Peat Free Compost Complaints. Dry, Low Nutrition, Inconsistent, Mouldy, Full Of Rubbish. Here’s How To Easily Improve Peat Free Compost.
Peat Free Compost gets a lot of complaints. And I have to say a lot of it isn’t good quality. Some of it is simply appalling quality, full of plastic, lumps of wood and even stones. So how can we improve it?
Not everyone is against peat free. Consumer champions, “Which,” say their trials show that many peat-free composts are now as good, or better, than peat-based products. But still people complain about it. So where does the problem lie and can it be overcome? That’s the focus of this article.
Who Makes Peat Free Compost?
The peat free compost on sale in garden centres and other retailers comes form a range of sources. But most of it contains food or green waste that has been composted in council and other facilities before being sold in bulk for bagging by commercial companies who sell it on to retailers.
A smaller proportion is manufactured by the companies that used to sell us peat. In some of these cases it doesn’t contain green or food waste but is made from other organic materials. For example, composted forestry waste such as bark. Another ingredient is coir (coprah) which will have been processed on the other side of the world: soaked in buffering chemicals, dried and then shipped to Europe, for adding to peat free compost. Though its a recycled natural product and often sold as being natural and from sustainable sources, it’s hardly “green”. It’s carbon footprint can be very high.
In the main this article deals with composts that dont contain coir or bark
Overcoming Peat Free Compost Problems
One of the biggest complaints about peat free compost is that it dries out very fast compared with peat. There’s a reason for this. Peat is a natural product, but prior to bagging was always processed. First it was screened to take out any lumps and woody remains, large bog oaks are often found in peat deposits. Then wetting agents and a small amount of fertiliser was often added. The fertiliser level depended on the purpose of the peat and the wetting agent was to ensure the peat didn’t dry out easily, or at least would accept any water given to it should it get dry. Other ingredients such as sand, coir or bark were sometimes added. So peat based composts were far from natural and could contain “chemicals” in many cases. They were rarely pure peat.
Todays peat free composts are rarely processed as thoroughly. They are not always screened, so can contain wood and plastics. And it is rare for wetting agents to be added. So is it no wonder that people complain about the rubbish in them or their inability to retain water?
My solution is to add a wetting agent to each mix. Just a few drops of washing up liquid watered into each bag is enough. Give it a good mix to ensure even distribution. How much to add depends on the washing up liquid you favour and the compost you are using. I can’t be more precise and you need to experiment.
Low Nutrition Peat Free Composts
As explained above peat free composts rarely have fertilisers added. So the nutrition levels are low. In time, they release nutrients, but it can be very slow and often this isn’t good for young plants.
My solution is to add a small amount of organic fertiliser to each bag, and mix it throughly. This can make a huge difference to young plants. It’s stil slow release, but much better.
Inconsistent Peat Free Compost
Most peat free compost is made from composted kitchen and garden waste that comes from council collections. It can be very variable depending on the time of year. In autumn it contains a lot of dead leaves. At other times it can contain shrub prunings and be quite woody. Sometimes it can contain a lot of grass mowings. And in winter it’s largely food waste with less garden waste. Is it no wonder it is variable and inconsistent in quality? And bear in mind that some people though plastics and other republish in their green waste bins. I’ve even seen reports of old paint tins. The product is never going to be consistent unless we’ll processed.
My recommendation is to screen peat free compost before using it. A piece of weld mesh over a barrow or barrel can take out a lot of the bigger rubbish ans give a more consistent product.
Mouldy Peat Free Compost
If compost is left very wet in a sealed bag for too long it will go mouldy. It’s inevitable as we are dealing with an organic material that will continue to decompose if the conditions dictate it.
My solution is simple. Tip the compost out of the bag, onto a large plastic sheet and let it dry out a bit. The mould is unlikely to hurt most plants once it’s dried out a bit. It’s only mouldy because it is too wet and virtually anaerobic in a sealed bag,
Peat Free Compost Thoughts
Though frequently maligned by some gardeners others are more than happy with using peat free. Growers such as Beth Chatto grow and sell plants grown in peat free compost and Which magazine have written some excellent articles on peat alternatives and they advocate it’s use.
More Peat Free Thoughts
I’m against the use of peat but acknowledge that peat free composts can be problematic. I’m usually able to understand how to deal with them because I’ve had many years of commercial experience. But I know it’s not as easy for amateurs.
So here is my best advice. I like to mix peat free compost, or preferably manure with screened sterilised top soil. I usually use a 50:50 mix. The soil makes for a more open mix and encourages air spaces in the mix.
Soil can be sterilised in a microwave. Put moist soil in the microwave and take it to 70-80C throughout.
I add organic fertiliser, the quantity depending on the final use of the compost. I add more for tomatoes or cucumbers and less for seedlings.
The image below shows various seedlings growing in my home made compost mix of soil and well rotted manure.
Theres more on composts via this link.