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Garden and other green waste is composted, using a unique process – hi-tech, yet completely natural – to destroy weeds, pests and diseases, and to create a superbly-textured compost high in humus, protected at all stages from contamination and rainfall.
The nutrient-rich compost is size-graded to give it the right texture and thus optimal air:water balance, then blended with specially processed forestry co-products and Vitalizer Organic Plant Food: a special organic, long-lasting nitrogen source.
Stockbridge Technology Centre helped Vital Earth show that Kayak Growbag produces much better-flavoured tomatoes than the leading peat-based growbag (and that Vital Earth Organic Plant Food also boosts flavour). In 2008, a container growing trial by a major national retailer (Homebase) showed that Vital Earth Multipurpose Compost was the best-performing peat-free multipurpose.
Gardening Which? multi purpose compost trials showed that Vital Earth Multipurpose Compost performed best overall but results were not published because of the name and formulation change which took place at the time. Vital Earth organic compost performed particularly well in germination tests: the most challenging use for a growing medium.
Performance of peat-free vs peat-based?
All peat-free composts, including the Vital Earth range will give just as good a performance as any peat-based product.
They do tend to behave slightly differently however, so it’s good to know what to look out for! For example, seeds and young plants may appear to get off to a slightly slower start with peat-free, but they soon catch up.
We say that Vital Earth’s organic composts are “marathon runners rather than sprinters”! A very good consequence of this is that the resulting plants are more sturdy and compact than with peat-based. Peat-based composts can result in apparently vigorous, but overly lush plants which are more prone to disease/pest and frost/wind damage.
Peat-free composts may also appear drier in the pot than peat-based, so to avoid possible over-watering, always check with a finger test to see if more moisture is required. Don’t just rely on visual evidence.
Peat-free composts produce just as many flowers, veg or fruits as peat-based, with the possible exception of slight reduction in tomato yield. This, however, is more than compensated for by a major improvement in tomato flavour, when grown in peat-free, consistently proven in consumer trial.
Are your growing media approved by the Soil Association?
No. Unfortunately, the Soil Association have not approved a key ingredient – albeit used in tiny amounts – because they regard its source as being derived from a "non-ethical system of animal husbandry."
However, it is certainly organic in the scientific sense of the word (i.e. of natural origin), recycled, sustainable and of UK origin. As farming exists today, we have no cost-effective alternative.
We have other differences of view e.g. SA approved use of aluminium sulphate as slug/snail killer – Vital Earth's view is that being traditional does not necessarily make it safe!
I was taught to "firm in" at potting – is that correct for Vital Earth composts?
No. Vital Earth's composts settle into the pot without much firming: they aren't soft and spongy like peat; more like a soil. This means you will fill approximately 10% more pots!
Are you sure that your composting destroys all weeds, pest and diseases – what about Japanese knotweed, ground elder, bindweed, clubroot, potato blight, E.coli, Salmonella . . ?
No problem. Vital Earth's composting process has been developed to meet the most stringent sanitisation requirements: several days at >70°C, followed by several weeks at >60°C destroy the most pernicious weeds and diseases of humans, animals and plants.
How are diseases eliminated?
Several weeks of composting at 70°C ( followed by several more weeks at 50 – 60°C) kills most diseases, plus pests and weed seeds, and destroys even the most pernicious weeds (eg Japanese Knot Grass, Ground Elder, Bind Weed, Couch Grass and White Bryony).
The more persistent (temperature-tolerant) diseases are “finished off” by prolonged biodegradation during the maturation phase. Even plant diseases such as Club Root – that have tough resting spores – are destroyed. Furthermore, green compost can suppress some plant diseases, e.g. bacterial leaf-spot diseases and Botrytis.
I've heard that peat-free composts only work if they are fresh – is that true?
Sadly, for many years that was true: many starved out even before use! However, thanks to years of research, Vital Earth composts perform well even after a year or more of storage.
As with all growing media, it's best to use them within this time span, especially after opening the bag (be sure to re-seal a part-used bag after use) and store in a cool, dry place.
The compost I have bought smells; has it gone off?
Vital Earth composts have a woody/soil-like odour, which can be quite marked when the bag is first opened, or after storage under warm conditions. They have a storage life of more than 1 year, so are unlikely to “go off”.
How should peat-free compost be stored?
Re-seal the bag and store in a cool dry place. Under these conditions, the storage life of Vital Earth compost is more than 12 months: much better than many peat-free products.
Are Vital Earth composts heavier than other composts?
At point of use they are heavier than all-peat composts but lighter than soil-based (eg traditional John Innes) composts. After watering, Vital Earth composts are only 10% heavier than peat-based products. In many uses – notably outdoor containers – the extra weight is very desirable, especially in windy weather!
Is it true that Kayak Growbag improves flavour for grow your own fruit and vegetables?
Yes. We have proved that it produces better flavoured tomatoes than both the leading peat-based Grow bag and a leading peat-free one.
I have planted up and watered my containers. The compost has now set hard; is anything wrong?
No. As the surface dries out, beneficial humic substances, produced during composting, “glue” the particles together, strengthening the rootball. If the surface is really hard the container needs/will soon need watering. This marked surface-drying deters liverwort, moss and algae in the long-term.
Specialist or Multi Purpose Compost
Specialist or multipurpose compost?
Multi purpose compost is a “jack of all trades" suitable for all growing tasks (except ericaceous plants). Nutrient levels are slightly too high for optimal germination but low enough to starve out slightly early where used for baskets, tubs etc.
Multipurpose compost suits the small/occasional user with little storage space. Specialist products suit the more dedicated/keener user and the user with very special needs, e.g. ericaceous or aquatic plants.
When to use Compost and Watering
What are the best times of year for compost- related tasks?
The same as for other composts. Autumn is the very best time for planting trees, shrubs and roses and it is a great time to top-dress a tired lawn and to establish a new one.
How do I know when to water?
There is some advice on the bag. Vital Earth's organic composts hold slightly less water than some peat composts – a benefit in many situations – so it's a case of slightly lighter watering but slightly more often.
Please be aware that, like most peat-free composts (but in contrast to peat), Vital Earth compost remains dark when it dries out. Just poke the surface with your finger: if it's soft, don't water; if it's hard, water. In time, you will recognise by weight whether or not a pot needs watering.
When I water my hanging baskets, the water that drains out is brown: will this do any harm?
All growing media contain some humic substances (the brown material) – peat-free ones more than peat. These substances are beneficial to plants in several ways, so try to water less heavily. If some drips onto wooden decking, tiles, or other special surfaces, wipe it up & leave a dish to collect any further run off.
Vegetarian or vegan
I'm a vegetarian/vegan. Does your compost contain meat?
The green waste delivered to our operation contains a tiny proportion of kitchen waste, which can include meat waste. However, in reality, garden waste accounts for approximately 99% of the total waste and, in over 6 years of composting, we have never seen a bone or other visible evidence of meat waste.
Our composting process is extremely robust: all organic matter is thoroughly sanitised and broken down to meet stringent hygiene quality standards.
Your other green credentials
Is the packaging recyclable?
Although some biodegradable plastics actually do what is claimed, they cannot be used to pack composts without risk of them degrading before use – hopefully, new technology will emerge one day to facilitate such packaging. However, many local authorities accept used polythene bags in their collection of plastics for recycling – actually plant pots tend to be made from recycled plastics.
I have followed the instructions on the bag and started to spread the product 6-12mm deep and the product has completely covered my lawn. Is this right, what should I do?
If your lawn is especially short, reduce cover to 3-6 mm (3-6 litres per square metre). Working in the dressing with a lawn rake or brush helps to settle it into the sward, as does watering.
Azaleas and Rhododendrons
Can I use Farmyard Manure to mulch my Azaleas and Rhododendrons?
Rhododendrons and Azaleas prefer low-nutrient acidic soils, whereas Farmyard Manure is nutrient-rich and neutral/slightly alkaline. So, for best results we would recommend Vital Earth Bark Chips, or Pine Bark Chips. The former is mixed conifer bark, instead of pure pine bark.
Both will suppress weeds well but the Pine Bark is slightly more attractive.
Fungi, Algae and Mould on Compost Mould
There appears to be a (white/yellow) mould on the compost. What is it and is it harmful?
Mature green compost contains a wide range of beneficial fungi: some enhance plant resistance to disease; some enhance nutrient supply to the root system; others improve soil structure.
These beneficial fungi tend to be associated particularly with the same woody particles that occasionally develop visible moulds so, although these harmless moulds may seem strange at first, they are a reminder that such compost is naturally rich in ‘friendly microbes’.
(Any harmful microbes are destroyed during the composting process – as are weed seeds.)
There appears to be a lot of little toadstools growing on the compost. What are they and will they harm my plants?
These fungi are only saprophytic: feeding off dead woody material in the green compost and bark. They do not steal plant nutrients, nor are they harmful to growing plants. They are more common during short/dark days when the compost dries out very slowly; dying down with warmer/brighter/longer days.
I get algae appearing on peat compost and, in long-term/outdoor containers, moss and liverwort. Will Vital Earth Organic composts do this?
Much less. Because the surface is freer-draining, these green nasties find it more difficult to grow.
Is it true that Vitaliser is an aphrodisiac?
Yes but, unfortunately, it only stimulates plants: otherwise I'd be very rich and very happy but very tired!
I need a fine-textured compost for aquaria which are homes for tarantula spiders and reptiles. Are your compost really free of added chemicals and safe for my pets?
All Vital Earth products are free of added chemicals. We would recommend Seed Sowing Compost (No. 1).