A Gloucestershire grower of premium organic produce and plants has benefited from switching to Carbon Gold compost - even in a season when water retention has been less of an issue.
Daylesford Organic market garden manager Jez Taylor told Grower that the biochar and coir-based media had been particularly useful in plant propagation. This is done on heated benches in polytunnels, concentrating on the more unusual varieties that Daylesford grows on and also sells as plants.
"We started using Carbon Gold last summer and now use it across the board," said Taylor. "It's quite exceptional - you don't get drying out or shrinkage."
He added: It sustains the plant quality over time. We have not been watering as much this spring - there has been less need to spot-water, although that is partly down to the lack of hot days.
"And while the farm has cut overall water use by a third this season, the volume of water involved is not great compared to field irrigation," said Taylor.
"It's not about water saving so much as peace of mind. It helps with the drainage but also locks up moisture. Especially for the higher-value crops in the polytunnel, it stops nutrition draining out of the soil. But you need to understand how to use it."
For plant sales, Taylor said: "We are getting really good-looking plants in 13cm fibre pots that don't yellow. Germination can be stunted if the block dries out, but the Carbon Gold keeps it wet a bit longer. Germination rates have been much better this year, with no damping off."
The compost also provides an alternative to peat-based media among the limited range of organically approved products, he added. "Growers argue that peat isn't as sustainable and the Soil Association would like to phase it out."
Described by Taylor as "a traditional market garden", Daylesford Organic's 8ha site produces more than 100 varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruit, which are sold through its farm shop, restaurant and two outlets in London.
Weather woe continues - Crops three weeks behind
This season's "bloody awful" weather has brought challenges across the board, Daylesford Organic market garden manager Jez Taylor explained.
"We are three weeks behind last year. June-bearing and later varieties of strawberries have all come at once. Fleece has lain wet in the fields, harbouring slugs, then it flaps around in the wind, wrecking the leaves below. But at least the wind has kept the blight away," he said.
"Propagation has been easier to manage though, and polytunnel crops have never looked so good."