An interview about compost with Charlotte Beaty at Natural Grower: Important information about your soil health
If you are a gardener then you’ll appreciate the art of composting. It’s not a pleasant job. It requires space and a bit of labour, but the reward is ‘black gold’.
Although, there are many things to consider. It is unarguably important to the health of your soil. But do we really know what goes into commercial compost?
By making your own compost you are in control of what you put in. A perfect blend of brown and green materials. If you avoiding pesticides, then you will want to be certain none of your compost will contain any chemical nasties or micro plastics.
The trouble is, not everyone has room for a decomposing pile of organic material.
Or you might not have time for your compost pile to break down before the potting season. So you’ll need something ready made.
What should we look for?
We spoke to Charlotte who runs Natural Grower, producing 100% organic and vegan compost, to find out a little bit more.
Charlotte's family has been farming at Nevill Holt for over 50 years – originally operating as a dairy unit before diversifying into arable crops. They invested in a renewable energy plant – an anaerobic digester that is fed with non-gmo maize grown on the farm. They discovered that one of the process’s by-products was a nutrient-rich organic fertiliser that could be used to fertilise our arable crops. Now they produce compost and fertiliser products Approved Organic by the Soil Association as well as Approved Organic and BioDynamic by the BioDynamic Association. The products are also certified Vegan by the Vegan Society.
Great quality compost is well broken down. With more surface area water can be absorbed in to the soil better and allows roots to draw nutrients from the compost.
This is cheap multipurpose compost. You can see it is very fiberous. Water will not absorb as well when it is fully dry. Read the contents of the compost, there could be some traces of pesticides or plastics.
Soil conditioner is great for a slow release of nutrients into your beds. Mixing something like this into your beds will help maintain the health of your soil.
It's good news for your garden wildlife.
What makes good compost?
When making it
- Get the mix of green and brown ingredients right in your mixture
- Keep it turned to keep the air in and not letting it get too wet
A good compost is fit for purpose:
- Seedling compost will be light and airy so the roots can develop and breathe.
- A multi-purpose compost will hold the moisture and will provide nutrients to the plants.
What is an anaerobic digester?
In basic terms it is a very big tank that is fed with “energy” crops like maize and rye. We only feed ours with maize so it has a consistent source of food, and as a result we have a consistent fertiliser product come out of it. Over a period of 90 days the maize is broken down by all the lovely bacteria inside, producing gas as part of this process. This gas is used to create electricity for the national grid and the maize that went in comes out as a thick liquid called digestate. This is an amazing fertiliser that gets put back on to the fields to grow the next crop of maize. I also use this thick liquid to create our fertiliser and compost. See the infographic diagram that explains it nicely for you below.
Why is organic so important?
Organic growing feeds the soil and all the essential organisms that live in it. They all feed and support each other and they need true “organic” matter to thrive. If you help to create healthy soil this in turn creates healthy plants. If you are growing vegetables and fruit to eat, you don’t want to be using chemicals and then consuming on the food you have grown. Chemicals provide no long term benefits to the soil or the plants. We all need to start growing and gardening regeneratively for the future of our environment.
What can be the downside of buying generic compost from a garden centre?
You don’t know what is in it! All sorts of materials get added to mass produced, cheap compost. Green waste is used which results in lots of plastic in your flower and vegetable beds. People spray their grass with weedkiller and their grass cuttings then get added to the green waste bin and makes its way to the compost mixture. This has resulted in a lot of people losing their plants due to Aminopyralids and other chemicals contaminating the compost. Organic compost and fertiliser may cost you more money in the short term, but in the long term they will cost you a lot less and your soil and plants will thrive without needing lots of on going support.
How often should we apply soil conditioner?
You can add soil conditioner every time you plant an established seedling or plant in to containers or beds. You can add some to the hole you are planting in or mix it in to the top layer of the bed before planting. You can mulch all your beds with the conditioner at any time of year. Autumn/winter time is a good time to lock the warmth in to the soil and allow the worms and organisms to work the conditioner down in the ground over the winter, ready for spring planting in to lovely soil. Any time you make a new bed, mix the soil conditioner in to the soil. This will add nutrients to topsoil that is often lacking in goodness. Then finish with a good top dressing to lock the moisture in and give the bed a lovely final finish.
Find out more at www.naturalgrower.co.uk