Stairway Peat Free Compost
We really do get that the subject of potting compost is not one which usually excites much interest… but we think we have come up with something which just about reinvents that wheel and of course we want to share this with our customers!
It’s important to us that you know exactly why your Air-Pot® grown tree is a ‘premium product’ and why it represents the best possible value for money.
Having wisely chosen to buy Air-Pot® grown, we know you understand that it’s all about good roots… but we have taken this a step further by developing a growing medium which further enhances the root structure and enables it to take up even more water and nutrient. This promotes rapid establishment and growth by preparing the roots for being planted out in the ‘real world’ – completely minimising transplant ‘shock’ – and uses only ingredients which are natural, environmentally friendly and sustainable.
We believe we have developed the world’s first truly ‘smart’ compost which does things no other compost can do. It creates a microbial food web chain which naturally regulates and maintains water and nutrient levels – and continues to do so even after planting out – using micro-organisms which also inoculate the plant. This creates a strong immune system, prevents transplant shock and promotes long term plant health.
From here on in it gets unavoidably a bit long winded… so if you think you won’t glaze over when we get to the protozoa and nematodes and are intrigued to find out more – do read on!
From day one, we set out with a vision of ‘The Stair Way’ – which was to produce the finest quality Air-Pot® grown trees available in the UK – a huge part of that vision was to develop composts specifically designed for the Air-Pot®.
To start with we looked very closely at why, even with the best root systems, trees often suffer from transplant shock which holds them back from establishing as rapidly as required to maintain the optimum health of the plant. This can cause even the most sturdy and healthy of plants to quickly become quite sickly and disease prone. The most obvious reason for this is that most commercially available growing media are pretty much sterile and lack the range of microbial life encountered in natural conditions – thus the nursery container grown tree lacks the immune system that exposure to these would allow it to develop.
We began to look closely at what natural bioactive components we needed to add to our compost to mimic nature – much to the amusement / raised eyebrows / consternated sucking of teeth of many of our trade colleagues and fellow nurserymen! Thus in 2006 we became the first commercial nursery in the UK to universally incorporate mycorrhizae fungi and other bioactive micro-organisms: ‘good’ bacteria, protozoa and nematodes into our growing media. In much the same way as we might have our probiotic drinks to boost our response to pathogens – once mocked by many and now given almost universally in hospitals to all children, elderly and otherwise frail patients during antibiotic therapy. Similarly… our method is now starting to be adopted by some of our initially sceptical fellow nurserymen for its simple, overwhelming common sense who have seen the results for themselves now. (Not that I’m having a wee dig or anything… it’s always better to have been the innovator and leader rather than the follower!).
As part of that process and with a commitment to eventually becoming a peat free nursery, we visited the peat bogs where horticultural peat was traditionally extracted and saw for ourselves the devastation of a rare and unique natural habitat that took tens of thousands of years to lay down but gone forever in many places in less than fifty years to supply the horticultural trade. We discovered that these were one of the rarest wildlife habitats in the world, right here in Britain, supporting a range of flora and fauna just not found anywhere else and with a critical role in flood management and carbon storage, storing 20 times more carbon per acre than dense forest. We just couldn’t justify being any part of the destruction of this habitat and resolved to speed up the ‘going peat free’ process from ‘eventually’ to ‘with almost immediate effect’!
We then took another look at coir, dismissed by many for the carbon footprint involved in shipping from Sri Lanka. But when we really looked closely we found that not only is this an excellent substitute for peat – it is a natural by-product of the coconut industry, some of which can be used in making door mats and brushes but most of which was previously waste product – it is very light and can be compressed for bulk shipping which gives it a carbon footprint which is reckoned to be a tiny fraction of that involved in peat extraction. As an added bonus, it also turns what was previously a waste product into a valuable source of revenue and employment for a developing economy.
Our only remaining concern was would coir have the same excellent water retaining properties of the peat that we are all so accustomed to and we couldn’t truly test this in a reduced peat formula. So the bullet was duly bitten and we started to conduct a range of trials with purely coir based mixes. We were surprised to find that the trial samples didn’t dry out as quickly as we had expected or require more watering. Rather we found that the coir samples had the added advantage of not waterlogging the way that peat is very prone with our wet weather. Well of course! That is exactly what nature designed it to do in the British habitat! Where is supports an incredible range of plants unique to that environment. Note with interest – trees are a bit of a rarity in peat bogs.
As our trials progressed, it became clear that one group of plants (around 40% of the trial samples) appeared to be doing even better than all the rest and had produced trees which were a bit bigger, sturdier and with noticeably lusher foliage than the rest. John had had a bit of a ‘eureka’ moment without really knowing it at the time! Concerned at the outset that keeping the plants adequately watered might prove challenging by flushing out nutrients before the roots could get to them – he had the brainwave of adding natural volcanic (pumic) minerals to 40% of the sample mixes to assist in the retention of water and nutrient so that it wouldn’t be flushed straight out the free draining coir. What it actually did was lock in the nutrient in such a way that the mycorrhizae filaments attached to the roots were able to transmit this feed to the roots on a virtual demand feed basis. This was in itself a quite astonishing discovery! A ‘smart’ compost! “Stairway Peat Free Compost”.
These are now the three main components of all our peat free compost with of course the addition of one or two other equally magic but totally natural ingredients for longer term or more specialised varieties.
But you didn’t really expect us to give away all our trade secrets, did you?