Small changes can reduce our environmental impact-part 2, Peat

The first part of this series, I looked at the simple ways of helping to reduce the effects of climate change on our soils. Now I am going to take a look on how we can help reduce the effects when buying or growing plants for our garden. Choosing the type of plants and how that can effect it will be the next one

Please also don’t think I am telling you how to garden, I’m not. Changing things can be so hard and hopefully these blogs will help you make positive changes in your garden and enjoy it even more

I suppose there are two big big subjects in growing plants today, firstly we have plastics and secondly, use of peat

A native peat bog

Let’s start with peat. Peat has been used for many years within the growing industry for raising and growing plants. What makes it so good for horticulture is its ability to hold on to water, not have nutrients of its own so is able to have nutrient levels adjusted to suit particularly plants. It is acidic so is good for acidic lovely plants like Rhododendrons but a wide range of plants will grow well in it. As it comes from moss, it’s a lightwieght material and so is easy to use and handle, both prior, during and after production.

Peat is formed in wetlands and bogs. It can be made from any materials that occur in a wetland or bog situation. Materials like sedges, mosses or any plant material, die within the bog/wetland. This material, due to the lack of oxygen, takes thousands of years to decompose, with just 1mm added each year. This process is called anaerobic digestion. Once harvested and exposed to oxygen, it starts to breakdown a lot quicker and starts to release the carbon back into the environment.

Harvesting a peat bog, notice the lack of water!

The one thing this process does is to lock the carbon into these areas. Indeed they lock more carbon in these bogs than any other habitat! This alone is a very good reason to stop using peat. Let alone the damage to the ecosystems that thrive on this unique environment, one that we do really need to start to stop using.

So how do reduce our need on peat and what are the alternatives?

Here’s just a few things we can do

  1. Simple things like trying to buy our plants from peat free nurseries.
  2. Try to buy dormant plants bare root when possible. Plants like roses, hedging, trees and some herbaceous plants are available bare root.
  3. Buy plants in smaller pots if there no other choice. Indeed smaller plants establish better and quicker.
  4. Use green waste compost as a mulch and soil conditioner
  5. Bug nurseries to stock plants in peat free. This has to be the biggest and best thing to do
  6. Learn to adjust our requirements for plants. Plants may not be as tall, may not look as good. Once they get into the soil, they will romp away!
  7. Reduce the amount of annual plants you buy or raise. These need a lot of resources and of course need replacing once twice a year. Permeant plant will last longer and cost less in the long term
  8. Reduce the amount containers and hanging baskets. Yes they may look great but also need a lot of resources

Of course the best way is to find alternatives to peat.

Peat in its end use form

The main one has been Coir from coconut husks. It works ok, very nutrient low, pretty fine but is very fast draining, leading to nutrients and water to be used more. Not ideal for reducing our impact on the planet. The other down side has to be were and how it’s produced. Main areas are Sri Lanka and India, so there’s the environment impact of bringing it to the U.K. The production of coir may also not be ideal, requiring a lot of water usage and cheap labour. Using a 100% coir based compost doesn’t work that well. It’s disadvantages for me are just too much. However using it as part of mix, adds all its advantages but also allows its disadvantages to be reduced.

Ideally we need alternatives that are produced closer to home and there some good alternatives.

Melcourt is one the leaders of peat free composts and have spent years researching them. They do use some some coir in their production but the majority of the mix is bark and wood fibre from U.K. forests. And it is really good compost and the amount of professional nurseries that use it, is testament to its worth. That includes nurseries like Hardys cottage plants, Bernhards are just a couple of the nurseries that use Melcourt

Another company that produces a great alternative to peat is Dalefoot composts. Their unique composts are made from a old recipe found in a some old gardening books, is made from Bracken and sheep’s wool. Yes you read it right. These two products composted down make a great compost that has so many of the qualities of peat. It can be blended to suit many applications from seed sowing to acid loving plants. What makes it even more special is the total substantially of it, being produced by 2 products that are harvestable every year

I also reviewed a couple of their products a couple of years ago

Yes there’s downsides of using alternatives like extra cost of the products and let’s not underestimate the extra prices, some are more than 3 times the cost of peat alternatives. More experimentation to get the right mix for your requirements, extra feeding maybe required.

One of our native bogland plants, the sundew

But let’s not forget the reasons we are doing this and every step no matter how small will help to preserve our planet. Reduction of carbon and saving of some of our most unique and special wildlife.

We have spent many years debating the use of peat. Maybe this is the time to really stop using it and move on away from it

Next time I shall take a look at the role of plastics within our garden

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