News - September 2016

27th September 2016

The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Vegetable Patch

Want to shun the supermarkets and start growing your own tasty veg at home? A vegetable patch is the way forward.

If you’re wondering where to start, Compost Direct is here with our ultimate guide to creating a vegetable patch. Read on to find out more about the location, size and essential preparations you’ll need to enjoy bountiful veg all year round.


The location of your vegetable patch is crucial, although often overlooked. Like most plants, vegetables grow best in sunny conditions—so choosing a shady spot for your vegetable patch is a big no-no.

Ideally, your patch will be in an area that receives a minimum of five hours of sunlight per day to aid the growth of your vegetables. Making sure your patch is away from other plants will also help protect your crops from pests like slugs and snails.

Depending on your garden, you may need to protect your vegetable patch from wind. Try to choose an area that’s sheltered, although don’t worry too much if this isn’t possible. A slatted fence or windbreak around your patch will be enough to protect your plants from breaking.


Again, the size of your vegetable patch will depend on the overall size of your garden. The size you choose should be proportional to your garden – a large patch in a smaller garden will overwhelm the space, while limiting yourself to a small area in a larger garden will mean you can grow less.

However, you should also factor in the time demands and experience needed to care for a larger vegetable patch. Even the most experienced gardeners can struggle to maintain a larger space, so always consider what you can realistically achieve. If your space is too large, you may find yourself demotivated.

Preparing your patch

Once you have decided on a location and size, you’re ready to start setting up your patch.

Loosen the soil

The first step is to loosen the soil to make it easier to plant your seeds or plants. Using a spade, dig over the entire area, digging down at least the depth of the spade. Where possible, dig further — this will allow more room for the roots of the plants to grow.

As you dig, pick out any weeds, making sure to remove the roots and stem too. Try to remove any stones or rocks you may find, as these could hamper the growth of your veg.

Improve soil quality

It’s very rare to find that you have the perfect quality soil in your vegetable patch. In the vast majority of cases, the soil will need to be improved in order to provide all of the nutrients your crops require.

To get the best results for your veg, you’ll need to improve your soil by adding a compost that’s specially formulated to support vegetable growth or well-rotted manure.

Always consider the vegetables you want to grow when improving the quality of your soil. Keep in mind that some plants grow best in more alkaline or acidic soil conditions. Alter how you treat your soil to reflect your plants’ needs.

Plan & plant

Once your soil is prepped and ready to go, you’ll need to start planning where to place your plants within the patch. You should already have a good idea of the vegetables you’d like to grow, so now you’ll just need to consider where to grow them.

Don’t overfill your patch, as this can stunt the growth of your vegetables. Follow the directions for spacing as outlined on the vegetable plant label or seed packet to enjoy maximum return from your labour.

As well as considering their position, you’ll need to pay attention to how your plants will grow. For example, green beans will be best placed next to a wall or fence, as they usually wrap around objects as they grow. Alternatively, you could just make sure they have a stake or trellis to climb.

After you’ve considered the above, you can start planting. Remember to plant vegetables in groups, rather than sowing the seeds randomly. This will make it easier when it comes to digging up your veg, as you’ll know where each different type of vegetable has been planted.

Order your vegetable patch essentials with Compost Direct today.

27th September 2016

What is the best compost for growing vegetables?

Whether you’re growing tomatoes or turnips, carrots or cucumbers, getting your soil right is vital for growing bumper batches of tasty veg. Because vegetables require a lot of nutrients to grow to their best, few gardeners will have the perfect soil already in their garden. However, with the right products and gardening know-how, they can boost their soil and enjoy tasty home grown goodness.

If you’re just starting your vegetable patch or want to improve your crops this year, Compost Direct is here to help. Read on to find out how to choose the best compost for growing vegetables.

What compost is best for growing vegetables?

As we’ve already mentioned, you’ll need compost that’s packed with vital nutrients for your plants. While standard multi-purpose compost does contain some plant food, for the best results, we recommend choosing a specialist compost for growing vegetables. For example, Organic Vegetable Compost contains high levels of organic matter, so is suitable for vegetable patches.

However, the type of compost you require depends on the vegetables you plan on growing and the existing condition of the soil. For example, carrots and cucumbers grow well in alkaline soils, while potatoes and parsley are best grown in acidic soils. Before you get started, check what conditions you’ll need to create before you purchase your compost.

Can I use grow bags?

Grow bags are a great option for those looking to grow their own without the need for a vegetable patch. Perfect for smaller gardens, grow bags contain quality compost with lots of nutrients for less. If you do choose this method, look for a thick, large bag, as this will provide lots of room for your plants’ roots to develop.

Will manure help my crops?

Because it is a natural, nutrient-rich material, manure will act as a compost and benefit your crops — but only if it is well-rotted. If it isn’t well-rotted, it may be too rich for your plants, as the nutrients haven’t been broken down into manageable forms the plants can use. Likewise, it could spread disease to your plants and carry an unpleasant odour.

Well-rotted manure, on the other hand, contains plenty of useful nutrients and has a crumbly, soil-like texture. Often, it’s only necessary to use either manure or compost, so choose the one that’s right for your vegetable patch.

How do I apply the compost or manure to my vegetable patch?

To apply your chosen organic matter to your vegetable patch, you should dig over the soil to a depth of around 37.5cm to 45cm. As you dig, incorporate the manure or compost into the soil. 

27th September 2016

How gardening can help you overcome Seasonal Affective Disorder

With summer a distant memory, many of us are starting to look forward to cosy nights in and Christmas. However, for a significant proportion of the British population, it’s a very different story. For them, the lack of daylight and bleak weather are triggers for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What is SAD?

SAD is a type of depression that fluctuates seasonally. While the exact cause is not known, symptoms are most common during the winter. These symptoms include low moods, irritability, a lack of energy, sleeping for longer and craving carbohydrates.

It is believed that these symptoms are linked to a lack of sunlight as a result of shorter days. This disrupts a part of the brain — the hypothalamus — which can impact the production of melatonin and serotonin.

Melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy — levels in SAD sufferers are higher than normal — while serotonin plays a part in regulating your mood, appetite and sleep. Levels of serotonin are often lower in SAD sufferers, which can create feelings of depression.

In addition to the hormonal effects mentioned above, the lack of sunlight can also alter your body clock. This can prevent you from getting the sleep you need, resulting in feelings of lethargy.

These symptoms can affect individuals differently. Generally, SAD is considered a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum are those who aren’t impacted by seasonal changes. At the opposite end are the people whose lives are seriously impacted by their symptoms. Those who reside towards the middle may not suffer with SAD specifically, but could suffer with a case of the winter blues.

How can gardening help?

Believe it or not, gardening can actually help you combat the effects of SAD. Research has shown that even just touching soil — specifically mycobacterium vaccae, a type of soil bacteria — can help increase our serotonin levels and improve your mood.

However, many of us consider gardening to be a summertime pursuit and one that naturally conflicts with cold weather and dark evenings. Despite this, there are ways that you can get your hands dirty without venturing outdoors. Here, compost retailer Compost Direct shares their tips for winter gardening:

In autumn when the weather is still relatively mild, you will still be able to get outside to work. Allowing you to maximise the time spent in the dwindling sunshine, you can get to work on prepping your garden for winter.

Spend the time digging over your soil and adding organic matter, feeding your lawn, tidying the borders and maintaining your equipment. You may want to do some planting too, or harvest any vegetables you may have grown over the summer.

When winter arrives, you may want to leave gardening outdoors behind. Instead, spend your time tending to window boxes and caring for indoor plants. While they may seem like relatively minor tasks when compared with maintaining your entire garden, it will help focus your mind and improve your overall mood.

27th September 2016

How to improve your soil

The key to growing healthy plants and bumper batches of vegetables is your soil. Not all soil is the same and the type you have can seriously affect the growth of your plants. Here, Compost Direct shares their tips for identifying the type of soil you have and explaining how to improve it.

Types of soil

There are a number of different soil types and the soil you have will determine the type of plants you can grow successfully. Some of the most common types of soil include:

Clay soils

As the name suggests, clay soils are made up of over 25% clay. Plenty of nutrients are usually found within the clay, but the soil retains a lot of water and is slow to drain. The soil is easily compacted when wet and can dry out and crack on hotter days.

Look out for:

  • Soil that is sticky when wet
  • Soil that can be rolled into a sausage

Improving clay soils

One of the main issues gardeners with clay soils face is making the soil more manageable to work with. Here’s how to improve your clay soil:

  • Time it right. As we’ve already mentioned, clay soils can dry out and bake during the summer, making it increasingly difficult to work with. The best time to work with clay soils is in autumn, when it’s moist but not too dry or overly wet, like they can be in winter or spring.
  • Work on boards. Another problem with clay soils is how heavy it is and how compacted it can become. Try to avoid walking on it wherever you can or consider laying down wooden boards to balance your weight more evenly as you work and minimise compaction.
  • Break it down. Adding organic matter — like well-rotted manure or an organic plant food, for example — will break down clay soils. This will not only make it more manageable to work with, it will make the clay’s many nutrients more readily available to plant roots, aiding plant growth.

Sandy soils

Sandy soils are made up of a lot of sand and very little clay. Unlike clay soils, this type of soil drains quickly, which can often mean that nutrients are washed away and lost. Because sandy soils contain few nutrients to begin with, this can become problematic.

Look out for:

  • Soil that feels gritty
  • Soil that falls through your fingers and cannot be rolled into a sausage

Improving sandy soils

The main issue with sandy soils is that nutrients and moisture drain too quickly out of them. There are ways to combat this issue:

  • Add organic matter. Well-rotted manure or other organic matter acts as a sponge when added to sandy soils, holding water and preventing nutrients from escaping.
  • Work in the spring. It’s best to work when your soil is still wet, so there’s plenty of water already there for you to retain. Spring is a great time to do this, as your soil will still be wet from winter.
  • Apply a top layer to your soil. A layer of stones or mulch around your plants adds an additional barrier to your soil, helping to protect it from drying out.

Silt soils

Although silt soils are fertile and well-drained, they can be easily compacted. They are easier to work with than other types of soil but are not common.

Look out for:

  • Soil with a slippery texture
  • Soil that is difficult to clump

Improving silt soils

Improving silt soils is a lot like improving clay soils. The main problem to overcome is compaction and can be done by:

  • Applying organic matter. Silt soils are generally fine and lightweight. This means they could be affected by the wind. Adding organic matter will stabilise this type of soil, making it thicker yet still workable.
  • Work on boards. Like clay soils, silt soils are easily compacted, so work on boards to avoid flattening the soil and damaging its structure.

Peat soils

This type is the holy grail of soils! Fertile and moisture-rich, peat soils are usually not found in gardens — so if you have it, you’re very lucky!

Look out for:

  • Dark-coloured soil
  • Soil that feels spongy when squeezed

Improving peat soils

Because peat soil is so fertile and sought-after, it generally doesn’t need to be improved. However, if you need to boost the growth of your plants, a fertiliser can help.

Chalky or lime soils.

A usually stony soil, chalky or lime-heavy soils can contain high levels of calcium carbonate or limestone.

Look out for:

  • Soil that froths when a sample is placed in vinegar

Improving chalky or lime-heavy soils

Soil that is heavy in chalk or limestone can cause organic matter to decompose rapidly, so adding it to the soil isn’t a plausible option. Likewise, adding sulphur to reduce the alkalinity of the soil is not an option, as a huge amount of sulphur would be required over an extended period to lower the levels.

Instead, it’s often an easier and more sensible option to simply work with the soil you have. Choose plants that can grow in alkaline conditions and develop your garden around the type of soil you have.

By identifying the type of soil you have, you can make working in your garden more manageable and enjoyable, and improve the growth of your plants in the process.

27th September 2016

Montreal: the model city for compost?

We’re all aware of the importance of recycling, yet it seems that some cities are more forward-thinking in their approach to going green than others. Take Montreal, for example — their attitudes to composting are world-leading.

Here, compost specialist Compost Direct discusses the policies in place and how Britain could follow suit:

Attitudes to composting in Montreal

In 2015, Montreal mayor, Denis Coderre announced that the city will distribute a total of 435,000 brown bins across the city to help locals separate their food waste from their general waste. Rolling out this year, the waste collected in these bins will then be transported to four newly constructed composting facilities.

The changes are being implemented with the aim of recovering 80% of organic waste by 2019. However, even without the rollout of the bins, 20 to 40 per cent of residents are already composting their waste — clearly, attitudes to going green are widespread in the city.

In addition to the bins, the city recently introduced a new bylaw that could see those who fail to separate their compostable waste fined anywhere from $300 to $1,000. The fines don’t apply to households that don’t have access to curb-side compost collection, like multi-storey apartments, for example.

However, many have raised issues about how it will be policed — will someone check the general waste to make sure there is no food waste inside? Rather, officials are reassuring residents that the new bylaw is to act as a reminder to be environmentally conscious and work towards the common environmental aim.

Could Britain follow suit?

There is no denying that food waste is a problem in the UK. 7.0 Mt of food waste is created by households each year, with 4.7Mt disposed through landfills or sewers. Shockingly, between 4.2 and 5.4Mt of this total waste is preventable. Currently, just 1.0Mt⁶ of this waste is composted or recycled.

Clearly, implementing a similar solution to Montreal would help reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill and increase composting rates.

The UK also has an EU target to recycle at least 50 per cent of household waste by 2020. With 2015’s figure standing at 44.3 per cent, a 0.7 per cent drop on 2014’s figures, we may see a similar strategy implemented on our own soil. Only time will tell.

27th September 2016

Fertiliser vs compost: what’s the difference?

As gardeners, we all want to provide the optimum environment for our plants to grow. However, with so many tips and tricks out there, it’s difficult to know what advice we should follow.

If you’re just starting out in your garden, you may be wondering what the difference between compost and fertilizer is — what are the benefits of each? Should you use them both? In this article, compost and topsoil specialist, Compost Direct, explains more about the two essential items.

What is the difference between fertiliser and compost?

On the most basic level, fertilisers feed plants; compost feeds the soil. Of course, in reality, it’s a little more complex but this is a good general rule to follow, especially when working out what your garden requires.

Fertilisers are used to provide plants with the nutrients they need to grow. They are used especially with fast-growing plants that require high levels of nutrients to grow — essentially, they top-up the levels to ensure the plant can successfully develop.

It’s important that you choose the right fertiliser for your plant. Using the wrong fertiliser can disrupt the soil’s natural chemistry, which can disturb or even prevent the growth of microbes. Over time, this can result in substantial damage to the soil, especially if you choose a chemical fertiliser.

Where fertilisers work with plants, compost, on the other hand, works with the soil. Because of the high levels of organic matter within it, compost feeds the soil and promotes healthy microbe growth. Over time, this builds up nutrient levels in the soil and provides the optimum condition for plants to grow.

Through adding compost to your soil, you will also improve your soil’s ability to retain moisture. As water plays an intrinsic part in growth, this will also boost the vitality of your plants.

Can I use fertiliser and compost together?

Despite their differences, fertiliser and compost can be used together. The organic matter in compost stores the nutrients from the fertiliser until the plant needs them.

Over time, persistent use of fertiliser can imbalance your soil and make it difficult to grow plants in the future. Choose organic fertilisers over chemical ones, and try to use them on a short-term basis. Generally, you’ll see notable differences to your plants through using a fertiliser/compost mix over a few months, so you may be able to stop using fertiliser sooner than you may think.