Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Going Local With Peat-Free Compost

Huge piles of compost ingredients
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
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
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 at Chelsea Flower Show
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.

21 comments:

  1. I've been wondering about SylvaGrow. Like you I have the same problem with crusting and moss and it sounds like it's worth a try for my seedlings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've found it to be well worth it Gwenfar. I didn't have room to do a proper trial with other composts, but I'd say this performed heaps better than those I've used before.

      Delete
  2. It sounds like a great product, I shall look out for it. CJ xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think this is a step-change in peat-free quality CJ. There are other products available which also did well in Which?'s trials, so it looks like we're getting some decent performing products at last.

      Delete
  3. We've yet to find a peat free compost that is reliably good. Most seem to use grten waste which is always going to be variable at best

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This one's worth seeking out Sue, as it doesn't contain green waste and the company is committed to producing a consistent product. Sylvamix has been available to nurseries since 2001 and Sue Beesley at Bluebell Cottage Nursery has been singing the praises of it ever since I've known her on Twitter. She was one of the nursery growers who couldn't understand why I was struggling so much to remain peat-free even though I was staunchly committed to the principle of it.
      There's another product on the market which doesn't contain green waste - more on that anon.

      Delete
  4. I've been trying it for the first time this year and love it. In fact, you've pipped me at the post, because I've got a blogpost scheduled on this very subject. I'll link to this when it goes up.

    ReplyDelete
  5. An interesting, and informative, post. Flighty xx

    ReplyDelete
  6. Very interesting and that's some set up they have!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kelli - I thought it'd make a change to show part of the process involved in getting a product into the shops as well as reviewing it :)

      Delete
  7. I'll have to see if my local garden centre stocks it, hope they do!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fingers crossed Pauline. Mine doesn't stock it, but I'm going to ask them to do so, now I've used up my trial bags!

      Delete
  8. Would like to try this VP but the nearest stockist seems to be 35 miles away. Will have to look out for it on our travels or perhaps call in to see Sue at Bluebell Cottage Garden Nursery to see if I can do a deal with her :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a shame Anna - fingers crossed you can do a deal with Sue...

      Delete
  9. I wish I'd read this before I bought New Horizon compost for my tomatoes & beans this year - it is, as you say, very twiggy and not as good as it used to be. I normally use Fertile Fibre for my pots and I really like that, but it's too expensive to use for big veg planters. I'll look out for SylvaGrow next year, thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fingers crossed you find a supplier Juliet, or see below for another potential alternative.

      Delete
  10. Just found this. Sue Beeseley put me on to sylvamix last year and I had really good results. I was buying it from planting but they've gone bust so I need to find a new supplier, like you I am struggling to find an alternative to New Horizon and this is the best I've found.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm getting good results with Dalefoot too Janet. However, it's pricey. I'm trialling their double strength version mixed with spent compost from last year. The results are looking promising, so that could be a more viable option in my view. A post on this to come!

      Delete
    2. That does sound promising, I'll look out for that post! After much rootling around in the depths of a googlesearch (5 pages deep, I think that's a record!) I discovered that the rather wonderful Garden Center near Caernarfon that I meet Kate - and occasionally Karen - at is apparently a stockist of silvergrow! That will be such a trial, having to go more often ;-)

      Delete

I love reading your comments and welcome thoughtful conversations :)

Help me to help you: If you're having problems leaving comments, contact me using the Contact Form at the foot of this page, or via vegplotting at gmail dot com, or @malvernmeet if a quick tweet is more convenient for you. That way I can get things sorted.

Comments aiming to link back and give credence to commercial websites will be composted!

Sorry - anonymous comments are disabled currently owing to continued problems with spammers.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...