According to the Telegraph the performance of peat free composts are, to say the least, variable. A recent article reports on testing carried out by gardening Which. The conclusions are that some peat free composts are not worth buying.
The best for seeds were: “… B&Q Multipurpose, B&Q Sowing and Cutting composts and New Horizon Organic and Peat Free Growbag.” And for small plants “… B&Q Multipurpose, B&Q John Innes No.2 and Westland West + Multi Purpose Compost.”
Bits of ground up plastic coated particle board found in JAB New Horizon in 2009
I have used bags of “New Horizon” for seed sowing for many years with great success. Last year I was alarmed to find what looked like the remains of ground up kitchen units in most bags. There have been other similar reports about not so natural foreign objects in the compost. I have not found anything from the makers (William Sinclair) to explain what happened.
When growing from seed it is really essential to produce strong, vigorous plants as they are more likely to thrive and resist pests and diseases. For that you need good compost either commercial or DIY.
Some people make their own seed compost mix but to be honest the one time I tried I got severe damping off – a fungal disease that rots the stem where it enters the compost and can fell a whole tray of seedlings over night.
If you are interested then try a mix and see how it performs. Some suggestions: mature leafmould (~ 2 years old) is said to work on its own but can be mixed with sterilised (to avoid damping off) loam at a ratio of 1:1. Or garden compost, leafmould and sterilised loam at 1:1:1. [From “Encyclopaedia of Organic Gardening”, p.116, HDRA/Dorling Kindersley, 2001, ISBN 07513 33816 ]
According to The Daily telegraph today there is an upsurge in interest in Biodynamic farming and gardening. Like most of the media the article concentrates on planting by the moon and ignores that rest of the quite complex system of plant and soil care of biodynamics.
The Telegraph article is more balanced than most and outlines how biodynamics is becoming more mainstream. The spoiler is the throw away sentence at the end of the piece about howling at the moon!
The key to all this is the holistic approach to producing food and to life in general. Organic gardening goes some way to reengaging with natural cycles and living more in tune with mother earth. Biodynamics takes it several stages further.
I have used a moon planting calendar for a few years. I do not always get it right because sometimes it is just not possible to sow seeds on the recommended days but when I do it seems to work. Take, for example, the winter lettuce sown in the pollytunnel on Wednesday 23 September which according to the planting calendar was a leaf day. I noticed yesterday that they had germinated, that is just 4 days and is the kind of vigour that means healthier plants.
Some will argue that there are so many factors involved it is impossible to isolate just what helps. While accepting that it does no harm to follow a biodynamic calendar especially if it produces strong, healthy and tasty plants.
Check out details of the Biodynamic Food Fortnight; on from 3 October to 8 October see www.biodynamic.org.uk
I ask this question because a couple of years back I trialed some seed cubes. I was reluctant to use them as I had a tried and tested method for seed but this looked like a good product that made seed sowing easy. One of the main selling points was that they made transplanting easy by avoiding root disturbance. They worked well having almost the perfect air/water ratio for germinating seeds giving very high germination rates.
I found these two samples in the compost bin yesterday, I am sure there are more. They had been in a batch of compost made about 15 months ago. They have not degraded at all which is surprising as everything else had. All that remained in the bin was lovely rich humus ready for the garden and some cubes looking as they did when they went in! So, what does biodegradable really mean?
(Click on the image to enlarge)