Seabrook On ... Content quality lets products down

Gardeners are not getting value for money on an increasing range of products, if my experience is any guide.

While the quality of packaging steadily improves overall, the contents in a number of cases do not.

Recently a bag of farmyard manure was required for soil improvement prior to planting cucumbers on a Berkshire allotment. A well-known brand in a glistening plastic bag cost £5 from an independent garden centre but on opening the contents were not very well composted broiler chicken house cleanings.

Wood shavings and chicken manure are a poor substitute for cattle or horse manure composted with straw, which is after all what farmyard manure is. Put wood shavings into the soil and nitrogen is tied up for several years, hardly the recipe for strong cucurbit growth.

Meanwhile, a packet of sweet peas bought as Gwendoline are just coming into flower and prove to be Flaked Mixed. Every week for two months I am going to be tying these cordon-grown plants frustrated by having the wrong cultivar.

As another example, a fleece-covered cloche, 1m wide and 2m long, bought by a second-season allotmenteer lasted just three weeks. The cardboard box was worth more than the contents.

Growing potatoes in containers is currently very fashionable, but many of the woven bags sold for this purpose are too deep. The packaging gives instruction to plant low down and earth up as the potatoes grow. This ends up with the compost dry at the top and waterlogged at the bottom.

One tuber in a 14-litre black polythene bag pot is all that is required to harvest a couple of kilos of new potatoes. No earthing up, fill the pot from the outset and if one or two new tubers push through the surface they need no more than a couple of handfuls of compost to cover them.

There are still quality products. The fungicide-dressed Grow-sure range of seeds from Unwins is higher priced but is giving gardeners good results and therefore value for money.

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster.

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