Breckenridge-based Corrie Burr saw big improvements in her grass after using quarter-inch High Country Compost as a topdressing for her lawn. High Country Compost improves the soil by increasing the organic content (which increases moisture retention) while reducing the need for fertilizers.
Photo by Corrie Burr via the High Country Conservation Center

Dear Eartha, I recently bought SCRAP compost for my flower beds. Is it safe in my herb garden too? What is the environmental benefit of using it instead of commercially purchased compost?

Double praise to you – first for giving your flowers a boost and second for being local. The High Country Compost produced at Summit County Resource Allocation Park (SCRAP) is the highest quality compost regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, which means it is approved for all purposes.

SCRAP also chooses to certify its product through the seal of approval from the United States Composting Council, which has strict testing requirements. In short, you have the good stuff. Before we dig deeper, let’s take a look at how composting works at 9,000 feet.

An Introduction to High Country Compost

In the mid-2000s, SCRAP employees saw a flood of dead trees from the pine beetle epidemic. While all of this wood waste was being recycled on site, the employees got creative and set up a composting program in 2008. This compost is made from crushed stone, food waste, and bio-solids, the organic matter obtained from the wastewater treatment process. These organic materials are combined on a large, flat surface and mixed into huge piles called plumes.

Swaths provide the ideal environment to accelerate Mother Nature’s decomposition process. In just 13 weeks, these steams heat up, the materials decompose and compost is created. SCRAP employees have the never-ending task of building new heaps, mixing the heaps in different stages of decomposition, monitoring temperatures, filtering out larger pieces of wood chips and sending finished compost for testing.

Thanks to the testing requirements, you can be sure that High Country Compost is not only safe, but also of great use for flower beds, vegetable gardens, lawns, and even potted plants.

Store vs. SCRAP

Packaged compost for sale in stores is produced hundreds or even thousands of miles away and transported to the Rocky Mountains. Using high country compost drastically reduces transport emissions. After all, the journey from SCRAP to the remotest areas of Summit County is only 23 miles.

According to the Colorado State University Extension’s Master Gardener curriculum, material sold in stores could be at any stage of decomposition. The training says that unfinished compost can have high levels of ammonia that could burn plant roots. Unfinished compost can also consume oxygen from a plant’s root zone and stunt root growth.

Tests from High Country Compost show that not only is it ready, but it’s also low in salt, which means you can double the amount of compost used and still have vigorous plant growth.

When you buy the product from SCRAP you will help reduce local emissions from rotting food and help keep tons of waste out of the landfill. I don’t know of any store-bought compost that can say that.

Half an inch or a quarter inch?

The SCRAP offers two different options for compost: Half Inch and Quarter Inch. A quarter of an inch is filtered through a smaller sieve to create a finer product, with the largest pieces being about a quarter of an inch. Both products improve the soil by increasing the organic content, which increases moisture retention while reducing the need for fertilizers.

Quarter-inch compost is perfect for sprinkling lawns. It’s called topdressing because you put it right on your weed. The traditional half inch can be used as a mulch. It is ideal for beautifying vegetable and flower gardens, for planting trees and perennials and for sprinkling in potted plants. The SCRAP provides detailed instructions at SummitCountyCo.gov/232/Compost.

Compost is sold Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and on Saturdays for residents from 7:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Large bags are $ 5 for the half inch and $ 8 for the quarter inch. A cubic meter (bring your own pickup truck and tarpaulin) is only $ 19 for the half inch and $ 29 for the quarter inch. Finally, if you aren’t already, join 1,800 other residents as they recycle their leftover food at one of three local recycling centers. Visit HighCountryConservation.org to learn more.


Rachel Zerowin