Seabrook on ... The quality of growbags

Visiting a school greenhouse recently, I was shown rows of tomatoes growing in pots and growbags: two pairs of plants were half the size of the rest, thin and yellow.

The teacher in charge apologised for the appearance of those four sickly plants which, it was explained, were grown in peat-free compost. Thank goodness the rest in peat mixes were a credit to the garden club pupils who were growing them.

At another school I discovered a similar story. There, the teacher in charge said: "Miracle-Gro Compost proved so much better than any other compost we had used previously. We will not be using anything else in future, regardless of price."

What is to be done about potting composts sold to gardeners that are not fit for purpose? My apologies for returning to this subject, but those bags of potting compost sold to consumers are the starting point for new gardeners and the foundation for healthy, well-grown plants for us all.

Putting inferior potting composts into the hands of children is, in my view, unforgivable. We run the risk of giving them such a bad experience that they will never try to grow anything again.

Lack of rainfall in the first half of this year has brought one real benefit - I hear that the Irish have had one of their best peat harvests for years. Several wet summers in a row had reduced yields to the point where peat was in short supply and prices had risen. This encouraged the increased use of peat substitutes, including some very unsuitable diluents.

We know from many years' experience that good peat-based potting composts can be made with 25 to 30 per cent wood fibres, composted bark and/or uniform green waste. Why not stick with something that works until such time as we have a better alternative at an acceptable price?

Peat is a reliable material and if we control water tables after harvest, it is a renewable resource.

- Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster

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