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Peat Free Potting Compost

Tuesday, 4th June 2002, West Yorkshire

barrow It's usually at this time of year that we make a trip to the garden centre to buy potting compost for the tomatoes, peppers and cucumber that we grow in the greenhouse. I used peat based compost for years but now, because I'm concerned that my use of peat might in a small way contribute to the loss of peat bogs and their wildlife, I like to try to find peat free.

Unfortunately it's not always easy to track down peat free at local garden centres so last year I experimented with homemade compost. The tomatoes turned out to be as tasty as ever while the peppers cropped more heavily than they normally do.

compost bins If you delve into compost making it often appears to be an exact science, requiring precisely measured amounts of the key plant nutrients. I don't aim for that precision. I remind myself that most of these plants do reasonably well in ordinary garden soil and I reckon I can improve on that with my homemade recipe.

Homemade Potting Compost

(I'm not recommending that you follow this recipe, but it's worked well for me)
  • Sieve ordinary garden compost (from your compost heap that is) into a barrow until almost half full.

  • Sieve an equal amount of good garden soil into the barrow.

  • Add a sprinkling of fish, blood and bone meal. I add a small handful, about two and a half dessert spoons I guess.

  • Mix it up.

I use a plastic kitchen measure to sprinkle it because, following mad cow disease and so on, I'm wary of handling bone-meal. An alternative to fish, blood and bone might be a seaweed based fertiliser. Compost maker - a balanced mix of nutrients especially formulated for the job - is also available.

As there are nutrients in both the soil and in garden compost there's a lot of guesswork in how much extra nutrient you need to add. But it shouldn't be too difficult to make something superior to ordinary garden soil. We're lucky enough to have a good meadow soil that has been cultivated for years.

For seed compost I add no nutrients and I sterilise the compost by steaming it for about 15 or 20 minutes in a soil steriliser. All the seeds I planted germinated and I didn't get a single weed page

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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