Hello and welcome to The Compost Bin. I'm Compostwoman and I live with my family in rural Herefordshire. We have nearly four acres of garden and woodland, all managed organically and to Permaculture principles, which we share with Chickens, Cats and assorted wildlife. We also grow a lot of our own food, run courses in all sorts of things and make a lot of compost!

I am a Master Composter and have spent more than a decade as a volunteer Community Compost adviser with Garden Organic and my local Council.
I'm a self employed Environmental Educator so I run workshops and events where I talk about compost, veg growing, chicken keeping, cooking, preserving and sustainable living. I also run crafts workshops and Forest School/outdoor play sessions in our wood.

We try to live a more self sufficient lifestyle here, as best we can, while still having a comfortable life and lots of fun.

To learn more about us click on the About Compostwoman tab and remember to click on the photos to make them full size!

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Thinking about beds and talking compost

Compostman and I have recently been spending a lot of time discussing the alterations and garden redesigns, earth shifting and digging we want to do here. There are trees to fell, soil to move around with the JCB, a new pond to dig and new veg beds to make and a new building is also planned to do with our forestry works .

At the moment it is snowing here (horizontal snow, honestly!) and I can't do much outside so I have been sitting with a mug of tea and thinking and planning what I would like to happen. Planning for the possibility of a new polytunnel in the newly cleared area of land and also thinking about the idea of making some new raised beds in and around it.

Now this is officially a Good Idea in my book as the existing veg plot is getting infested with bindweed, so moving somewhere else in the garden sounds great to me - but it throws up a bit of a hitch - what to put inside the new raised beds. Our soil is solid clay and there is over 100 foot of it under us. Our existing veg patch is diggable only because it  has been improved by the application of copious barrow loads of home made compost every year. Everywhere else in the garden if you try digging with any tool  you rapidly end up with a claggy sticky mud lollipop of a tool, which can't actually be used unless you scrape it clean every few minutes. Well that's what it feels like, anyway.

If I had new raised beds of 2  x 3  x 0.3 m I would need 1800 l of growing medium/soil to fill each bed . The existing veg patch area which we have at the moment holds around 10 of these (!). A new Polytunnel would be a separate calculation, depending on the size we bought ( which is still under discussion) Typically I make around 5000  l of compost a year, which is a HUGE amount for a domestic household. And we use it all, in the veg patch and in the Polytunnel. On our soil, over the course of a year, all that compost simply vanishes.

So - if we are going to make some new beds elsewhere I think I will have to source a bit of compost  from outside to help get them going. Whatever I buy in must be peat free as we don't do peat here. So today I did a bit of looking around the Internet, checking the options and I thought maybe my musings would be helpful to people who don't have access to making lots of their own compost but want to improve their soil or make new raised beds.

So first thoughts were to buy lots of bags from my existing seed and potting media supplier and add it to the clag soil. Quite near to us at Withington is Fertile Fibre and I buy their coir based potting and seed compost in bags;  it is very good and I can get a few bags direct from their farm at a good price. Looking at their website it appears they do pallets of bagged compost. Being Soil Association certified Organic ( as opposed to organic) compost  it is a bit more expensive than the non certified peat free stuff you can get in garden centres. So, although I would love to use it, I don't think I could afford to buy the amount I would probably need, although I will investigate the price of a bulk load from them. The same would probably be true of buying peat free soil improver in 40 - 70 l bags from a garden store such as Homebase - not really economic (but think of the Nectar points!)  I would also have to move the bags in the wheelbarrow, from the drive, over to the new raised bed area.

Another possibility is to buy some soil conditioner from my local Council, who sell bulk deliveries of their "Greengrow" soil improver at very reasonable prices. This is made from composted green garden waste  from the household recycling centres in Worcestershire and Herefordshire, where householders have placed their garden waste into the dedicated green waste containers. I have had mixed experiences with using bags of Greengrow in the past, some very good but some bags had quite a lot of small fragments of plastic in them which had obviously got past the sieving and screening process. Also last time I asked, although they will deliver by lorry they would only dump it by the roadside in a heap. This is also a "soil improver" to be added into existing topsoil. I could improve the soil in a 50/50mix in one 2 x 3 m raised bed for about £50 using 20 bags (40 l) of Greengrow bought from Ledbury recycling centre. To be fair it would be a lot cheaper to buy it in bulk - you can collect it if you have a trailer, or pay to have it delivered, and pay only £2.50 per tonne plus VAT (which is more volume than in the bags) But again,  I would have to move the material by barrow from a pile at the roadside.

Another alternative is to bulk buy growing medium from an online supplier. I looked at several suppliers but the one which caught my eye and which I would order from was  Compost Direct.  I liked their website and the straightforward manner in which it was laid out; the useful calculator they provide and also the way they dealt with my telephone enquiry when I called them. Compost Direct are suppliers to the National Allotment Society and sell a variety of products, all delivered in bulk bags to your door.  Compost Direct stocks quality compost products from British manufacturers, which are organic, peat free (yay!) and from sustainable sources. Again, this is composted farm materials and composted green waste from Household Waste sites ( I know, because I asked them).   They also offer manure which is sourced from their farm and is again delivered in bulk bags,

Two bulk bags of their Veggie Gold Compost would fill one of my new raised beds with a quality blend of fine compost, well rotted manure and topsoil, ready for immediate use. Delivery is free on this size of bulk order. As the material is delivered in bags we could use the JCB to move the bag to the raised bed - avoiding lots of hard work!

I like the idea of getting at least one raised bed ready to use and maybe improving the others with my own compost and our own soil ( and a lot of hard work) so I may well be giving Compost Direct an order. That way, I could at least fill one new raised bed and get planting straight away.

Whatever we buy  I suspect the JCB will get a fair bit of use doing this :-) As will the wheelbarrows :-)

So, some ways to fill up those raised beds, ready for planting. Has anyone else bought from online growing media suppliers? Or can recommend any Horticultural suppliers?

I was paid to add the link to Compost Direct in this post, but had already come across them during my Internet trawling and was impressed, then, by their site and their products, so chose to add the link. 

As always here in The Compost Bin my words and opinions are entirely my own :-)


  1. We had a similar problem due to re-designing our garden rather than an infestation of bindweed. We originally had two organic, L shaped raised (6") beds, 8' long in each direction. As my back got worse, and whilst we could both still lift, we bought in new wood as the old stuff was rotting and borrowed 1 tonne bags from a neighbour. All the soil was moved into these, then 3 new 1 x 1 x 1/3m beds built, treated and base lined. As the soil was emptied back into them (phew, don't know where we found the energy), we realised we would be around 18" or so short in each bed. Decided to grow in them anyway and over the years, are gradually filling them up with our own compost.

  2. Hey thanks for this post. I didn't know that Ledbury did the soil improver in bulk. I'll have to get down there and get some!
    As for where I got my chickens from it was a smallholding over by mum and dads in ludlow so not local to here.

  3. What about using straw or lucerne mulch or some other form of grass (lawn clippings even) to bulk out the bottom of your beds and then just a small layer of compost on top. Then as the bed rots down over 12 months you will have your beds ready for serious planting next year and super ready the year after. I've also read a blog where the fellow grows spuds in a straw and compost mix no-dig bed for the season which then provides him with a good bed for the year after as well as a reasonable crop this year.
    I also have to ask, why peat free? Peat is not so common here that I know of.

  4. Hi Dc and rabidlittlehippy :-)

    rlh, I would be doing what you suggested with the grass, and also paper/cardboard in the bottom of even the first bed, but it would have the bulk of any bought in growing media so I could get growing fast - bear in mind I would still be growing in the main veg plot and polytunnel so would not have much of my own compost to spare,

    All the other beds would just be filled with whatever was available as and when I did it out of the bins and I would probably just grow spuds in them for the first year.

    Dc unfortunately the bindweed infestation means I cant just move the improved soil from the existing veg patch.

    rlh, peat is a big issue here - for many many years growing media, plants etc have been grown in peat containing media and if you buy bags of stuff it would contain oeat - all mined from precious, scarce and habitat rich peat bogs in the UK and Ireland which are also massive Carbon sinks - so using it for growing stuff is just wrong on many levels. Peat free growing media are gaining wider use and tend to use composted household and farm waste or coir as their base.

    We don't want peat bogs to be trashed just so I can grow food or flowers, so we are totally peat free, even down to me recently not taking up a very attractive offer of lots of free plants to review on here , because they were grown in peat.

    If you want more info I could find some links but a good one is the Garden Organic "I don't dig Peat" campaign.

    Hope this explains - I think it would make a good blog post actually :-)

  5. Hi Kev.

    Ledbury (and Malvern) only do the improver in bags for £2 a bag but they usually have loads in stock.

    But if you have access to a trailer (do your parents have a tractor/trailer combo?? would be well worth it with that!!)
    then you can go and get a tonne or more from Hill and Moor near Pershore for £2.50 plus VAT, or they can deliver in a 20 tonne lorry ( for an extra charge)

    Give them a call if you need to find out more details - my info may not be the most up to date.

  6. I order everything online - I sort of have to, really, not having a car yet. I've tended to go through Creative Garden solutions which offer good prices on their compost, but they're running out of stock fast at the moment. They also offer peat-free alternatives. Delivery isn't very quick with them however but they do deliver right round the garden for me as I told them I'm a disabled gardener and can't cart the bags into the back, so that's a perk!

    I think I'll give Compost Direct a look in, however, because my order this year didn't get all the bags I needed and I need to plant the spuds soonish - doing gro-bags this year.

  7. I thought they looked good, and a good price as well.


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