The hedge is lopped, and its trimmings need to dry out enough to burn. They’re lurking on the bit of frozen path I need to mattock for the new shed siting. I could try to rush it. Or, I could focus on something else. Making my own compost in this case.
Even though I recycle as much as I can, I use a fair amount of new compost for pots and tubs each year. Between 375-500L in total, which feels fairly shocking when I see it written down. When I started growing I gave no thought to standard multipurpose compost – it’s what all allotmenteers seemed to use. Assuming it was all fine I bought bag after cut-price bag. Then I read a bit, and decided I wanted to cut down on peat. This year, as a tester, I grew plants side-by-side in pots of B&Q peaty compost and peat-free SylvaGrow. And, shock horror, bar a slightly different watering regime, it made No Real Difference! I then read a bit more and my challenge for 2017 is to go 100% peat-free. After all, Monty Don does it.
There are some linked articles at the bottom which put the arguments for growing peat-free better than I can – in our infinite wisdom we’ve dug up over 95% of our peat bogs for compost which makes the remaining fraction incredibly rare and vulnerable. Domestic gardeners, like me, who are ironically usually more in favour of doing no harm, use 66% of the peat-based compost on the market.
The caveat being that for bulk composting you need a fair amount of space for the material to rot down. I have a small family of plastic composters lining my path, which I hope will result in about 400L of garden compost next year. Last year’s 4 huge builders’ bags of leaves rotted down into 5 bags of unsieved leafmould for sowing seeds (see the Monty Don recipes on the link below if you’re interested in doing the same). I now have another 2 builder’s bags, piled high from this year and netted against the winds, to sit and quietly turn to friable loveliness. Behind those is Sod Mountain, slowly changing from grassy turves into loam – I hope!
Bulk ingredients aren’t a problem: spent coffee grounds from Waitrose, matured ashes from last year’s bonfire, barrows of fresh manure, well-rotted woodchip from the paths between my beds, enthusiastic comfrey plants, nettles a-plenty, dead/dying/finished plants from the plot, our kitchen scraps bin and the occasional bucket of dilute liquid gold – as long as I don’t misplace my strategic milk churn! I had a good source of spent hops from the brewery behind The Antelope, but daftly let that one slide and now need to pick it up again. Given I am one of the site’s Official Mowers there could be grass clippings too, but now horsetail has made it into the main path, I’m less keen on using them.
I won’t have enough of my own compost ready in 2017 to use for all my plants, and my sieving skills need practice. Fortunately I got pointed toward SylvaGrow compost, which is lovely stuff and I can pick it up from RHS Wisley when I visit, though I really wish my local Squires would stock it.
I shouldn’t feel nervous about this, but I do! Wish me luck…I’m off to buy a big sieve for riddling my leafmould.
More information on peat extraction and peat free composts:
- Do we need to use peat? Mark Diacono, 13 June 2011, Telegraph
- Why we need to garden without peat & how to use peat-free substitutes, Emma Cooper, 27 April 2011, Permaculture
- The ethics of using peat, BBC gardening pages
- Has the time come to embrace peat-free compost? John Walker 11 October 2014, Telegraph
- Peat-free growing, Garden Organic
- In our Centenary, 3,000 years of Irish history mulched for potting compost, Donal O’Keefe, 01 April 2016, The Avondhu
- Environmentalists slam use of legal loophole to extract peat, Rob Edwards, 12 June 2016, The Herald
- Monty Don’s peat free compost (recipes for mixing your own) Monty Don, 13 June 2011, Telegraph
Categories: Diary 2016