The key ingredient is

leafmould.

Why leafmould? Because ordinary garden compost is as variable, in pH and nutrient content, as the ingredients that were used to make it. It also often contains weed seeds. Leafmould is

Leafmould takes a year or two to make, but the wait is worth it.

m si much more predictable and, crucially, can be relied on to be low in nutrients. It also has a nice open, but water-retentive, texture, and shouldn't contain weed seeds. In fact, pure leafmould makes an excellent seed compost.

Leafmould won't support seedling growth for more than a few days, so nutrients must be added for a compost with more staying power. One way of doing this is simply to add an organic fertilizer, for example blood, fish and bone, bonemeal, or hoof and horn, to leafmould. Seaweed meal is a useful substitute for those who don't like to use animal products.

If you are determined to stick to home-made ingredients, you can include sieved garden compost, which is very variable but generally quite nutrient-rich. Equal parts leafmould and garden compost is one possibility. Even neat garden compost should be alright for plants that need a lot of nutrients, like tomatoes. If you have a wormery, you could substitute worm compost for garden compost. Worm compost has the advantage of being weed-free, finely textured, and reliably rich in nutrients. Compost from a high-fibre heap shares these characteristics: it's worth having such a heap if you want to make a lot of potting compost.

Adding horticultural grit to any mix will add more "body" and improve the drainage. You can use garden loam, but many experts recommend that it's pasteurized first, and I think pasteurizing your own loam is beyond the average gardener.

If you decide to make your own potting compost, my advice is:

  • treat it as a bit of an adventure, rather than as a cheap way of producing a reliable product - don't expect the "same" mixture always to give the same results
  • make small quantities and don't try to store it
  • water very carefully - your own mix will have quite different physical properties to any bought compost
  • be alert to the plant's growth and feed it if necessary
  • always check a mixture's pH before trying to grow acid-loving plants in it

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