubic yards of soil and 18 to 20 cubic yards of bark mulch and coloured mulch.
  • We have a 27-foot tandem trailer that can haul up to 24 to 26 cubic yards of soil and 30 cubic yards of bark mulch and coloured mulch.
  • We have 37-foot-high side tridem trailers that can haul up to 65 cubic yards of bark mulch and coloured mulch to wholesalers/resellers within 100 kilometers from Halifax.
  • We have a 54-foot quad axle, high cube conveyor floor trailer capable of carrying up to 120 cubic yards. This trailer primarily hauls material from the sawmills to our 90-acre Rawdon site and to wholesalers/resellers on mainland Nova Scotia.

Soil Questions

What is Soil?

Soil is a mixture of organic material, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life.

What do I need to know before I purchase my soil?

This is a great question because too many homeowners have had a bad experience with some of their landscape material purchases. The area of most concern is soil followed by mulch. We have several customers every week telling us about the bad experience they had last year. Some tell us the source, and some do not. The symptoms they describe is the soil was as had as a rock in the summer and the only thing growing was weeds.

To answer the question, there are several things. In the Halifax area homeowners have several sources of topsoil and garden soil. The sources are manufacturers who sell to contractors and homeowners and resellers or wholesalers, many who primarily sell to homeowners because they have difficulty competition in the contractor market due to volume, price, and quality.

There are 2 key elements required for good soil. The organic content which you will not be able to determine easily and a test to determine if the soil is made with silt or contains gypsum. The latter two will be a flag that the soil may be of poor quality. If the soil looks grayish in color if may contain gypsum which has been known to come in topsoil shipped from the Annapolis Valley.

A simple test to try and identify poor quality soil is to visit the site of a prospective source, either reseller or manufacturer of topsoil. Look to the side and bottom of the pile where soil may have seen sitting for a while, the longer it has been there the better. Look for soil that is clumpy (balled up), pick up a clump and squeeze if in your hand. If it crumbles easily, it is what landscape architects call friable. If it does not crumble in your hand, it may have been made with silt or gypsum which is not desirable. This type of soil will dry out and become very hard in the summer and it prevents moisture from getting the plant roots. In the spring of the year if the soil is freshly made with gypsum or silt it may still be friable, it needs warmer weather to dry out and become extremely hard.

How do I know if I am purchasing good quality soil?

The three or four larger manufacturers provide good soil. They generally use sand and not silt and use compost or manure. The primary difference with this group is the compost they use to make their soil. (Refer to our questions and answers for compost.) If a supplier's soil is greyish in colour there is a good chance gypsum has been added to the soil mix. Gypsum becomes extremely hard in the summer and like silt, it restricts moisture from reaching the plant roots stressing your grass or other plants. If you visit a supplier after a rain and you see a lot of small stones in the soil, or the soil has little texture this is an indication the soil may be too silty.

What is the difference between natural topsoil and manufactured soil?

Natural topsoil in Nova Scotia tends to be silty and often does not meet landscape architects specifications. Natural topsoil may require additional organic material or various gradations of sand to meet the specifications of landscape architects.

  1. Natural Topsoil - There are primarily two sources of natural topsoil, generally from 4"to 8"in depth.
    1. Natural topsoil stripped from construction sites. This layer of soil is removed so a contractor can reach bed rock or the parent soil which can be compacted for construction purposes.
    2. Natural topsoil stripped from inactive or low production farmers' fields. This lawyer of soil tends to be sparse and poor quality often lacking sufficient depth to be productive farm soil.
  2. Both above usually require proper graduations of sand to meet a landscape architects specification and likely amendments such as compost or manure to increase the organic content. Without the addition of sand and the amendments the soil may be too silty and be poor quality soil. Inactive farmers' fields tend to be partially overtaken by weeds so the soil will contain lots of weeds seeds. Screening the soil does nor remove weed seeds.

  3. Manufactured Topsoil - There are two primary sources of manufactured topsoil. Some meet the specifications of a landscape architects specification and some do not.
    1. Manufactured topsoil adhering to a landscape architects specification, can be easily made providing the manufactures has a source of sand, with various gradations, and a source of good quality mature compost or manure. The larger 3 or 4 manufacturers generally have a source of sand or own their own sand pits.
    2. Some of the smaller sources of topsoil may meet a landscape architects specification but many do not.
      Some others simply excavate into a bank and screen out the inert soil and add compost or manure. This tends to be a silty soil which tends to dry out in the summer, becoming very hard and restricts moisture from getting to your plants or grass roots.
      There are a few who simply excavate into a bank and screen inert soil and call it topsoil. There would be no amendments such as compost or manure and little if any organic matter in this soil.
What is the difference between garden soil and Triple Mix garden soil and where should I use each?

This is an important question for homeowners who have or are installing vegetable gardens. Garden soil generally has an organic content of 40% by volume while Triple Mix garden soil generally has an organic content of 60% by volume which is 50% more than garden soil. Garden soil is often referred to as 'commercial garden soil' by the landscape industry because the typical landscape architect specifications are primarily concerned with planting for new buildings such as flowers, shrubs, and trees. Landscape specifications for municipal, provincial and federal building projects do not reference vegetable gardens. Vegetable gardens do much better with the Triple Mix garden soil because of the higher organic content.

EARTHCO soil has been an amazing addition to our farm, its high organic content gives us the type of soil our urban farm needs. We get excited every time we have to place an order because I know that the soil they bring will enable us to grow more food for our community.

Dartmouth North Community Food Centre

Can I use topsoil in my garden or raised beds?

Natural topsoil is composed of clay, silt, sand, and organic matter. Manufactured soil consists of similar elements, but the various percentages are governed by the landscape architects specification.

Garden soil is created by using natural or manufactured soil and adding compost, or other amendments in natural topsoil, to increase the organic matter. The addition of compost will reduce compaction resulting in better water retention and provide the plants with the nutrients needed for good growth.

Does Earthco add fertilizers or chemicals to their soils?

No. Earthco manufacturers various types of soils mixes, e.g., topsoil, seed quality lawn soil, commercial garden soil, triple mix garden soil and top dressing. Most manufacturers of soils follow typical landscape architects specifications. These specifications do not include fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides, etc.

What does a typical architect's specification look like?

Landscape architects have specifications for the manufacture of topsoil. Sand in various gradations is the base product with compost or manure providing the organic content. Silt and clay are to be no more that 10% silt and 20% clay in most specifications.

Typical topsoil specification: The following deals primarily with the base materials. Soil texture: Sandy loan, based on The Canadian System of Soil Classification, to the following average particle distribution and gradation:

  • Very coarse sand: 10%
  • Course and medium sand: 45%
  • Fine sand: 15%
  • Very fine sand: 10%
  • Clay: 20%

NOTE: 55% of properly manufactured topsoil consists of very coarse to medium sand. Silt content should be no more than 10%.

Why is silt not as good as sand?

Avoid soil manufactured with a high percentage of silt. Silt dries out during the summer and becomes very hard. This leads to an unhealthy grass plant and an increase in the growth of weeds. The remedy to correct this condition is expensive and time consuming and usually takes several years of aerating the lawn and adding a sand-based topdressing to increase the depth and loosen the silty soil. Some manufacturers use screened fill as a base to manufactured topsoil. Screened fill would generally be quite silty and may not meet a landscape architects specification.

What is the importance of pH?

A pH of 7 is neutral. The pH of lawn soil should be 6.5 and 7.2. For pH for garden soil should be between 6 and 7 for most vegetables. Garden soil should be slightly more acidic than lawn soil.

How do I know what pH is best for my plants?
What is a reasonable soil depth?

Most landscape architects recommend 6 inches of compacted good quality organic topsoil. Some homeowners use less than 6 inches because of costs. We recommend not less than 4 inches compacted to ensure there is sufficient depth to provide for healthy plants.

Does soil compact and should I be concerned?

Topsoil will compact between 10% and 15% and garden soil 15% to 20% so consideration should be given to this when ordering. Too little soil depth will result in insufficient depth and an unhealthy lawn.

Compost Questions

What are the traditional sources for compost?

There are many sources for compost. Traditional ones often used by homeowners are grass clippings, leaves, fruit, and vegetable waste, and for soil manufacturers they are leaves, blueberry waste, municipal green bin waste, meat and fish processing waste, and industrial waste.

Are there differences in compost made from different base products?

Yes, chemical analysis of various compost feed stock will differ slightly. All compost should be properly cured. Generally, the list of feed stock noted above, with the exception of industrial waste, are used by most manufacturers and these composts are generally good quality. To cure compost the base material must be turned regularly, creating significant heat. This process can take 1 to 2 years or more depending on the size, density amount of oxygen, moisture, and frequency of turning the base product.

With cured compost, the most noticeable difference is with green bin waste. Fragments of plastic and at time glass can be found in green bin waste. If you are sodding your lawn this compost is not problematic however if seeding your lawn these fragments are noticeable particularly in the weeks after planting the seeds after rain or when watering of your lawn seeds.

If compost has been fully cured and left dormant for a several months or years weed seeds will most likely be in the compost. The weed seeds tend to crowd out the lawn seed in new lawns. This is not generally a problem with newly sodded lawns as the weeds are cut during the mowing and can be eliminated with a good quality weed and feed fertilizer.

Should I use compost only for my vegetable garden?

That depends on if you are making a new garden or provide an organic boost to your existing garden.

If you are building a new vegetable garden, we recommend a good quality triple mix garden soil with 60% compost and 40% sand of different graduations. This will permit your garden to have an excellent source of organic material and nutrients, will retain moisture while providing a soil mixture which will also permit excess moisture to drain. Using just compost with no sand in a new garden may not provide sufficient drainage which can damage plant roots.

If you have an existing garden with a sand mix, we recommend adding 3 inches of compost mixed into the existing soil. This will provide your garden a good organic and nutrient boost.

What is the difference between compost and manure?

"The Best for Your Soil Health"
Exerts from an article written by Danielle McLeod

COMPOST

PROS

  • Feeds the soil
  • Better moisture retention
  • Builds disease resistance
  • Organic

CONS

  • Expensive to purchase
  • May be odorous
  • Proper creation takes time (curing)

MANURE

PROS

  • Amends the soil
  • Can be added to compost
  • Helps reduce nutrient leech
  • Organic

CONS

  • Fresh manure can be harmful
  • Built-up manure can contain parasites
  • Medicines and chemicals can stay in manure from treated animals

Your Best Choice Explained: "Although I am a HUGE fan of both, if you can only make one choice, compost truly is your best bet because you definitely have more control over its creation and will have a more varied nutrient base from which your plants can pull from. It amends soils, and continual microbial processes provides further longevity to your soil health."

"To be completely honest though, compost mixed with manure (literally create your compost with manure as one of your additives) is your best choice. You get the best of both worlds in this mixture, and the results yield a rich, loamy organic substance to feed your soils."

Mulch Questions

Is there a difference in raw bark obtained from different sawmills?

Yes. Sawmills often specialize in different sizes of product which means they use different sizes of logs. The smaller the logs the more wood residue in the bark. Earthco purchases its bark from a sawmill that uses large logs. As a result, there is less wood residue in Earthco's bark mulch compared to most of our competitors.

Refer to "What is the supply chain for bark mulch in Nova Scotia?" below for more information on sawmills.

Are Earthco's prices competitive with other competitors?

Yes. In fact, Earthco's bark prices are generally lower compared to most competitors.

How do I ensure I buy a good grade of bark mulch?

The best way is to visit Earthco and a couple of other sources and see how much wood is visible in the bark piles. You will find the Earthco bark piles have little wood remnants compared to our competitors. This is why Earthco has a reputation for superior quality bar mulch.

There are many suppliers of bark mulch. Some call it Natural Mulch and others Bark Mulch. What is the difference?

There is a difference between the two products. Sellers of Natural Mulch generally describe their product as Natural Mulch because it is different than Bark Mulch. Both are esthetically pleasing but Bark Mulch has specific benefits to gardeners compared to Natural Mulch.

Bark mulch is mulch made from bark with no amendments or additives. It is ground and cured to darken it. Bark mulch has a lower pH than natural mulch. The lower pH helps suppress weed growth. Landscape architects specify Bark Mulch because of its lower pH. They do not specify Natural Mulch for the reasons noted below.

Natural mulch is generally aged ground wood or a combination of bark mulch and aged ground wood or compost. Aged wood and compost generally have a higher pH which makes them an ideal growing medium, the opposite to bark mulch.

How can we tell the difference?

To the untrained person it is difficult to see the difference. It would be best to ask the seller of natural mulch what their mulch is made from.

Is there much of a price difference between Bark Mulch and Natural Mulch?

Yes, in HRM Bark Mulch is generally price below Natural Mulch by the few manufacturers that can purchase large volumes of bark from the sawmills.

Natural Mulch is generally sold by resellers who do not have the capability to purchase large volumes or who do not have the facilities and equipment to store and cure large amounts of bark. A less expensive option for them is Natural Mulch which as noted above does not have the benefits of Bark Mulch.

Is one better than the other?

Landscape architects specify bark mulch for a reason. They know the benefits of bark mulch but have no idea what a processor may have added to their natural mulch and what potential impact it could have on plantings.

What are the benefits of bark mulch compared to natural mulch?

Bark mulch is made with 100% bark with no additives and tends to not compact very much. Bark mulch has a lower pH than Natural mulch. The lower pH of bark mulch will go a long way toward preventing weed germination, retaining moisture in the soil, and supporting moderate soil temperatures. As it decays, it adds beneficial humus to the earth.

Natural mulch includes additives such as fine ground wood or compost, will compact and can impede water retention due to compaction. Compost is an organic growing amendment. Adding it to natural mulch can encourage weed growth as opposed to suppressing it like bark mulch, the reason landscape architects recommend using bark mulch. We have never seen a landscape architect's specification recommending natural mulch.

What is the supply chain for bark mulch in Nova Scotia?

Raw bark is a by-product of sawmills. The raw bark from sawmills can differ considerably, as noted in "Is there a difference in raw bark obtained from different sawmills?" above. There are a few large manufactures that purchase raw bark from local sawmills and cure it themselves. By doing so these manufacturers can control the curing process and the quality of their bark mulch, providing they have good raw bark with minimal wood content.

There are also suppliers who purchase product from sawmills primarily located in rural Nova Scotia which offer cured and partially cured bark mulch. Partially cured bark mulch is not ideal as it can rob the soil of nitrogen until the mulch is properly cured or aged.

There are also suppliers who purchase a bark mulch blend including fine ground wood or compost. Refer to "There are many suppliers of bark mulch. Some call it Natural Mulch and others Bark Mulch. What is the difference?" above.

Aggregate Questions

Where does your aggregate come from?

Sand, Pea Stone and Beach Stone are available from our sand pits in Rawdon and Clear Stone, Gravels and Crusher Dust is available from our family's quarry in Mt. Uniacke.

Do you sell aggregate by the Ton or Yard?

We have the capability to do both but where it is coming from may result in one or the other. If it is coming from the quarry we can scale and if from Rawdon or our Sackville site it is usually shipped by the yard.

How many tons or yards can you deliver?

It depends on the density of the product but generally between 3 and 22 cubic yards or approximately 2 ½ tons to 26 tons.

Winter Salt Questions

Where do you get your salt?

The Windsor Salt Mine in Pugwash, Nova Scotia.

How much does a yard of salt weigh?

In November 2020 we weighed a yard of salt from our salt dome and a yard of salt weighs 0.87 tons. We also spoke with staff at K + S Windsor Salt in Pugwash. They indicated they do not compare weights for cubic yards but think a cubic yard of salt weights approximately 1 ton given certain variables such as moisture content and granulation. The more salt fines in the salt the heavier it is. We were also told the summer was dry and the mine tarped the salt quickly after being stockpiled which could result in a lighter weight.

When do you start hauling salt to your dome?

Usually mid-October to mid-November. For direct shipments we haul as needed. Because Earthco hauls earlier than most would the salt in your dome be lighter than salt hauled later in the season? Answer That is possible so long as the salt was tarped at the mine as noted above. Lighter salt results in more salt for our customers when sold by the ton.