Which compost to use
Before making any final decisions about what plants I was going to get, I needed to do a couple of more things with the buckets I was going to use as planters: First, I needed to add some broken crockery to the bottom of the buckets(to help with the drainage) and secondly, I needed to fill them up with a suitable compost.
When I say suitable, of course, I meant that I wanted to ensure that the compost was a “peat free” variety. Unfortunately, the extraction of peat in the UK has been devastating for our ancient bogs and mosslands, and much of the demand for it has been driven by its use in our gardens. Some of these mosslands are 1000s of years old and when they are dug up they are impossible to replace and so are lost forever – along with the unique fauna and flora which depended on them. To find out more, click here
Fortunately, there are some excellent “peat free” composts on the market and the best one I’ve used so far is “fertile fibre” – which is made from discarded coconut husks. I got mine from the local Hulme Community Garden Centre though it can also be bought at another little independent called Bud Garden Centre Hopefully, as more people become increasingly aware of the environmental havoc caused through peat extraction, other decent garden centres will start stocking peat free compost, too. If you can’t find it locally, it’s also possible to order it directly from the manufacturer
So , after I’d put in a few bits of broken crockery, to cover the pre-drilled drainage holes in the bucket, I then added the compost so that it filled each bucket up by around 2/3rds. I then mixed in 2 generous handfuls of organic slow release fertiliser (seaweed pellets) together with 2 generous handfuls of “water retention gel”.
The seaweed pellets help to slowly feed the plants as they break down in the compost. It’s very important that the pellets are replaced each year(in the spring) in order to keep the plants healthy and growing well*. The “water retention gel” helps to keep the compost from drying out by absorbing several times its own volume in water and then slowly releasing that same water to the plants roots, as they need it. This is a really helpful addition as the combination of sun and wind on an exposed balcony can very quickly dry out the compost , especially in the summer, and so the gel effectively acts as a “reservoir” to help lock in some of the moisture. Both the pellets and the “Water Retaining Gel” are available from most good garden centrers.
*I also supplement their “food” by using an organic “seaweed liquid feed ” – which I give to the plants once every 2 weeks during the main summer growing season. This just helps to give them a boost and ensures that they grow really well.Again, this should be available from any good garden centre.
Once the “peat free” compost has been added and prepared in the way described above, I just added the plant, topped-up the compost so it was level with the plant’s stem and gave it a good water .
Given that I wanted to add plants to a very small and exposed space, which received limited direct sunlight AND yet still managed to attract wildlife , the challenge was going to be in selecting the “right” plants for the job.