I have been thinking of the myriad of labels that have become part of our daily lives.

Gone are the days when the immediate association of the word, label, was to the clothing industry or the record industry. Because so many companies have abused the labeling laws, words like natural and organic can mean next to nothing. Think of how many products are labeled gluten-free or fat free. It has become apparent that as consumers we need to pay more attention to doing our own research and using good judgment when making selections of consumer goods including purchases of gardening products.

I’m always drawn to the garden products that have the “OMRI Listed” seal, but not truly knowing the meaning. I decided it was time to do some research.

The Organic Materials Review Institute (found at omri.org) is an “international non-profit organization that determines which input products are allowed for use in organic production and processing.” The institute was founded in 1997 to evaluate material for use in organic agriculture. The organization’s various programs are administered out of the Eugene office.

OMRI is a complex organization composed of independent and professional industry experts, plus academia and public interest groups in the organic community. Products that are submitted for approval undergo strict regulations. According to their website there are over 3461 OMRI Listed products ranging from fertilizers, soil amendments and pest, weed and disease control to livestock feed ingredients and livestock health care. The institutes’s website is searchable by product and type of material.

Adding compost to our gardens has become very popular nationwide. Unfortunately the popularity has led some companies, large and small, to offer products that contain less-than-desirable ingredients. Grass clippings from lawns treated with weedkillers, leaves from trees that have been sprayed with pesticides and manures from animals dosed with antibiotics can all find their way into bags labeled compost. The residual chemicals can have disastrous effects in a home garden. Making your own compost in our high desert climate is the ultimate exercise in patience. Searching out one of the many brands of the packaged compost with the OMRI Listed seal is well worth the cost.

The institute says that “Compost is acceptable if (i) made from only allowed feedstock materials; (ii) the compost undergoes an increase in temperature to at least 131 degrees and remains there for a minimum of three days; and (iii) the compost pile is mixed or managed to ensure that all of the feedstock heats to a minimum temperature for the minimum time. Compost must not contain more than 1,000 MPN fecal coliform per gram of compost sampled and must not contain more than 3 MPN salmonella per 4 grams of compost sampled.”

Backyard composting, if you are able and have the space, is a rewarding aspect of gardening. It saves you money by providing free soil amendments. It also helps to retain soil moisture, which saves you money on water bills. As I mentioned previously, in our climate it takes longer to decompose. I have two holding bins. One is over a year old, which I will start using in the spring. The other will be added to until the first one is emptied.

The basic recipe for composting is two parts browns to one part greens. In a nutshell, high carbon materials (browns) are straw, pine needles, sawdust, fallen leaves and newspaper/cardboard. High nitrogen materials (greens) include grass clippings (don’t use if grass has been treated with a weed and feed fertilizer), animal manures, nitrogen fertilizers, kitchen scraps and alfalfa.

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