Del. grower blends, sells compost

Special to Mid-Atlantic Grower

It may be impossible to turn chicken manure into chicken salad, but composter Bruce Blessing does the next best thing. Blessing, owner of Blessing Greenhouses and Compost Facility in Milford, Del., has developed a compost that reduces water usage, enriches the soil and is listed for certified organic production.
Blessing’s operation produces compost that is used on golf courses and farms on Delmarva. He sells his retail (bagged and bucketed) products to gardeners and landscapers from his flower stand on Route 1 and Sugar Hill Road in Milford.  He is also one of the largest flower growers in Delaware.
“We’re getting a lot of repeat business at the stand and positive feedback. People love the compost,” said Blessing, who recently received an Organics Material Review Institute seal for his product. “Since we have the listing, we’re targeting organic farmers in the Delaware and Chesapeake watersheds. When you see the OMRI listed seal, you know the product meets organic standards, is trusted by organic farmers and gardeners and protects people and the environment.”
Bruce Blessing grew up on a small farm in Houston, Del. His large family raised cows and pigs and grew grain and other crops. When his dad got sick, Blessing, then 17, started working full time at a local chicken processing plant.
“I worked from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.,” said Blessing. “Then I would go home, do my chores, shower and go to school.” His dad died the fall after his high school graduation and he was suddenly the head of the farm. “My dad never made much money farming, but there was always plenty of food on our table. He saw something noble in growing the food that fed your family. That’s one lesson I learned from him. Our compost will help people grow food on land that was unfarmable in the past. That’s why I’m so excited about the product.”
The day Blessing graduated from Milford High School, he quit his job at the chicken plant, vowing never to return. “Funny how things turn out,” he said. After deciding that he had no future in farming, Blessing worked a number of jobs, most associated with the chicken industry. He hauled chicken waste and land-applied it on area farms. He continues to haul waste and is governed by a state permit.
Blessing refined his compost blend the same way a chef discovers a new recipe or a winemaker mixes the ingredients for a fine wine — trial and error. While he was mixing batches of potting soil for his flowers, the idea for a premium compost came to him. “I had my hands in the bucket mixing some soil ingredients and I realized that a mixture of chicken and wood waste would make a  potent compost. Then the name Blessings Blends came to me. It just seemed to fit.” Blessing eventually settled on a product with a 10-1 carbon to nitrogen ratio. He claims the higher nitrogen content gives his compost more “oomph.”
Blessing knew that making compost was expensive and time consuming. If he was going to be competitive in the market, he needed a quality process to make his products. He developed an in-vessel system where he could mix consistent batches of compost and then let it cure for 12 months. Through screening, he developed three grades of compost. The first screen produces S1 grade compost, which is used on farms. Another smaller screen produces S2 grade, which is available for agriculture and turf applications. A third screen produces S3 grade, which is used on golf course fairways and greens.
“We were looking for organic matter to use on golf courses to improve the soil and I picked up some of Blessings compost for a project on my own yard and garden,“ said Rick Lee, Growmark FS Turf Services sales representative. “When I saw what it did for my turf and vegetables, I knew we would be able to work together to develop a product golf courses and growers could use.”
Lee now sells Blessings Blends to area golf courses and farms.
Blessing has also been using compost to grow flowers he sells at his stand. He’s been doing it for 25 years. “We know our products work because customers have been using them with success and coming back for more.” Blessing plans to combine his compost with cow fiber (made from manure), peat moss and pine fines to make an organic potting soil that he plans to sell this spring.