Matthew Dent creates award-winning, vegan-friendly compost from Fertile Fibre in Herefordshire. Matthew tells us about the types of composts available to vegan gardeners.
Is finding vegan-friendly compost a common problem amongst vegans?
Unfortunately, yes. If you visit your local garden centre, chances are you won’t find any compost suitable for vegans. It seems pretty short-sighted given the increasing popularity of veganism and the fact that the fruit and vegetables eaten by vegans need to be grown somewhere.
If you do find a vegan compost, it will most likely be a multipurpose compost. Serious gardeners prefer to have the chance to use seed and potting composts as well, depending on the task at hand. We offer these in vegan-friendly batches online. We also produce other vegan-friendly compost blends, these include tree and shrub potting compost, potting loam mix and a winter seed compost.
Why is it so difficult to find vegan-friendly compost?
Every compost producer adds their own ingredients, following their ‘recipes’. Some of these may be derived from animals. Traditionally fish blood and bone meal, shell, chicken droppings, cow horn and manure have all been added to compost.
The corporate compost manufacturers respond to customer demand so if no one is asking for a product, they don’t see a need.
When did Fertile Fibre start?
Fertile Fibre was the brain child of hop farmer and nurseryman Robert Hurst back in 1989. Robert runs The Cottage Herbery which grows herbs and cottage garden plants. He noticed his coir string composted really well which sparked the idea of creating a coir-based compost. Rob sourced waste coir from Sri Lanka and approached W.L. Dingleys for help in producing an organic nutrient. His friend, the renowned gardener Geoff Hamilton from ‘Gardeners’ World’, offered invaluable advice as well.
Sales started by word of mouth and word soon spread. The Hursts wanted to get back to just growing plants and sold the business to me back in 2004. However, Robert still helps with trialling products. He’s also the star of our How to videos on YouTube. Rob’s a lovely guy and a great sport – as the bloopers reel shows!
What is the advantage of using Fertile Fibre compost?
Every ingredient in our Vegro composts is acceptable to vegans and vegetarians. They are all registered with The Vegan Society's Vegan Trademark. Our vegan-friendly composts are judged as organic by The Soil Association. They are also peat-free, so you’ll be supporting conserving valuable peat bogs which guard against flooding and are vital ecosystems.
The main ingredient of Fertile Fibre compost is coir. It’s actually a waste product from making coconut husk rope in Sri Lanka. To reduce the carbon footprint, we rehydrate the coir back here in the UK and then add our unique, 100% vegetable-based organic nutrient to turn it into compost. We’re meticulous in making sure none of the coir has been produced near the sea, as the salt water used to soak it would not be good for plants. Depending on the type of compost, we then add ingredients like the mineral vermiculite, grow bark, potting bark and sterilized loam.
On arrival at our sheds, we have a full traceability scheme from delivery to warehouse, storage and stock to mixing, and finally to delivery. We hold records from the state of the delivery lorry to the name of the driver on dispatch.
And it's used by Chelsea Flower Show award winners?
Gardeners who use our composts are in good company. Our composts provide the perfect conditions for growth and this has been recognised by commercial growers, Chelsea Flower Show award winners, farmers and growers for more than 25 years. It’s a little-known fact that all National Trust properties use peat-free composts as a matter of policy. We’re honoured to supply some of their star properties such as Cragside in Northumberland and Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire.
What kind of reaction have you had from customers?
Really positive. The reaction of most vegan gardeners is “what a relief!” They’re delighted to find a reliable source of quality compost. Also our customers love how pleasant our compost is to use. The coir means it doesn’t go slimy and stain your skin the way peat-based composts can.
What are the challenges in getting vegan-friendly compost widely used?
Most people are unaware that vegan-friendly compost is even an option. We’re a small family firm and though we try our best on Twitter, we don’t have the multi-million pound marketing budgets of other gardening suppliers. However, word of mouth is helping. We find allotment holders are great unofficial ambassadors for Fertile Fibre compost. The size and quality of the fruit and vegetables grown in our compost are proof of its quality.
Can you tell us a bit about DIY composts – what makes this option trickier?
Many vegan gardeners decide to make their own compost from kitchen waste. That way they know exactly what goes into it. The trouble is it can take up to six months or more for home-made compost to be ready. But if a vegan gardener wants to start planting as soon as possible, we can deliver compost the next day, straight to their door.
Extreme weather can also be a challenge when making DIY composts. Scorching or soggy summers can ruin the process. But we sell vegan nutrients which can boost the “good stuff” plants thrive on like nitrogen and potassium.
What advice would you give to new and aspiring gardeners?
Watering little and often is the best way forward with Fertile Fibre compost. The coir allows the compost to soak up water and retain it far longer than other composts. Some over-enthusiastic gardeners waterlog their plants by mistake! Also don’t over compact the soil as it needs room to breathe.
If you don’t have much room, you might consider buying hydrated coir blocks and using them as a base for your own compost. Owners of roof gardens love Fertile Fibre, as it’s light to transport and easy to store. You just need to add our vegan-friendly nutrients and water!
Fertile Fibre produces award-winning organic, vegan-friendly and peat-free composts. Please visit www.fertilefibre.com or call 01432 85311.
The views expressed by our bloggers are not necessarily the views of The Vegan Society.