Peat Free Compost Trial 2016

I have always loved our natural world.  I have always wished to protect every important habitat for plants, animals, and nature, all over the world.  I am passionate about protecting the rainforests and the many other wonderful, precious environments and habitats that exist on Earth, including peat bogs.  Peat bogs are amazing environments, covering just 2-3% of the planet’s surface.  Many of the special, rare, and interesting plants which are found growing in peat bogs can only be grown in the specific conditions found at these sites, and consequently if the conditions change, or the habitat is destroyed, the plants and the ecosystem that had evolved in that area is also lost.

Sadly many peat bogs have been destroyed, and many of those that do remain are in a bad condition, and require ongoing restoration.  Peat bogs are incredibly fragile – being built up and produced at a tiny rate of just one millimeter per year, if the optimum conditions are present.  If the necessary conditions are not available, the peat bog will not develop.

Peat bogs are valuable stores of sequestered carbon, locking up carbon dioxide and preventing it from being released back into the atmosphere, where it would contribute to global warming.  Currently peat bogs are being destroyed at a furious rate, part of this destruction is due to the continued use of peat in the horticultural industry and the horticultural retail market.

In order to prevent further destruction of peat bogs, it’s important for consumers to find top quality, effective, peat free, sustainable replacements, for all products that were traditionally formulated with peat.  There are many types of peat free compost available, although it’s worth noting that many of the compost formulations undergo frequent changes, which can be very frustrating if you find a particular peat free compost formula that works well for your needs, and then you’re unable to find the same compost again when you next wish to make a purchase.

The names of the composts offered for sale can also be confusing, and at times misleading – it’s often not clear which composts contain peat.  If you’re looking to purchase peat free compost, look for composts that are clearly and explicitly labelled as ‘peat free’.

Peat free composts can vary enormously, some peat-free composts I have purchased have only been suitable to use as a mulch to top dress plants, other composts I have reluctantly added to my compost heap, as they haven’t been of good enough quality to use from the bag, while some peat free composts I have used are of great quality, and consequently first rate, exhibition, and prize winning plants can be grown using these top quality growing medias.

I have undertaken this Peat Free Compost Trial to test out the peat free composts on the market, and see how they perform when trialled alongside each other, under the same conditions.

Peat Free Composts

Each of the composts I chose for this trial were purchased at the same time, so as to avoid using old composts, which might have been depleted of nutrients, and to ensure a fair trial of every compost.

I chose the following peat free composts and compost blends for my trial:

  • Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost
  • Dalefoot Composts Double Strength Wool Compost
  • Dalefoot Composts Wool Potting Compost
  • Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads
  • Dalefoot Composts 50/50 Double Strength Wool Compost and Dalefoot Composts Wool Potting Compost
  • Dalefoot Composts 50/50 Double Strength Wool Compost and Dalefoot Composts Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads
  • Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Enriched Compost
  • Sylva Grow Sustainable Growing Medium
  • Westland Gro-Sure Peat Free All Purpose Compost
For my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial, I have trialled these different composts.

Seeds

For my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial, I chose to sow a dwarf French bean called ‘Ferrari’ that I purchased from Franchi Seeds of Italy.  I chose this particular dwarf French bean cultivar to grow in the composts used for this trial, as plants of this bean variety tend to produce their entire harvest of beans all within a very short time frame – usually within a couple of weeks.

A dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' seedling emerging. For my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial, I sowed eight dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' seeds into a variety of different peat free compost mixes. I observed and noted the results.
A dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ seedling emerging. For my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial, I sowed eight dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ seeds into a variety of different peat free compost mixes. I observed and noted the results.

The French bean ‘Ferrari’ that was grown for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial, tends to produce its harvest of beans all at once, or within a very short time period.  If you’re looking for a regular harvest of beans, and are keen to try this variety of dwarf French bean, remember to sow your bean seeds in succession, making small, regular sowings every couple of weeks, or every month if you prefer, sowing seeds from April to July, which will ensure you have a regular, or continuous supply of French beans.

2016 Peat Free Compost Trial

I started my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial on the 21st June 2016.

Nine of the same sized containers were used, these containers were each filled with one of the peat free compost mixes that are listed above.  Eight dwarf French Bean ‘Ferrari’ seeds were sown in each pot of compost.  Each container of compost experienced the same conditions.  The bean plants were observed as they grew, and the results were monitored and recorded.

Pests and disease

No measures or precautions were taken to protect the seeds, seedlings, plants, or the beans themselves from pests and diseases during any stage of the 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.  No sprays, pellets, or any other form of pest deterrents were used at any time during the 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.

Black Bean Aphid

The black bean aphid, also known by its scientific name of Aphis fabae, is a sap sucking insect which is quick to reproduce, and consequently lives in large colonies, which are usually found feeding on the new growth of beans, peas, and garden plants.  Due to the black bean aphid’s dark colouring, and because this aphid is usually seen in large numbers, it is easy to spot.

Black bean aphids are usually farmed by ants, who enjoy the honeydew that the black bean aphids excrete as they are feeding.  Ants value this sweet, sugary, honeydew so highly, that the ants effectively farm and manage the aphids, the ants guard the aphids, protecting the aphid colony they are farming from any predators.

An ant pictured farming a small colony of black bean aphids. These dwarf French bean plants were grown in Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial. Pictured on the 27th August 2016.
An ant pictured farming a small colony of black bean aphids. These dwarf French bean plants were grown in Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial. Pictured on the 27th August 2016.

Black bean aphids weaken the plants they colonise, they pierce the shoots, stems, beans, or leaves they are feeding on with their specially developed mouthpieces, and feed on the plant’s sap.  Black bean aphids take sugars and nutrients from the plants they are feeding on, which can cause the plant to become stunted or to produce distorted growth, consequently lessening the plant’s harvest.  Aphids are virus vectors – they pass viruses from one plant to another as they feed.

During my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial, I found black bean aphid present on a few of the bean plants grown for the trial.  I first noticed black bean aphid on the 27th August 2016, where I found a small colony of black bean aphids establishing themselves on the bean plants grown in the Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost.  The black bean aphids I found were being farmed by ants.  At this time, I examined all of the bean plants, grown in every compost mix, I found that none of the other bean plants grown in the other composts had any signs of black bean aphid.  No steps were taken at any stage of the trial to either remove or control the black bean aphid, the plants were simply observed and the observations were recorded.

Black bean aphids, are also known by their scientific name of Aphis fabae. These black bean aphids are pictured colonising dwarf French bean plants, that were grown in Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
Black bean aphids, are also known by their scientific name of Aphis fabae. These black bean aphids are pictured colonising dwarf French bean plants, that were grown in Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.

By the 1st September 2016, small colonies of black bean aphids were found on bean plants grown in Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost, and on the bean plants growing in Miracle Gro Peat Free All Purpose Enriched Compost, by the end of the trial, I noticed that the black bean colonies were established on the plants grown in Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost, the Miracle Gro Peat Free All Purpose Enriched Compost and a new colony had formed on the plants grown in Dalefoot Double Strength and Wool Potting Composts mix.

Sap sucking insects, like aphids, excrete honeydew, a sugary substance, which, when there are large infestations of aphids, can quickly cover the leaves and stems of the affected plant.  Usually, a black sooty mould will then develop rather rapidly on these honeydew excretions.  Sooty mould often appears within a very short space of time, the black colour of the fungal growth looks quite alarming, and can often be mistaken for a disease.

Sooty moulds can entirely cover the affected plant’s leaves, which prevents or hampers the plant from photosynthesising.  Sooty mould fungi live only on the leaf surface, they don’t penetrate the leaf itself, so sooty mould can be washed off after heavy rainfall, or with lukewarm water and a cloth if you wish to remove it manually.  Naturally, if the aphids, scale insect, mealy bug, or other sap sucking insects, are still present on the plant, it’s likely that the sooty mould will reappear.

An ant pictured farming a small colony of black bean aphids. These dwarf French bean plants were grown in Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial. Pictured on the 27th August 2016.
An ant pictured farming a small colony of black bean aphids. These dwarf French bean plants were grown in Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial. Pictured on the 27th August 2016.

In the case of black bean aphids, because ants are quick to farm these aphids, and an unmanaged black bean aphid colony is rarely seen, sooty mould is rarely a problem.  The ants manage the aphids so well, milking them for the honeydew they produce, without leaving a trace of honeydew on the leaves or the plant.  This was the case for the bean plants grown for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial – no sooty mould was seen on any of the plants.

Slugs and snails

Slugs and snails, but particularly snails, were a problem during my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.  Snails arrived at the containers that the dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ seeds were sown in on the very first day this trial started, and both slugs and snails were found throughout the course of the trial, both on the containers and on the bean plants themselves.

A slug enjoying, and devouring one of the dwarf French bean plant's leaves.
A slug enjoying, and devouring one of the dwarf French bean plant’s leaves.
A snail enjoying a dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' leaf. This dwarf French bean plant was grown in Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
A snail enjoying a dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ leaf. This dwarf French bean plant was grown in Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
Snails of all shapes and sizes ate the French bean plants grown for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial. This dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' plant was grown in Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
Snails of all shapes and sizes ate the French bean plants grown for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial. This dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plant was grown in Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.

Seedling survival rates

Although none of the containers or bean plants grown for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial received any protection from slugs and snails, some of the plants were more susceptible to damage from slugs and snails than others.

The dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants grown in Sylva Grow Growing Medium survived the slugs and snails better than the other dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants grown in the other composts used for this Peat Free Compost Trial, with all eight dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants surviving the full course of the trial.

Four out of the eight dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants grown in Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost survived the trial, and the same number – four out of the eight dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants survived growing in Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost.  The dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants grown in these two composts had the lowest survival rate of all the composts in my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial. The dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants grown in these two composts for this trial were most susceptible to slug and snail damage, and consequently these two composts sustained the fewest plants of all the composts featured in my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.

Having said this, the dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants grown in the Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost achieved a fantastic harvest, with the four dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants grown in Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost producing a total of 100 beans, weighing 285g, which equates to each bean plant grown in this compost, producing 25 beans, weighing 71g.  This was by far the largest harvest per dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plant, out of all of the dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants featured in my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial, with the next best placed competitor, Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost combined 50/50 with Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, producing 5 dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants, with each plant producing 22 beans, which weighed 60g.

The four dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants growing in Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost, produced a total of 75 beans, weighing 185g, which equated to each bean plant producing 19 beans, weighing 46g.  These results placed the dwarf French bean plants grown in this compost as fourth, in my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial, in terms of the harvest per plant.

This chart shows the number of seedlings from the initial sowing (8 seeds) to produce a harvest. Most of the seedlings lost were through slug and snail damage. With a small trial like this it’s difficult to know whether the lack of snail damage was just luck, or was due to slug-resistant properties of the compost. For this reason, I have ranked the overall winners by two measures – the overall harvest for each compost type, and the average harvest per plant by compost type.
A snail enjoying a dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' leaf. This dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' plant was grown in Sylva Grow Sustainable Growing Media, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
A snail enjoying a dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ leaf. This dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plant was grown in Sylva Grow Sustainable Growing Medium, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
A snail resting on a dwarf French bean leaf. This dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' plant was grown in Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial. Pictured on the 27th August 2016.
A snail resting on a dwarf French bean leaf. This dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plant was grown in Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial. Pictured on the 27th August 2016.

If you’re looking for natural ways to protect your plants from slugs and snails, please click here.

Plant growth

On the packet of my Franchi Seeds of Italy dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ it states that the plants will grow to 50 – 60cm (20 – 24 inches) in height.  The dwarf French Bean ‘Ferrari’ plants grown for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial grew to varying heights, depending as to which compost they were grown in.  The shortest bean plants were grown in Westland Gro-Sure Compost, these plants reached just 23cm in height.  The tallest bean plants produced in my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial, were grown in Dalefoot Salad and Vegetable Compost, these beans reached 47cm in height.

One of the dwarf French bean plants in flower. This dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' plant was grown in a 50/50 mix of Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost and Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
One of the dwarf French bean plants in flower. This dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plant was grown in a 50/50 mix of Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost and Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
A leaf from a dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' plant grown in Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial. Pictured on the 27th August 2016.
A leaf from a dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plant grown in Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial. Pictured on the 27th August 2016.
One of the dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' seedlings pictured on the 31st July 2016. This unhealthy looking plant was grown in Westland Gro-Sure Peat-Free All Purpose Compost. This Westland Gro-Sure Peat-Free All Purpose Compost didn't perform very well in my trial. The dwarf French bean plants that grew in this compost were stunted, the plants produced yellow-green coloured leaves that featured necrosis along the midrib of the leaf.
One of the dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ seedlings pictured on the 31st July 2016. This unhealthy looking plant was grown in Westland Gro-Sure Peat-Free All Purpose Compost. This Westland Gro-Sure Peat-Free All Purpose Compost didn’t perform very well in my trial. The dwarf French bean plants that grew in this compost were stunted, the plants produced yellow-green coloured leaves that featured necrosis along the midrib of the leaf.
Pictured on the 27th August 2016, these dwarf French bean plants were grown in Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
Pictured on the 27th August 2016, these dwarf French bean plants were grown in Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
Plant Height Chart
This chart shows the plant heights at two points throughout the trial. You can see that for most of the bean plants featured in this trial, by the 14th August, the plants had achieved their full height and did not grow any taller. The plants growing in Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost and Dalefoot Wool Potting Compost, and Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Enriched Compost, put on significant growth in the second part of the trial – showing the compost’s ability to provide a slow-release of feed.

Harvesting the beans – The Results

This chart shows the total number of beans picked over the course of the trial. All of the Dalefoot composts performed well, with Dalefoot Salad and Vegetable producing the largest harvest of beans during this trial.
French beans harvested from plants grown in Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
French beans harvested from plants grown in Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
This table shows the number of beans harvested for each compost mix on the three harvesting dates. The Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads was the best performing compost, both when used on its own, and when combined with Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost.
French beans harvested from plants grown in a 50/50 mix of Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost and Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
French beans harvested from plants grown in a 50/50 mix of Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost and Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
French beans harvested from plants grown in Dalefoot Composts Wool Potting Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
French beans harvested from plants grown in Dalefoot Composts Wool Potting Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
This chart shows the weight of beans picked over the course of the trial. All of the Dalefoot composts performed well, with Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads producing the largest crop. The beans grown in Westland Gro-Sure Peat Free All Purpose Compost produced a lower harvest than was hoped.
A harvest of French beans, from plants grown in Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Enriched Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
A harvest of French beans, from plants grown in Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Enriched Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
A harvest of French beans from plants grown in Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
A harvest of French beans from plants grown in Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
This table shows the total weight (in grams) of beans harvested from each compost type. Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads produced the largest harvest by weight, both when used neat, and when mixed with Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost. Westland Grow-Sure Peat Free All Purpose Compost performed poorly for a compost marketed as ‘All Purpose’.
French beans harvested from plants grown in Sylva Grow Sustainable Growing Media, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
French beans harvested from plants grown in Sylva Grow Sustainable Growing Media, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
This table shows the harvest per compost type, taking account of the number of seedlings that survived (8 seeds were sown for each compost, but some failed to germinate, and some succumbed to snail or slug damage). The clear winner is the Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost, with 50% more beans harvested per plant than the next best compost. Westland Gro-Sure Peat Free All Purpose Compost performed the worst.
French beans harvested from plants grown in Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
French beans harvested from plants grown in Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
French beans harvested from plants grown in Westland Gro-Sure Peat Free All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
French beans harvested from plants grown in Westland Gro-Sure Peat Free All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.

2016 Peat Free Compost Trial Conclusions

The top three best-performers of the peat-free composts I trialled in my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial were composts produced by Dalefoot Composts Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, a 50/50 mix of Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads and Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost, and Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost used neat by itself.

These dwarf French bean plants were grown in a 50/50 mix of Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost, and Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salad, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial. Pictured on the 27th August 2016.
These dwarf French bean plants were grown in a 50/50 mix of Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost, and Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salad, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial. Pictured on the 27th August 2016.
These dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' plants were grown in Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
These dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants were grown in Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.

The Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads – either used neat or mixed with Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost – produced a harvest 50% larger than the nearest non-Dalefoot competitor.  Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost – produced a great harvest when used with Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, or when used neat by itself.

These dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' plants were grown in a 50/50 mix of Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost and Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
These dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants were grown in a 50/50 mix of Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost and Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
These dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' plants were grown in Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
These dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants were grown in Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.

Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads has been specially formulated for the growing of vegetables and salads, and in the results from my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial it shows.  This is a fantastic compost to use for growing vegetables and salads!

These dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' plants were grown in Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
These dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants were grown in Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
This dwarf French bean plant was grown in a 50/50 mix of Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost and Dalefoot Wool Potting Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial. Pictured on the 27th August 2016.
This dwarf French bean plant was grown in a 50/50 mix of Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost and Dalefoot Wool Potting Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial. Pictured on the 27th August 2016.
These dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' plants were grown in a 50/50 mix of Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost and Dalefoot Wool Potting Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
These dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants were grown in a 50/50 mix of Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost and Dalefoot Wool Potting Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.

The dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants grown in Dalefoot Wool Potting Compost produced a good harvest of beans, and healthy, attractive looking plants.

Pictured on the 14th August 2016, this dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' plant was grown in Dalefoot Wool Potting Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
Pictured on the 14th August 2016, this dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plant was grown in Dalefoot Wool Potting Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.

Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost produced the fourth-best harvest when measuring by average yield per plant, but this compost ranked further down the field in the overall harvest because four of the eight seedlings were completely destroyed by slug and snail damage.  This indicates that the slug resistance of the plants grown in Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost may not be as good as that of some of the other composts in the trial.

The French Bean ‘Ferrari’ plants grown in the Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost were also the first plants to succumb to the black bean aphid.

These dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants were grown in Carbon Gold All Purpose Growing Media, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
These dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants were grown in Carbon Gold All Purpose Growing Media, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
A small colony of black bean aphids, also known by their scientific name of Aphis fabae, pictured colonising dwarf French bean plants, that were grown in Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
A small colony of black bean aphids, also known by their scientific name of Aphis fabae, pictured colonising dwarf French bean plants, that were grown in Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.

Sylva Grow Sustainable Growing Medium was the only compost in my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial that sustained all eight bean plants to fruition.  The French bean plants grown in this growing media produced a good harvest, but the harvest per plant was less than many of the competitors in this trial.

Pictured on the 27th August 2016, these dwarf French beans were grown in Sylva Grow Sustainable Growing Media for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
Pictured on the 27th August 2016, these dwarf French beans were grown in Sylva Grow Sustainable Growing Medium for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
One of the dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' plants growing in Sylva Grow Sustainable Growing Media, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial, pictured on the 5th August 2016.
One of the dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants growing in Sylva Grow Sustainable Growing Medium, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial, pictured on the 5th August 2016.

The French bean plants grown in Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Enriched Compost provided a reasonable  harvest, but I noted that this compost from Miracle-Gro appeared to have poor water-holding properties, it was frequently found to be dusty and dry, at times when the other composts featured in the trial did not require watering.  All the containers of compost in this trial received the same amount of water, given at the same time, usually the containers were watered when it rained.

These dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants were grown in Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Enriched Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
These dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants were grown in Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Enriched Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
These dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants were grown in Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Enriched Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
These dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants were grown in Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Enriched Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
These dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants were grown in Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Enriched Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
These dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants were grown in Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Enriched Compost, for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.

The most disappointing results of the trial were from the Westland Gro-Sure Peat Free All Purpose Compost.  The dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants grown in this compost were short, stubby plants, with small leaves, they produced very few flowers, and as a consequence the harvest of beans they produced was small.  The dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ plants grown in the Westland Gro-Sure Peat Free All Purpose Compost were unhealthy looking – the plants produced leaves which were mottled, and featured necrosis to the leaves’ midribs.

One of the leaves produced by the dwarf French bean 'Ferrari' seedlings that grew in the Westland Gro-Sure Peat-Free All Purpose Compost, as part of my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial. Pictured on the 14th August 2016.
One of the leaves produced by the dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ seedlings that grew in the Westland Gro-Sure Peat-Free All Purpose Compost, as part of my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial. Pictured on the 14th August 2016.
This dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ leaf is from a plant grown in Westland Gro-Sure Peat Free All Purpose Compost for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.
This dwarf French bean ‘Ferrari’ leaf is from a plant grown in Westland Gro-Sure Peat Free All Purpose Compost for my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.

In the photographs below, you can see the bean plants grown in Westland Gro-Sure Peat Free All Purpose Compost, compared to the bean plants grown in three of the other composts which featured in the 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.  The bean plants below are all pictured on the 1st September 2016.

All of these plants were grown in identical conditions.  All of the bean plants received the same amount of water, given at the same time, the only difference the plants experienced was the compost the plants were grown in.  The bean plants grown in the Westland Gro-Sure Peat Free All Purpose Compost were much shorter, stubbier plants, with significantly less foliage than the other bean plants grown in this trial.  The bean plants grown in Westland Gro-Sure Peat Free All Purpose Compost produced the lowest harvest of beans, of all of the bean plants grown in my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.

Dwarf French beans (6 plants) grown in Westland Gro-Sure Peat Free All-Purpose Compost, pictured on the 1st of September 2016.

Dwarf French beans (5 plants) grown in a 50:50 mix of Dalefoot Double Strength Compost and Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables & Salads, pictured on the 1st of September 2016.

Dwarf French beans (4 plants) grown in Dalefoot Double-Strength Wool Compost pictured, on the 1st of September 2016.

Dwarf French beans (5 plants) grown in Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Compost, pictured on the 1st of September 2016.

The Westland brand is very prevalent across Garden Centres, and as such Westland is likely to be one of the most common peat-free composts that gardeners will encounter, should they choose to make the transition away from peat-based composts and look for an alternative peat free compost.

If you’ve been unfortunate and have had poor results using a peat free compost, I’d like to encourage you to try an alternative peat free compost.

Top 3 by Overall Yield

Dalefoot Composts were extremely dominant in this trial, with the Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, a 50/50 mix of Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads and Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost, and Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost used neat by itself, producing the largest overall bean harvests in this trial.

dalefoot-salad-vegdalefoot-double-strength

Harvest per Plant

For the final ranking, I have ordered the composts by average harvest weight per seedling, which will normalise for any lost plants caused by slug and snail damage.  This rank shows the productivity of the plants themselves.

Rank Compost Type Conclusions

1

Dalefoot Composts Double Strength Wool Compost In first place, Dalefoot Composts Double Strength Wool Compost consistently performed well across the entire trial, producing the best harvest by some margin (25% more than the next-best compost). This compost also acts as a booster – increasing the harvest of other composts with which it was mixed.

2

Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads Coming a close second, the Dalefoot Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads.  A great all-rounder, this compost held moisture well, producing strong plants and a good harvest. Mixing 50:50 with Dalefoot Double Strength Wool Compost gave an extra boost and increased the yield.

3

Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost In third place, Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost produced the same weight of harvest per-plant as Dalefoot’s Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, but the number of beans was smaller, and the overall harvest was smaller due to half the seedlings being lost to slugs and snails.

4

Dalefoot Composts Wool Potting Compost In fourth place, Dalefoot Composts Wool Potting Compost was close on the heels of Carbon Gold All Purpose Compost in yield per plant.

5

Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Enriched Compost In fifth place, Miracle-Gro Peat Free All Purpose Enriched Compost performed adequately, but the harvest was 25% less than the fourth best compost, and 50% less than that of the trial winner.

6

Sylva Grow Sustainable Growing Media In sixth place, Sylva Grow Sustainable Growing Medium.  All eight seedlings grown in this compost survived the slug and snail attacks and the plants remained intact throughout the trial.  This may indicate better slug resistance than the other composts on trial.  However, the harvest per plant was low – less half the yield per plant of the trial winner.

7

Westland Gro-Sure Peat Free All Purpose Compost Finally, in seventh place, Westland Gro-Sure Peat Free All Purpose Compost‘s results were dismal – the plants grown in this compost were short, stunted, unhealthy looking plants, that featured necrosis at the leaves’ midribs.  Consequently the bean plants grown in this compost produced a small harvest.  For one of the largest retail brands on the market, this is extremely disappointing.


Other articles that may interest you…………………..

To see the results of my Slug and Snail Trial and discover the most effective methods to protect your plants from slugs and snails, please click here.

To read lots of helpful tips for planting containers, please click here.

For information about buying beautiful, British grown flowers for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, or any other lovely occasion, please click here.

To read about winter flowering plants, please click here.

For a calendar of 2017 Specialist Plant Fairs, Festivals, Sales, and Swaps, please click here.

For information on beautiful gardens, with large collections of daffodils, to visit and daffodil events to attend in 2017, please click here.

For the dates and details of 2017 Daffodil Shows and Competitions, please click here.

For tips on natural ways to protect your plants from slugs and snails, please click here.

To read my 2016 Sweet Pea Trial report, please click here.

To read tips and advice for growing Sweet Peas, please click here.

To read the first part of my Miniature Orchid Trial, please click here.

To read about growing mushrooms indoors, please click here.

For gardening advice, tips, and lovely ideas of what you could do in your garden, or at your allotment, in February, please click here.

For gardening advice, tips, and lovely ideas of what you could do in your garden, or at your allotment, from mid-February to mid-March, please click here.

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12 thoughts on “Peat Free Compost Trial 2016

  1. I found this very informative but I was disappointed that you didn’t use J Arther Bowers peatfree organic compost it seems to be much more widely available than the others and a long t less expensive

    1. Thanks for your suggestion Ann. I spent a long time searching garden centres close to me to find peat free compost, I had hoped to find more variety. I will try and source J Arthur Bowers Peat Free Compost for my next Peat Free Compost Trial, thank you for taking the time to suggest this brand. Kind regards, Beth

        1. Thank you Ann. I have tested New Horizon Compost previously, with both good and bad results – the bad results I experienced were due to the bags of New Horizon Compost that I purchased being very old, and so the compost was depleted of nutrients. In my search for compost for this trial last year I could again only find bags of New Horizon Compost that I believed were very old stock, so this was the reason I left it out of my 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial.

  2. My goodness Beth what a lot of work you put into this trial! What with the planning, the buying, the analysis, photography and spreadsheets you deserve a medal. Really thoroughly useful article, puts Dalefoot firmly on my radar for 2017. I did a very small trial of Levingtons organic grow-bags vs standard Levingtons grow-bags last year (using tomatoes and cucumbers) the organic grow-bag plants all died early, poor health and zero fruit. Might be worth adding that to your sample if you’re inclined to repeat this trial annually. Thanks for your great work on this.

    1. Thanks for your comment Matt, I am so glad that you find my trial helpful, that means a lot to me. I work on my trials every day of the year, I am always so happy when others find them useful. Best wishes for a great gardening year ahead, Beth

  3. Just put the kettle on! I have been working exclusively with Dalefoot Composts since April 2015 in my gardening business, and also started distributing them at that time. Our customers repeat order and expand the range of Dalefoot Composts they use. We started stocking and selling the full range(they all work well) and are very pleased with the customer reaction to the Vegatable and Salad addition.

    1. It’s great to hear that you and your customers have had such great results using Dalefoot Composts Ian. As well as coming top in this 2016 Peat Free Compost Trial, Dalefoot Composts came top of my 2015 Peat Free Compost Trial. I have been so impressed with Dalefoot Composts, that I have used their products for my Sweet Pea Trials and other Trials I have run. Best wishes, Beth

  4. I found your trial interesting and praise you for all the effort you have gone to to give us this information. But surely to get a good idea of how good peat free composts are,would be to trial composts containing peat and non peat composts side by side. I’m all for helping to try and save these precious eco systems but the garden centres around where I live sell very few alternatives to composts containing peat. Those that I have tried, be it peat free or those that have reduced peat, have been very variable in their consistancy are just terrible! Either… Water logging, too free draining, poor germination, and just very poor nutritional value. Not to mention the amount of rubbish I’ve found in some of them! I’ve not come across any of the dalefoot composts before so can’t comment on them so im back to using peat based compost. Even these can be a bit variable, but the one I’ve found that is the most consistent and gives the best results is growise multipurpose compost. It would be interesting to see if anyone has done this trial or would be willing to do it and publish it. If the dalefoot composts are on equal par, then it can only be good news for the peat bogs and dalefoot. It would also make the other companies improve the quality of their products.
    Thanks shaun

    1. Hello Shaun

      Thanks for your comment. I did consider trialling peat based compost alongside the peat free alternatives, but as you’ve noticed yourself, peat based compost is variable too. Also the intention of my trial is to encourage gardeners to use peat free compost, and to help them find a fantastic peat free alternative growing media, so this was another of my reasons for not including peat based compost in the trial. I am running another Peat Free Compost Trial this year, so I hope this trial and my previous trials will help you and other gardeners. I hope you can give peat free compost another try, Dalefoot came top in my 2015 and 2016 Peat Free Compost Trials. Good luck!

      Best wishes
      Beth

  5. Hi Beth, I came in as the manager for a small garden centre in Surrey last September. I have inherited bags of peat based compost and some very old bags of Sylva grow peat free. This didn’t work well as expected for such old bags but I want to go completely peat free both in growing our own plants and in what we sell. I think it’s making everyone nervous because peat free is more expensive and not seen as being as good as peat based composts. But garden centres need to lead by example here – I strongly believe this. Thank you for your trial and advice. I will probably try out different kinds that seem to have done well in your trial and some others and will let you know how we get on from a retail perspective.

    1. Hello Katie, I’d love to know what your customers think of the peat free composts you sell. I am so glad that you’ll be stocking peat free composts – the composts I have included in this, and my other peat free compost trials, have to be sourced from so many places – it would be wonderful for gardeners to have a choice of compost. Do keep in touch. Best wishes, Beth

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