Q: Could you please recommend a good peat-free seed compost? I’ve tried a few over the last few years but haven’t had great results. I’d really like to do the right thing environmentally but am now at the point where I’m sorely tempted to go back to using a conventional peat-based compost. CF County Kerry
A: Sadly you’re not the only gardener struggling to source a good quality peat-free alternative to traditional peat-based seed composts. While the standard has slowly but surely improved over the last number of years, there’s still a bewildering variety of poor-quality products out there that are unlikely to result in a high rate of germination and strong healthy seedlings.
Let’s start by looking at what a good quality seed compost ideally should ideally be. First and foremost, it needs to be friable and finely textured (so no lumps or coarse matter) to maximise the chances of successful germination and quick, healthy root growth.
No seed or seedling likes to sit in a cold, wet, heavy growing medium for too long so it also needs to be light and free-draining. Baby seedlings also don’t like or need a high-nutrient growing medium (this also inhibits germination) so it shouldn’t be too fertile. All of the above is also why, as counterintuitive as it sounds, it’s not a good idea to use ordinary garden soil which will produce very mixed results and greatly increase the risk of seedlings succumbing to the common but deadly disease known as ‘damping off’.
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One option (environmentally the ideal) is to make your own seed compost, using a 50:50 mix of well-rotted leaf mould and home-made gardenRead more on irishtimes.com