There is a very big word circulating at the moment, with a very wide and important meaning – sustainability.. As it applies as much in the garden world as anywhere else, please allow me to sum it up in four words – doing the right thing.
Let’s start from the ground up.
We’ve been told repeatedly not to use peat, and yet garden centres are still selling peat based composts. Why? Probably because the purchase price only reflects the cost of extraction and transport. If you also factored in the twelve thousand years plus that peat takes to accumulate in a modern bog, the price at the till would be so prohibitive that you wouldn’t touch it with a barge-pole.
However, it’s all very well saying not to use something, but where are the alternatives? Any material produced should have to make it through a Responsible Sourcing Calculator – measuring such things as energy and water use, social compliance, habitat and biodiversity implications, pollution of production, renewability and so on.
Coir has been suggested as a good growing medium for plants. It’s cheap enough with reasonable water holding capacity. But if you track the production process back to its source, coir needs a vast amount of water to clean it in the first place. Although it’s not our water, it’ll be a precious commodity to someone else in the world.
Wood-based fibre mixes are also available, but are a very strange colour. I was given a bag of it to trial as a mulch, and although the plants thrived through the extremes of last summer, I must confess to a momentary frown that my front garden was now a rather vulgar bright orange. Perhaps I should keep reminding myself that plants are much more tolerant that we humans.
There’s also a notion that spent coffee grounds could be an answer. After all in the UK people drink 70 million cups per day, and what is left is all waste – and plant waste at that. I’m told that currently most spent coffee is mixed with wood chips, pelleted into biofuel and then burnt.
I think that Kew Gardens has the answer with its giant compost heap, and there’s a secret ingredient; the Royal Mounted Horseguards has tons of the stuff and so lorry loads of this ‘magic’ are delivered each week, and Kew’s plants must be the happiest in London as a result.
So, do the right thing for your soil by mulching with well-rotted horse manure –and now is a very good time of year to be doing this. No need to dig it in.
If you don’t have any royal horse poo connections, then simply get some of more humble origins from any decent garden centre. Country Natural is a great product!
It’ll improve soil structure, re-mineralise it, suppress weeds and conserve water – and it’s totally sustainable.. And, your plants will thrive through any hot drought that summer throws at them.