Trying a compost made using sheep wool and bracken

PUBLISHED: 16:31 10 April 2015 | UPDATED: 16:31 10 April 2015

Simon Bland and Jane Barker of Dalefoot Composts

Simon Bland and Jane Barker of Dalefoot Composts

Naomi Slade

Finding the perfect compost for the job is not always easy, says Naomi Slade. Now she’s trying one using sheep wool and bracken

Back when I first started gardening, when dinosaurs roamed the land and pterodactyls were frequent bird table visitors, the growing medium that my grandparents used was mostly peat. It came compressed into big polythene sacks, crumbling into pots and thirstily soaking up water. My grandfather would sometimes talk reverently about John Innes, but this didn’t mean a lot to me, I was a kid and just grew stuff on whatever soil-type thing I could get my hands on.

Later, I started ‘doing’ my mother’s on a consistent basis. By now I had learned about sphagnum bogs and environmental degradation, conservation and organics.

I went to the garden centre for a bag of compost. Decent enough stuff. But there is nothing like immersing yourself in pleasurable potting to ponder. I pondered about what I was using. Was it sustainable? Was it, in fact, the right tool for the job? It clearly contained peat. I liked things that were organic. The evangelical flames of youth and idealism ignited.

Next time, I bought compost labelled ‘peat-free’ and ‘organic’. This was the way forward I felt. I sowed seeds, potted up containers and house plants. And while I got by, I was not very happy. This compost was twiggy and coarse. It didn’t hold water terribly well – or indeed nutrients. Not all my plants flourished. So I started to experiment.

It is fair to say that peat-free and organic composts have come on a long way. For a while now my default compost has been Levington peat-free – a pretty good all-rounder. But one compost does not fit all situations. Seedlings don’t like to be overfed and need a consistent level of moisture. Containers must retain water but not to the point where they become soggy and stagnant.

There are constant improvements in the field so I was interested to hear about products made from sheep wool and bracken by Dalefoot Composts in the Lake District. Early signs are hopeful. They are keen to promote it as sustainable and say encouraging things about nutrient levels, while the fine, crumbly mixture certainly seems to have good water retention.

I also like the fact that they have a straight ‘Wool Compost’ potting mix and also stronger mix, that can be used to revitalise spent composts and as a basis for your own mixtures, plus ‘Lakeland Gold’ for top dressing and an ericaceous version.

I’m a simple soul, all I want is a compost that works effectively and doesn’t cost the earth. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Dalefoot Compost: www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk; Levington compost: widely available

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