Frugal Gardening - Making your potting compost go a little further

The weather has played its usual psychological tricks on us this season. There was plenty of warm weather in mid-April, so we are lured into sowing lots of things enthusiastically. This was immediately followed by cold days and some freezing nights, definitely too cold for putting out tender plants such as French or runner beans. What depresses me is that I never seem to be able to learn the simple fact that I need to sow all my beans about a fortnight later.
So that still leaves me with the problem of a crate of French beans all clamouring to escape from their pots. I had a choice of 3 courses of action: the laziest was to just leave in them in their small pots for at least another week or so and hope they will cope. My experience is that this really isn’t a good idea. Once the beans get their roots restricted, it takes quite a while for them to recover. It stunts their growth, so that once you do finally put them out they sit there sulking. The second option was to plant them outside and hope for the best. With the cold frosty nights we had, I am glad I didn’t decide to do this. So that left me with the third and only option of repotting them.
Now, I am getting quite short on bought potting compost, and the long queue just to get into my local DIY store didn’t look too enticing. So I decided to stretch out my potting compost with other materials I had in the garden. I have done this before and it works really well. In this case I made a mix of 2 parts bought peat free compost, 1 part home compost and 1 part leaf mould. Last winter, I grew winter salads in the glasshouse using a similar mix, and they were very successful – I never bought any salad all winter. This mix has a number of advantages. Firstly you are only using half the amount of shop-bought compost, so you are saving money and compost miles. I also find it really improves the properties of some of the budget peat free composts which can contain a bit too much uncomposted bark. The home-made compost adds nutrients whilst the leafmould improves the texture and water retention properties. I would always urge you to make as much leafmould as you can. It is great for improving potting mixes, and I also add it directly to the soil to add organic matter and feed all the bugs. Our neighbours’ trees deposit a thick covering of leaves over our garden in the autumn, but I see this as wonderful free gift!
So the beans have been growing away happily in their new pots, and hopefully the weather is looking a bit better to plant them out soon. They are still brought in at night and laid on the kitchen floor, and perhaps now the greatest danger is that one of us will trip over the lot during the night….
More about Anton...
Anton is a Knowledge Officer at Garden Organic, where he has worked for 16 years. He is looking forward to writing a series of blogs on how to garden using little resources.
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