So... what’s new?

By Sally Nex

I’m trying the weird new ‘Reisentomate’ ( this year - it grows like a bunch of grapes

Just from time to time, I put down the hand fork, brush the mud off my jeans, look up and take notice of what everyone else in the gardening world is up to.

It pays to keep half an eye on new ideas and new approaches to old ways of doing things. I’ve lost count of the mini-revolutions in my garden brought about by new thinking, pioneered by innovative and inspirational gardeners, from no-dig to rechargeable battery power tools to biodegradable pots.

It keeps my gardening life interesting – and I make sure I share the most exciting new discoveries to students on my veg-growing course (

You’ve got to be careful, mind you: it’s not always easy to tell the difference between revolutionary new wonderproduct and daft (and usually expensive) gadget. I seem to remember a few years ago everyone was talking about a new tool which combined a garden spade with a digging fork. Which is, on the face of it, an interesting idea: except that when you got it home and actually used it, all you did was wonder why you hadn’t just used a spade (or a fork) instead.

So I do try to concentrate on innovations with a more enduring appeal. Here’s my pick of new developments to sit up and take notice of this year:

Shakeable nematodes
Sprinkle-on biological controls from Canadian firm NemaKnights

Biological controls harness the power of natural predators to attack pests in your garden. But you have to pay attention when you’re applying them: right temperature (usually at least 10C), right stage of development (the pest must be present or the predator won’t have anything to eat) and right application – that is, follow the instructions!

So they can seem a little technical if you’re just starting out. But these sprinkle-on nematodes could change that: the biological control comes suspended in gel, so you just sprinkle them on the ground and water in. Simples!

They come in three formulations, against slugs, vine weevils and lawn ants (this latter entirely unnecessary though, as ants don’t really do any harm so I leave them alone to get on with their anty little lives). The only drawback? They’re not in garden centres yet, but keep your eyes peeled…

Coco coir
Blocks of coir peat substitute help you make your own potting compost

Next month is #peatfreeapril – and if you don’t already use peat-free compost, this is your chance to give it a go. Lots of garden centres are joining in with talks and demos to help gardeners make the switch.

It’s hard to buy even peat-free compost without buying a plastic bag, though. So wherever I can I make my own potting composts, usually using leafmould as the peat substitute. Frustratingly, I almost always run out – but now there’s an easily available alternative.

Coir makes a great peat substitute, and these blocks come plain or injected with nutrients. Just add water and they balloon into 65 litres of potting compost ingredient. Just remember to factor in the carbon footprint – it’s made of coconut fibre shipped in from southern India.

Bag for life
Leading peat-free brand Melcourt has gone one further with their ‘Bag for Life’

And while we’re on the subject of peat-free compost… this was my pick of the new and innovative products for this year.

Not everyone has the time or resources to make their own compost, but if you don’t, you’re stuck with taking home yet another single-use plastic bag with every 50 litres of compost you buy.

Melcourt, producers of my peat-free compost of choice, Sylvagrow, have borrowed an idea from innovative Faversham nursery EdibleCulture and produced a ‘bag for life’ for compost.

You buy your bag for life, then bring it back over and over again to have it refilled with your favourite compost. No annoying piles of plastic bags heaping up in a corner, and great for the planet, too. If your local garden centre doesn’t already have them – ask them to get their act together!

Reusable metal modules
Another great plastic-free gardening idea: reusable (and rather gorgeous) metal modules

Last but not least: since I now garden plastic-free from sowing to planting out I’m always on the lookout for time-saving new biodegradable pots. These very lovely little modules come from online retailer and they went straight onto my must-have garden shopping list.

The little metal inserts are like bottomless square pots and slot into a tray to make a series of modules. Fill with compost and sow or plant in the usual way; then when your seedling is ready to move into the big wide world, just pull out each module, tip out the seedling and plant.

Because they’re bottomless, the roots can spread sideways underneath the modules so they don’t circle and get pot-bound as they would in conventional pots and modules. They are undeniably expensive – a tray of 24 modules will set you back about £40 – but they have a super long life. And they are very, very cute.

Sally Nex

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