All Change for Some Modern Peat-free Composts This Spring

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‘Ecobulb’ tulip ‘White Dream’ growing in peat-free compost.

Two of the modern peat-free composts I’ve been sowing and growing in successfully for several years, are a-changing. It’s all down to rebranding, and to one business being taken over by another (after it went bust).

It’s always tedious when businesses start tinkering with proven, recognisable brands, but it’s something our often fickle gardening industry seems particularly prone to.

This is a summary of what’s happening to two brands of peat-free compost that many gardeners have been relying on for some time.

VITAL EARTH MULTI PURPOSE COMPOST – those bright orange bags are gone for good.

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RIP: Vital Earth Multi Purpose Compost.

Vital Earth’s packaging was one of the most recognisable of all, meaning this top-performing peat-free compost stood out amongst the mountains of nature-wrecking peat-based (some of it 100% peat) composts that still loom tall in most garden centres and other outlets.

growise-peat-free-multipurpose-compostBut the Vital Earth brand has been killed off. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the same reliable peat-free mix can now be found in a different bag, sold under the ‘Growise’ brand, as Bord na Móna Growise Peat Free Multipurpose Compost (right). Bord na Móna tell me that this is a direct replacement for Vital Earth Multi Purpose Compost, and is still made primarily from UK- and Irish-sourced ‘green waste’, composted and refined under exacting conditions. There’s still some orange on the bag, too.

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RIP: Vital Earth Multi Purpose Compost with added John Innes.

The equally easily spotted blue and red bags of Vital Earth Multi Purpose Compost with added John Innes are also no more. But there’s more good news for those who’ve grown great plants using this mix (including me); it’s now available as Growise Peat Free Multipurpose Compost with added John Innes in a new-look blue-themed bag (below).

growise-peat-free-compost-added-john-innesBord na Móna tell me that all of the Growise soil improvers, which have replaced the Vital Earth range, are completely peat-free.

 

Bord na Móna – don’t they dig up sphagnum peat bogs to make peat-based composts?

Indeed they do. Bord na Móna has long been a company which mines peat to sell for both fuel and for horticultural and gardening use. But times are changing. Bord na Móna now talks of having a ‘contract with nature’ (whatever that actually means), and states that it will ‘never again … open another peat bog’. This is encouraging news. Read more on Bord na Móna’s future thinking here, and reach your own conclusions.

Should I avoid buying peat-free composts from companies that also sell peat-based mixes?

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Use your trolley power.

It’s easy – perhaps a little lazy – to simply avoid buying a modern and reliable peat-free compost because its manufacturer still peddles peat-based composts as well. But think of it like this: for every bag of peat-free compost you pop in the trolley, it means one more bag of peat-based compost stays on the pile. That sends a powerful message to garden centres and shops that gardeners want reliable, top quality peat-free composts which, unlike peat, don’t harm nature and unlock carbon stores.

It’s called voting with your shopping trolley. Us gardeners wield a powerful ‘green pound’ which, if used wisely, can help reshape the compost-making industry by turning it a whole lot greener.

For more information on the Growise compost range visit www.thegreenergardener.com


NEW HORIZON ORGANIC & PEAT FREE MULTI-PURPOSE COMPOST – same name, new bag, but a completely different mix.

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Old-look New Horizon.

Westland Horticulture took over the previous manufacturer of New Horizon Organic & Peat Free Multi-Purpose Compost (William Sinclair Horticulture Ltd) in 2016. Since then, they have reformulated this peat-free compost so that it no longer contains any ‘green waste’, which is what the old tried and trusted New Horizon was based on. The new-look bags of New Horizon (below) now contain the same basic mix that’s also sold as Gro-Sure Peat Free All-Purpose Compost (a blend of coir, wood fibre and bark).

new-horizon-peat-free-compost-new-mix Westland tell me that the two mixes are the same; the only difference is that New Horizon contains an ‘organic’ fertiliser, while Gro-Sure Peat Free contains inorganic fertilisers, including one that’s controlled release (the small pale-coloured orbs found in the compost).

So it’s goodbye ‘old’ New Horizon. But – you guessed it – there’s even more good news. Gro-Sure Peat Free (the same mix that’s now in New Horizon bags) has been a good doer for me in my garden, and has performed consistently well in my compost trials. It has a different feel to it that what you might be used to with the original New Horizon, but it’s well worth a try.

gro-sure-peat-free-all-purpose-compostThe reason New Horizon no longer contains green waste is because Westland believe that ‘green waste is simply not up to the standard or consistency required by all and is not delivering the results our consumers deserve’.

It’s a curious comment, given that New Horizon has been a mainstay of peat-free gardening for many, for many years. You can’t help wondering whether scaremongering by pro-peat (and by association anti-nature) gardening pundits has finally gotten a bite.

Westland Horticulture – don’t they dig up sphagnum peat bogs to make peat-based composts?

Indeed they do, but unlike Bord na Móna, I can’t find anything on their website suggesting they’re planning any time soon to stop (or even think about stopping) the mining of sphagnum moss peat to turn into compost for gardeners. Should you avoid buying a modern and reliable peat-free compost from a company that also sells an extensive range of peat-based composts (including ‘Jack’s Magic’ which is almost 100% peat), as well as many pesticides and weedkillers?

Read my thoughts above on voting with your shopping trolley, and the power of the gardener’s ‘green pound’. Then decide for yourself.

For more information on New Horizon and Gro-Sure Peat Free visit www.gardenhealth.com


More on going peat-free in your garden or allotment…

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Runner beans sown in pots of Vital Earth Multi Purpose Compost.

• For tips on peat-free sowing, potting and growing see How to Succeed in Your Garden With Modern, Reliable and Nature-friendly Peat-free Compost.

• See what other peat-free gardeners and commercial growers (yes, there are flourishing peat-free businesses out there) are up to, and share your own peat-free experiences by joining Twitter and tagging tweets from your balcony, garden or allotment with the hashtag ‘#peatfree’. Nature’s loving it.

• Check out my articles and posts about all things peat-free here.

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18 Responses to All Change for Some Modern Peat-free Composts This Spring

  1. pixie1nigel says:

    Shame New Horizon has changed. I found it very consistent over a period of years, noting that it required extra nutrients after only four weeks on hungry crops. It was widely available and at a reasonable price too.

    • John Walker says:

      Thanks, Nigel. Although it’s a different mix to the ‘old’ New Horizon, I have found Gro-Sure Peat Free All-Purpose a good all-rounder in my trials, both for sowing, potting up mail order plants, and for potting on. You’ll have to check with your local stockist on price, but if you can’t find it easily, some of the Co-operative Food stores have been selling Gro-Sure Peat Free All-Purpose for the last few years – it’s essentially the same as ‘new’ New Horizon.

  2. Phill says:

    Any thoughts on SylvaGrow?

    • John Walker says:

      More and more gardeners are switching to SylvaGrow and getting excellent results. It’s based on a professional peat-free mix that commercial growers have been using for many years, so it’s hardly surprising that it’s an all-round performer in gardens/allotments. Which? Gardening recently gave it a ‘best buy’ for raising young plants (January/February 2016).

      There are several modern and reliable peat-frees that I’ve tested, but for me SylvaGrow has the edge.

      There’s also SylvaGrow Ericaceous and new this spring, SylvaGrow All Purpose Peat Free Growing Medium with Added John Innes. You can track down your local supplier on http://www.sylvagrow.co.uk

      The feedback on social media is positive; try following the hashtag #peatfree – and maybe join in?

  3. Mark Willis says:

    Westland seem to be taking over everyone! I have had several different types of compost from them (including Jack’s Magic), but I am not satisfied with any of them. The worst thing is that I have had lots of trouble with weedkiller contamination, which is evidently the result of the incorporation into “Green waste” of lawn-clippings from domestic gardens to which these weedkillers have been applied. These weedkillers are incredibly damaging to garden plants, particularly veg like tomatoes and chillis, and are very persistent. Their effect lasts for years, literally.

    • John Walker says:

      Thanks for chipping in, Mark. Yes, residues from lawn/hormone weedkillers have been a problem in the past, but just because a peat-free mix uses ‘green waste’ (I would much rather we renamed it as ‘green resource’) doesn’t mean it will give you problems. I’m not aware of any widespread problems in the last few years, even from contaminated animal manure.

      I wrote about this in 2012, and you’ll find it here.

      Ironically, of course, it’s irresponsible gardeners who use hormone/lawn weedkillers who then give the problem to other gardeners by disposing of polluted lawn clippings in garden/green waste bins that go off for large-scale composting. There are clear instructions about what to do with contaminated clippings on every pack. It’s an own goal for gardeners everywhere.

      Even more irresponsible is the scaremongering by a minority of pro-peat gardening pundits trying their best to rubbish the reputation of peat-free composts by spreading scare stories about green waste compost. This article by me explores that further.

  4. Freda Maxfield says:

    I also liked New Horizon but last year had very stunted and sick seedlings. I wondered if weedkillers had got in there.
    I might try to make my own mix this year but can’t sterilize it so not sure how successful it will be. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

    • John Walker says:

      Sorry to hear about that, Freda.

      Of course it’s irresponsible gardeners/others who are at the source of these problems when they add polluted lawn mowings to ‘green waste’ collection bins (or take them to their local recycling centre). Gardening pundits who promote polluting lawn weedkillers are also responsible. There is detailed information on the packs if you insist on using hormone weedkillers, but it’s often ignored.

      Please have a look at my article here, which has some links showing typical symptoms of damage by weedkiller pollution in compost.

      ‘Sterilising’ compost won’t solve the problem of weedkiller pollution as these are persistent chemicals in the environment. I’ve become much less persuaded of the value of ‘sterilising’ compost. Many modern peat-free composts often have a slight white ‘mould’ inside the bags, which is nothing to worry about. It shows the compost is actually alive with unseen microbial organisms, which plants actually need. After all, soil isn’t sterile, is it?

      The sterilising fetish is something of a throwback to the bad old days when horticulturists used to steam/fumigate soil where over-cropping led to the build up of pests and diseases, and loam was heated up to kill off weed seeds.

      I don’t sterilise my home-made peat-free sowing and potting mixes, I often have tiny toadstools growing in pots, which do no harm, and I have strong, healthy plants.

  5. Freda Maxfield says:

    Thanks John.
    I mean to use home-made compost and leafmould to make my seed compost. That’s why I was mentioning sterilisation. I think providing there are no vine weevil grubs in there it should be ok. I shall sieve it first to help eliminate any such unwelcome ingredients.
    Good to see you back online, by the way. I have missed your wise words.

    • John Walker says:

      I wouldn’t ‘sterilise’ my leaf mould or worm-worked compost for the world, but I sieve almost everything, if only to work lazy back muscles.

      I’ve been online for a while, but thanks for saying that. If you haven’t seen it already, have a look at my ‘Renewable Gardening’ articles over at Hartley Botanic. I think they might be right up your garden path. Thanks again for chipping in here.

  6. The extraction of peat from the Somerset Levels is known to have taken place during Roman times, and has been carried out since the Levels were first drained.

    • John Walker says:

      So what? Are you really suggesting that we go on extracting carbon-emitting sedge peat just because we always have – even though we are in the midst of an environmental emergency? Given that modern, reliable peat-free composts are now being used by more and more gardeners, and by professional plant growers who run successful businesses with them, why would we need to dig up carbon stores to grow chrysanthemums? Sorry, these ‘we always have’ arguments are simply flaccid and outdated.

  7. Polly Phillips says:

    Hi John
    Just wanted to put on record my experience of using Sylvagrow for first time this year after reading your comments, plus Which? and RHS endorsement. Sadly I have had worst growing season ever of over 30 years growing veg. Started off seedlings in Fertle Fibre seed compost, germinated well, then transplanted to Sylvagrow M P. No growth to speak of, in roots or leaves. I am wondering whether retail version is different from trade? I bought mine online so could be old stock, left out in rain all winter so no fertilizer? Whatever, it has been an expensive disaster. Not sure what to try next.

    • John Walker says:

      I’m sorry to hear that, Polly. The feedback I’ve had about SylvaGrow has been overwhelmingly positive. The version gardeners can buy is the same as the professional mix, so that ought not to make a difference. The age of the bag might be a factor, but I’ve asked Melcourt, who make SylvaGrow, to have a look at your comment and get back to us on here.

  8. Wiz B says:

    I had the same experience as Freda with New Horizon last year – I suspect it was contamination with weedkiller. I was in despair as I have used & recommended it for years but felt totally let down last year. I suspect that is what Westland is referring to by “green waste is simply not up to the standard or consistency required by all and is not delivering the results our consumers deserve”.
    To be honest I’m very relieved that they will be using a different source for New Horizon so I will buy some when I see the new packaging.

  9. Daniel Papworth says:

    “It’s easy – perhaps a little lazy – to simply avoid buying a modern and reliable peat-free compost because its manufacturer still peddles peat-based composts as well.”

    Not in my experience! It was hard work finding a company that was totally peat-free. If buying compost from companies that still use peat really “sends a powerful message to garden centres and shops” then it is a message they either are not getting or we are not giving. I think those of us who want a more ecologically sustainable future are too patient. We have been sending this message for over a decade and yet peat still appears – up to 70 per cent in one compost I saw this morning. We need to support companies that are completely peat-free or produce alternatives such as “Fertile Fibre” (rated top in the list of peat-free companies by Ethical Consumer), by asking retailers to stock them and buying from them directly. There are others too: check out the list on the Ethical Consumer website.

    • John Walker says:

      Thanks Daniel.

      Thankfully modern and reliable peat-free composts are quickly becoming mainstream (and recovering from the damaging misinformation that pro-peat gardening ‘journalists’ have been churning out for decades).

      I agree the message of the harm done to nature through peat extraction has failed (as have many other wake-up calls about environmental degradation), but there’s a new message that’s proving far more persuasive: some 21st century peat-free composts can beat peat hands down and they’re being used by more and more commercial growers to run successful businesses. The best bit is these modern and reliable mixes are now available to us gardeners.

      If you want an example of where professional grade peat-free composts are proving a hit with gardeners, do have a look at the SylvaGrow range: http://sylvagrow.co.uk They are introducing SylvaGrow Organic this spring (March 2017), which is certified by the Soil Association.

      After several years of nuts and bolts garden trials, I’m mostly recommending (in March 2017) the SylvaGrow range, Wool Compost from http://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk and Fertile Fibre http://www.fertilefibre.com

  10. Angharad Pike says:

    Hi John
    Just wanted to say thank you for a useful and informative article. I had been looking for the peat-free New Horizon and couldnt understand why I could no longer get it. I am now trying the Bord na Móna Growise Peat Free Multipurpose Compost and even better its supplied by my local family run hardware store here on Hayling Island. They stock most of the Bord na Moda range so I am looking at trying some of the other peat-free options.

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