“ Brand: Sunshine Garden Products / Type: Compost / Mulch „
I love gardens and plants, but weeds are not pleasant, and they can be difficult to control, if like me you refuse to use any chemicals.
Sunshine of Africa produce a mulch which is made form the discarded shell of the cocoa bean, so if you purchase this not only will you have the weeds under control, but the aroma from the beds will be adorable!
I first saw this used many years ago by the sadly departed Geoff Hamilton, and I also remember Bob Flowerdew, the famous organic gardener using it too.
To make the mulch they use the shells which are actually extracted from the beans here in England, and not in Africa, as they are shipped whole and refined to make chocolate, so this is a by product of that process. Making this compost and indeed shipping it is the pride of a small family business.
I have used this not only for weed suppression, but also for conditioning the soil I have here in Essex, which is heavy clay, but you can also use it to condition sandy soils too. It breaks up clumps quite nicely, and it also assists moisture retention which is really important at the moment.
I have sprinkled some around the base of a new hydrangea which I bought recently, as despite some heavy downpours it needed something to stop the soil drying out in between. It worked really well.
To use it you need to apply about a 2 inch layer, and it has to be watered in as this releases a gum like material which binds the mixture together and provides excellent moisture retention.
I have to say that we have used it with great success, and it is so much better than bark which in my experience rots over time and quickly allows weeds to poke through. In many ways it resembles egg shells, and is also really good at stopping slugs as they don't like the hard edges on their delicate bodies! It works really well around lettuce plants, I know mine have some slug interest and this stops it.
Aesthetically this looks really lovely and at first it has a reddish tinge to it but later turns to a dark brown. One of the main ways it is better as mulch around plants is that it actually contains lots of nitrogen, and so it can compost down itself without robbing the plants of this essential nutrient which bark does. This benefits my vegetable garden, but is not of that much importance where I use it for large areas as a weed suppressant.
Having a teenage son a few years ago with a passion for old Ford Capris we actually dug up part of our front drive to make an extra parking space for him. Having used bark on this for a number of years we switched to the Cocoa Shell and have found it to be much more weed suppressing, and it actually looks so attractive we have refrained from turning it to grass, but have instead made it into a woodland garden which is edged in snowdrops and winter aconites, which look really pretty against the cocoa shells.
Price wise it varies a lot depending on where you purchase. Not all garden centres stock it but mail order I have used the following
www.organiccatalogue.com this place charges £12.97 for a 75 litre bag, but if you buy two and a little something extra and can make the order up to £27 you will receive free delivery.
It is also available from
www.gardendirect.co.uk but this site is more expensive.
There is another make of this from J Arthur Bowers and I have used this obtaining mine from www.gardencentre.co.uk and if you click through from the cash back site Give or Take at www.giveortake.com you should receive 7% cash back, and currently the site has a voucher code for an extra 5% off. They do however charge for delivery.
Now a serious word about animals. Cats don't like the smell of this so it may well keep them off your plants as they often like to use the garden as a litter tray. I know I used to have three who went outside, not now I have indoor Persians. but it could help you if you don't like their little gifts in your flower beds.
Dogs however are a much more serious matter. Chocolate kills dogs every year. This stuff is toxic to dogs for at least two weeks after it has been laid so please don't put it where your dog goes by his or her self off the lead. Chocolate contains theobromide and is a stimulant and it will affect the heart and may be deadly. I know to my cost as my little Shih Tzu ate one chocolate from a dark selection last autumn, and we spent an agonising night at the emergency vets wondering if she would make it through the night. You would think I would know better, having a daughter as a vet, but my husband accidentally left the almost empty box I had bought him for his birthday in her reach. It was nearly a very sad birthday indeed.
6 dogs have already died in the United States from eating this mulch, the greatest risk being in the first two weeks when the smell will attract them.
I think this is a great product out performing bark in all aspects but just use it with extreme caution if you have dogs, or indeed have dogs who wander off the lead in your front garden, maybe off their owner's leads. The RSPCA are very concerned about this and hope vigilance will prevent any sad consequences.
This review is also posted on Ciao under my user name there Violet1278.
It's that time of year again, the sun has actually appeared so I seem to spend endless amounts of time with a watering can in my hand so my poor plants don't keel over and die on me.
I am not a fan of watering my plants although I like my garden to look nice. A few years ago I remember watching one of the countless gardening programmes that were then in vogue on the telly which was extolling the virtues of using a mulch. I had never heard of mulching before but it is simply surrounding your plants with a layer of something to help prevent evaporation of water from the soils surface. This helps the plants to thrive as the soil has retained more moisture.
Over the next couple of years I tried a few methods and found bark was the easiest, grass cuttings are good but look a bit messy! After a while the bark looked a bit "washed out" so I decided to look for something else. On a trip to the local garden centre I spotted bags of Cocoa Shells and thought they would be worth a try.
Each bag was 70l and was not particularly heavy to move. The shells are organic and are a by-product of the chocolate industry. I read the instructions which told me to use 1-2 inches spread amongst my plants and to water well after laying it down. The most important thing to mention here is that dogs MUST be kept away from this stuff for the first few weeks. This is because they contain a chemical that is harmful to dogs if swallowed. I do not have a dog and was only using it on my back garden so I didn't have to worry but I wouldn't use it on my front beds because of the risk to passing dogs and I am sure dog owners will avoid the product because of this. I believe there are reports of some dogs dying.
I watered the beds really well before laying the shells down. The shells are very lightweight and I thought they would blow away. They smell divine, just like chocolate! They are quite a dark brown colour which looked lovely against the plants. The instructions tell you to water them in well. I did this which intensified the smell but also caused the shells to sort of bind together to form a mat. This is useful as it stops them blowing about.
These shells work well as a mulch. They release nutrients into the soil as well as retain moisture. I found the smell was quite strong for about 2 weeks and then gradually faded. What I also liked was the fact that the shells got darker in colour over time which kept the flowerbeds looking neat, unlike the bark which gets paler. I did notice that I seemed to have less slugs as well but that may have been coincidence. I felt that there was definately a reduced need to water. The plants amongst the shells stayed happy all summer!
I couldn't find these shells in my local garden centre last year but I have just placed an order on the internet at £8.50 a bag.
I found these shells to be an excellent product and to a self-confessed chocolate addict they make gardening more appealing. I would be wary if you had young children as they may be attracted by the smell. However the strong smell would certainly overpower some of the more subtle fragrances in your garden for the first couple of weeks.