Monday, 1 June 2009


'Not this again' I hear you cry. Yes this again. People still seem very suspicious, not to say downright hostile when they see I don't use peat. 'Don't you know how much peat the Irish power stations burn every day?' they say. Well no, not precisely, but I can imagine. I am well aware what a futile gesture this may seem but then, I feel I can afford to make it because I think peat free composts are actually better.
Aha. You weren't expecting that were you?
I got back from a couple of days away recently (buying stock plants in Hampshire) to find inevitably some plants sitting in completely dried-out compost. It ocurred to me as I hosed them down, sipping my latte, that in the past, when I used peat-based compost like everyone else I'd have been spending this time soaking them in a bucket of water and they'd have been sadly floating there and I'd have been stomping about (tired and scuzzy from travelling) waiting for them to take up the water. I know some modern composts have 'wetting agents' (aka soap) but really, why bother when you could be just standing there, hosing them down with a cup of coffee in your hand, watching the bats as the pots quickly and naturally, absorb the water?
Secondly, and I have absolutely no proper evidence for this claim, only personal experience (and I am enough of a scientist to know how much that counts for) I have not seen a vine weevil here since I began (touches wood for good measure). It has long been said that vine weevil like peat-based composts and loam-based (John Innes) composts were suggested as a partial solution. My feeling at the moment is that they don't really like peat-free composts either, despite the similar texture. Interesting.
Beyond this, I've not noticed that peat-free composts are less productive than peat-based. Maybe it's a matter of a few percent in bulk or numbers or time (but then I don't lose plants because the compost is unwettable). A few percentage points no doubt matter hugely to big producers (for whom vast consistent supplies of peat were a major advantage of course) but are to me undetectable.
Furthermore, besides its acidity, peat is more or less chemically inert. Any nutrients have to be added. Growing plants in peat is therefore not that different from growing plants hydroponically, and one would not expect plants grown hydroponically to do well when transfered to ordinary garden soils.
And yes, from an environmental point of view, and whatever the Irish might be doing, why import vast quantities of natural habitat when there's all this waste product available?

Peat-free composts do vary in quality, I know. I've tried a few in my time and the one I use is the New Horizon Organic and Peat Free multipurpose (no they're not paying me to say this) which used to be a bit patchy and had little needles in it, like raspberry canes or cacti had been composted in it but which is now of consistent fine quality. I mix this with a John Innes loam-based compost (number 2 or 3, which I know still include some peat) more or less 50:50 which I feel gives a better texture and makes the pots a bit heavier so the plants don't blow over so easily if they dry out (and which is recommended by Pippa Greenwood I believe). I also add sand or grit for plants that like a more drained compost and blood-fish-and-bone if the plants need a bit of extra feeding.
I realise this system would be difficult to implement on an industrial scale but for a small nursery, well, I find the results more than satisfactory.

1 comment:

paulgrand said...

I tried coconut based compost and didn't like it.
I'm not sure which you found best though?