Sunday, May 20

Buying compost?

I don't know whether you are having the same problems as we are in deciding which type of compost is the most reliable and gives the best results.

We're still finding that different bags of the same brand of compost produce variable results.

Last year we had tomatoes growing in two identical grow bags. These were in the plot greenhouse, grown under identical conditions but whereas one lot grew as expected the other lot were weak and stunted.
I wrote to the producers who replied saying their mixes were all thoroughly tested etc etc. but sent us a voucher to buy more compost as way of a goodwill gesture.

I'm not sure testing formulae can detect all problems as the raw product can be variable. For instance some brands use green waste. Where does this actually come from and is there any possibility that ingredients that shouldn't be there have sneaked into the chain? I would guess that much of what goes into council green waste bins is suspect and not everything will be removed by the processes used by the composters.

Another issue appears to be that composts run out of steam as the nutrient level is either poor to start with or isn't very long lasting. I also read somewhere that if there are pieces of twigs or wood in the compost that as these decay they deplete the nitrogen levels in the compost. I can't say whether this is true maybe someone else knows.

Then there is the issue of texture, some compost is very coarse and others more the texture of dried grass clippings. Some bags of compost have even been found to contain bits of plastic and even glass.

We are watching the Scottish gardening programme Beechgrove Garden with interest as they are carrying out another compost trial this year. (If you have Sky you can watch this even if you are outside of Scotland). They carried out tests last year with disappointing results but so far this year things seem to be going better.

I suppose this year it will be difficult for us to know whether poor germination and subsequent poor growth is as a direct result of poor compost or poor growing conditions.

Lots of gardeners advocate making their own composts but we just wouldn't be able to create enough and then there is the prospect of growing lots of weeds amongst the seedlings.

We use lots of compost and so cost is another consideration as is availability - we don't want to have to travel miles just to buy compost.

Just out of interest I thought it would be interesting to carry out a little survey about what composts people have found to be good or on the other hand to be rubbish so if you have a few minutes to spare will you post a comment describing your experiences?

PS: Don't forget to enter the Fruit Seeds competition here

22 comments:

  1. I'm just beginning to start wondering if the poor germination and growth of seedlings this year is in fact down to the weather or if substandard compost is actually to blame. Just going to pop outside now to see what I've been using......hold on a sec. OK, I've been using Erin multipurpose compost, purely because they had a decent deal on it at Swillington. I think I'll be changing brands though as there's lots of rubbish in it, and as I've said, I'm beginning to suspect that the compost has a lot to do with poor growth of my seedlings.

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    1. A friend bought some compost from Swillington and was told that it was what they used. It was more expensive and the amount we use also a bit far just to pop for compost. I usually go there when I am visiting my sister.

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  2. I usually use an ordinary multipurpose compost for my seedlings but when I pot them on or for more permanent planters I mix this whith home made compost. I put my home made into a plastic tub and put it in the microwave for 2-3 mins to sterilize it, it kills the bugs and any weed seeds.

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    1. Thanks for the microwave tip. I shall try that when Mine is ready next year. I will have to do it while the Hubby is out in case he thinks i am making his dinner!

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    2. We are probably two of the only people in the country without a microwave but to sterlise all the compost we use we would need an industry sized oven.

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  3. I was only complaining to a gardening friend the other day about the rubbish quality of compost that I have been buying. I always preferred Westland- it was a bit like a John Innes with grit added and produced great results. The same brand this year is more like composted bark and starts going mouldy on top. Not sure which brand to chose now - very confusing.

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    1. That's the problem Elaine you settle on something and then it is all change.

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  4. I have recently been using Levington Multi-Purpose compost, but like you I find it is variable, and contains lots of twiggy bits and even quite large wood splinters and the odd piece of plastic. In one bag I used this week I found a metal screw. The texture is very "strawy" if you know what I mean, whereas it always used to be more like soil.

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  5. Sue, I just remembered there was an article about peat-free composts in the May edition of TKG mag, which I have just lifted out. Their best results were achieved with "New Horizon Organic and Peat-free", "Vital Earth Multipurpose" and wool compost from Dalefoot composts. They concluded that the heaviest composts were the worst.

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    1. We are trying New Horizon at the moment Mark. Difficult to give it a fair test though with the weather as it is.

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  6. It is the same way with compost here, differing textures. Most of the time I don't think I would really call it compost myself but it still helps my garden and I add my own compost too which really helps. I don't microwave it. It may kill the weed seeds but it would also kill the good bugs and I want them in there (like the earthworms).

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    1. We use our own compost as a soil improver Becky but not to sow seeds in and grow on young seedlings

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  7. Home made is the best, at least you know what's inside and it is not good you now how to blame (the worms, of course).

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    1. Hi Mr Farmer - we used to mix our own compost but it was very time consuming for the amount that we needed. We don't have enough garden compost to use as a soil improver and to make stuff to use in the greenhouse too.

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  8. We call it potting mix here and I always buy the ones without added fertilisers and then add my own. I find the ones with pre added fertilisers here really variable as sometimes the fertiliser is fresh whilst if the mix is older it has often degraded to the point of non existence.

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    1. I've not come across that option Liz. The trouble is it's not just the nutrient problem but also the texture and what is likely to have gone into the mix too.

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  9. I got my compost from B&M this year. A 40 litre bag with added John Innes was £1.99 so it was definitely a bargain. The compost I had pr4viously came from Homebase and I had a real issue with germination but since I have bought and used this germination has been great...of course that may have something to do with the weather, or seeds, I don'[t think you can ever really know. I just know that I have been very happy with this product.

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    1. Was that B&Q Tanya - how did the seedlings do after gerninating in that compost - did they continue growing well? You are right though there are so many variables.

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  10. No B&M...a kind if discount store and it's their logo on the bags...the seedlings have grown HUGE...It is the first year I have had to re-pot my squash before hardening them off to go outside...I will do a post on greenhouse progress later in the week so you can see them!!

    I'll even take a photo of the compost bag if you like...it's nice stuff...no woody bits and no grit in it.

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  11. Like Liz, I use multi-purpose for everything. Have used B&Q's version for ages and yes, I know I am an environmental terrorist because it still contains peat.

    This year they have changed the formulation, much less peat, many more lumps and twigs, germination percentage of some seeds is down but that could be the ghastly weather ....

    I'd love to use Lakeland Gold which is made locally from sheep's wool and bracken (also included in the Beechgrove trial). Sadly, whilst it remains at £10 a bag I will not be doing so :{ http://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/products.htm

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    1. That is just so expensive for compost isn't it? We have used B&Q in the past and this year found it not as good.

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    2. Oh well, at least it's not me. Sorry your results from B&Q compost are also poorer this year.

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