We champion Peat-free April and talk to Toby Thomas, the co-founder of Rocketgro: the source of the peat-free “rocket fuel” that we deliver to your garden!
We’ve long held a pioneering peat-free approach at Ashridge (see our peat free blog). We’re also keen supporters of local UK enterprises so when we heard about Somerset-based Rocketgro and its initiative to create Soil Association approved peat-free composts and soil improvers, we sent our garden writer Sarah Newitt off to interview RocketGro’s co-founder Toby Thomas.
Your partner Tim Rowe’s family has been farming for more than 100 years in Somerset and have had a BioGas generating plant for 20 years, but you were involved in the business world. How did the two of you team up?
It was a lockdown project. My business was on its knees thanks to the pandemic, so when Tim, who was a mate, approached me saying “I’ve had a mad idea can you help?”, I was intrigued. When he explained that he wanted to produce peat-free compost as a by-product from his BioGas operation, I was even more intrigued. And said yes.
How was this to work?
Tim’s BioGas generating plant at his 5,000 acre farm fuels 8,000 homes with green energy. Basically, it works by putting a mix of maize, rye and grass into huge domes where it’s warmed to 55ºC. Microbes and bacteria munch away anaerobically at it and 40 days later the gas that’s produced is either used on the farm to make electricity or pumped into a national grid converter to power those 8,000 homes.
The residue that’s left has been used on Tim’s farm and the farms around him for years as a phenomenally powerful, chemical-free organic fertiliser. It’s so rich and effective, it became known as rocket fuel.
What happened next?
We thought this “rocket fuel” (hence the name) would be amazingly useful for gardeners so decided to bag it up and sell it. Sales literally rocketed (apologies - bad pun!). We started with Magic Mulch and moved on to a whole range of soil improvers and composts. Within a year of launch we were Soil Association approved and RHS supported. We also came second in the New Growing Media Product of the Year category at Glee 2021 [the Crufts of the horticultural world].
What makes RocketGro so special?
Firstly, we’re carbon negative, which is way better than neutral and not achieved by offsetting. Our products are 100% sustainable and stuffed full of microbes which are essential for soil and plant health. They are super-rich in NPK [short for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium] and packaged in 100% recyclable bags, which contain 30% recycled materials - the maximum available at the moment.
What are your plans for the future?
Peat-free is our passion and our pride. We’re expanding the range to include rose, tree and shrub composts and more. We’re determined to do even better in terms of logistics and packaging as new technology emerges. Ideally, we like to be at the forefront of the peat-free horti-movement and the go-to peat-free product for stockists and gardeners alike.