Real Men Sow

£5 a Month Veg Plot March Update – Cutting Down on Multipurpose Compost

homemadesoilApologies for a rather belated £5 a Month Veg Plot March update. I’ve not been hiding another massive overspend, honest. Well, maybe a little bit…

I did actually keep within my budget his month, except for one costly but essential item: multipurpose compost.

When I started growing veg, I remember my mum telling me I’d get through bags and bags of compost and she’s been proved absolutely right. I like to use peat free compost, but this can be expensive. For example, I’ve already spent £12 on two small bags this year, and I’ve not really got underway with seed sowing.

Making My Own Potting Compost
Subsequently, I want to cut down on my use of multipurpose compost. To do this, I’m trying a few new ideas, including making some of my own (pictured).

I’ve made a start on this, sieving and mixing together a batch of equal part kitchen compost, molehill soil and leaf mould – all free components easily created or collected if you’re prepared to put some time in.

One problem with making my own potting compost is not being able to sterilise it, so some weeds will always appear. I’m therefore going to trial using the homemade compost when growing bigger, easily identifiable seedlings, such as peas and French beans. I’ll pull the weeds out as they emerge.

Buying Cheaper Compost
However, making enough might also be a problem, especially as I’m becoming more and more interested in growing certain veg in containers. Container growing is soil thirsty and using expensive multipurpose compost seems extravagant, so I’m giving the Wickes peat free bargain bucket stuff a go. This is priced at £4.07 for 60L, but the bags are on offer at £13 for 4. After asking around, I’ve found a mate who is willing to try it too, reducing the cost to £3.25 per 60L bag.

I can’t deny that the compost looks alarmingly like smashed up pallets in woodchip, but I reckon for unfussy potatoes it’ll be fine. Given that potatoes will be taking up a lot of my containers this year, the Wickes compost could prove a bargain.

Mixing Good with Bad
For other container crops I’m trying, like peas, carrots and parsnips, I can always mix in some of my own potting compost to improve the Wickes compost. I’ve already done this with a long planter of greenhouse strawberry plants, layering the container from bottom to top with some of last year’s multipurpose compost, kitchen compost, and fresh multipurpose compost. The plants are looking really healthy, despite being tiny runners that were overlooked for my garden strawberry patch because of their size.

broadiesMaking the Compost Go Further
I’ve also been experimenting with squeezing more seeds into pots when growing seedlings to plant out. The 14 broad beans plants planted out in my March Patch From Scratch update all came from just 4 pots (pictured), and I’ve also successfully transplanted 18 pea seedlings that were grown in 5 pots.

I’m planning to continue this experiment with French beans, runner beans and even more peas (I’m addicted to peas this year), as well as a sowing of squashes and courgette seeds for comparison.

I’ll never be self-sufficient in potting compost, nor cut out the use of it, but to try and make what I do have go as far as possible will contribute significantly to keeping my costs low and affordable.

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13 Comments

  1. ChrisApril 10, 2013 at 8:28 pmReply

    I’ve got similar concerns about the cost of fertiliser throughout the growing season. i’ve heard you can make your own from fermented comfrey or nettles though, so I might give that a try.

  2. wellywomanApril 11, 2013 at 8:40 amReply

    I’ve got similar problems here too. Considering it’s a natural resource compost is getting to be quite and expensive habit. I have no source of green waste as the company that was producing it locally has been closed down. The stuff it produced was pretty ropy stuff anyway. Can’t find a source of well rotted manure either. Well not from anyone who can guarantee it hasn’t been contaminated with that herbicide anyway. So now I’m looking at buying it in bulk. I certainly won’t pass your £5 a month challenge. And because of logistics we can’t get it delivered loose or even in the bulk bags which means it’s even more expensive.

  3. Jono

    JonoApril 11, 2013 at 6:14 pmReplyAuthor

    I don’t think I’m going to pass the £5 a month challenge either WW!

    How did you get on with sea weed? I seem to remember you trying that before? Or are you near a brewery? Hops are meant to be fantastic.

    Hey Chris – this is true. Check out Emma the Gardener’s website (emmacooper.org), she’s got some great stuff on that.

  4. GemApril 16, 2013 at 10:32 amReply

    I started veggie gardening about a year ago (on a terrace in Australia) and spent a good $200 on soil for my pots. My first year was amazing. This year, to my dismay, I discovered ‘c grubs’ (lawn grubs) in my veggie pots! The local nursery told me to throw ALL the soil out as the soil is no good. :(

    Do you get these pesky “aliens” in UK soil?

  5. Jono

    JonoApril 16, 2013 at 12:21 pmReplyAuthor

    Hey Gem – that’s soul destroying! I’m so sorry to hear that. I make that £135, ouch.

    I’ve not heard of the grubs before. The RHS has some advice on dealing with them, but sadly nothing about whether your soil is still any good:

    http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/profile.aspx?pid=487

  6. AlisonApril 16, 2013 at 7:59 pmReply

    I don’t think we should overlook just scooping up a bit of garden soil to put in a pot for seed sowing in the greenhouse or cold frame, should we? Weeds, pests and diseases all possible of course but still some advantages for the seeds over the ones in the seed drill (thinking slugs in my case!) and cuts out all the environmental downsides of the compost trade.

  7. Jono

    JonoApril 16, 2013 at 8:35 pmReplyAuthor

    Hey Alison – that’s an interesting point. I’m sure I read somewhere seeds don’t actually need much nutrients in the soil to germinate, its when you pot the seedlings on that this is required?

    • AlisonApril 17, 2013 at 9:10 amReply

      Yes and I once had expounded to me the idea that plants should progress from poor to rich conditions to flourish rather than rich to poor which might happen when we plant out. Did gardeners once always use garden soil? – the strong and healthy surplus beans handed to me once by an older allotment neighbour were.

  8. GemApril 17, 2013 at 7:55 amReply

    Definitely soul destroying! Also has put me off having a dig, I can handle worms but these creatures are truly gross! Admittedly, I asked my poor husband to get rid of them as I was a wimp :)

    Thanks for the link! I went through the soil again and haven’t found any more bugs so maybe I’ll take my chances – seems a waste otherwise. The grubs like synthetic fertilisers and compost, interestingly my organic compost I made the past six months have been grub free.

  9. Paul1shMay 9, 2013 at 12:02 amReply

    I sterilise my soil for potting that way I can re-use it time and time again.

    • Jono

      JonoMay 9, 2013 at 5:51 amReplyAuthor

      How do you do that Paul?

      • Paul1shMay 9, 2013 at 12:17 pmReply

        Hi Jono , as luck would have it I was researching in to Victorian & Wartime garden practices when I stumbled across sterilising soil/ spent compost to re-use for seed sowing compost .
        Cutting the story short basically you have to boil the soil for 30 minutes . I use a 20 brick ‘rocket stove’ at the allotment powered by dried weeds , wood and old newspapers but you can (and I have ) use one of those portable gas stoves that take gas cartridges and an old non-stick pan and lid.

        The method is to fill the pan with soil / spent compost up to an inch from the rim .
        Boil some water and add around 500ml of boiling water (it needs roughly to be the amount that would fill the empty pan up to a depth of one inch ) .
        Add the boiling water to the soil/spent compost . Put the lid on the pan and simmer for 30 minutes.
        Once cooled the sterilised mixture is ready to use for sowing.
        Please note this is a seed sowing mixture and will contain no nutrients as seeds do not require nutrients to germinate .
        Use your sieved home-made compost for potting on.
        Also please don’t try this indoors – the mixture has an unpleasant odour that your family wont thank you for.
        Hope this helps in your £5 challenge, Paul

      • Paul1shApril 19, 2016 at 11:47 pmReply

        I was just sorting the attic out when I noticed the instructions for the wallpaper steam stripper. It gives instructions on sterilising soil – “to sterilise soil in seed trays rake the soil to obtain a fine surface . Leave the steam plate on each section , for 2 to 2.5 minutes which should ensure the steam has penetrated through the surface.” . Hopefully this will help someone as they’re not that expensive to buy.

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meIn 2007, I took on a redundant allotment plot with my gardening-mad mum Jan. As all good mums do, she went along with it, but I don’t think she held out much hope. However, over a decade later, and she now lets me do stuff without watching over my shoulder, so I must be doing something right. [ read more ]

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