|Huge piles of wood fibre awaiting their turn to make peat-free compost - the darker the pile, the older it is|
Like many gardeners I try to be peat-free. It's not always successful - for instance I still have to get it right with seed composts - but on the whole my results have been OK so far. Sadly a couple of years ago I found the gardeners' usual peat-free of choice - New Horizon - had become less consistent and more twiggy in its constitution. Boo hoo.
So last year I was pleased to find a new product on the market - SylvaGrow® - which is produced locally by Melcourt Industries Ltd just outside Tetbury. Naturally I invited myself along to see for myself, where their Technical Director, Catherine Dawson kindly showed me around.
|Beautifully dark fibre ready for adding to the mix - and not a twig in sight|
It turns out this is the product many peat-free nurseries have used for years and was the source of their bewilderment when ordinary gardeners like me admitted their struggle to go peat-free. Some nurseries had begun to sell-on the product they used as customers had cottoned on they had access to a better product not yet available to the public. Melcourt responded, and so last year Sylvamix® (the product used by nurseries) was introduced to the retail market as SylvaGrow®.
The bulk of Sylvagrow® is derived from wood fibre and bark waste from the UK's timber industry, which adds a virtuous dash of recycling into the mix. Some coir is added to these after sufficient time has allowed the wood fibre to undergo its own composting process. Unlike many peat-free composts on the market, this one doesn't contain any green waste. Catherine told me they'd found it too inconsistent for use in this particular product.
|Hoppers of compost ingredients ready for mixing and packing on the production line|
The result is a much finer compost than most peat-free products I've used. I was assured that during the mixing process the composition is tested at regular intervals to ensure consistency.
My visit ended with a couple of bags loaded into my car for a spot of home testing. So how did I get on? My first observation was I didn't need to water my pots so often - every couple of days instead of every day. You may remember we had quite a hot and dry summer last year, so that's pretty impressive.
I also found it retained a more open structure throughout the season and didn't develop the usual hard crust followed by moss on the top. It's been a wonderful product to handle and use for both my pots of flowers and tomatoes. All my plants stayed healthy throughout the season and produced lots of flowers and fruit.
|A filled and sealed bag of compost hurtling towards the stacking area|
This year Melcourt have added more products to their range for gardeners - Ericaceous compost, plus pine bark mulch and flakes. The company was formed in 1983, so they have a lot of experience in producing these and other products such as play/equestrian surfaces, soil improvers and biofiltration media. Catherine studied soil science at university, so has found herself in the perfect job related to her studies!
|Evidence of the compost being used in the Great Pavilion at this year's Chelsea Flower Show|
The compost retails at £6.99 for a 50 litre bag (2015 prices) and you can find your local stockist(s) here. Many nurseries using it had great success at Chelsea Flower Show - they're listed here. I can add at least 2 of my local nurseries to this list - West Kington Nurseries and Evolution Plants. It's also come out as a top performer in Which?'s compost trials, so it's not just me reporting good results with it.
This post forms my contribution to the International Year of Soils. It's great to see the key foundation of our growing focused on this year.