Peat bogs are a fascinating and important ecosystem, housing a wide variety of birds, insects, mammals and very interesting vegetation. Not only are peat bogs a valuable habitat, they greatly impact the surrounding areas by locking in water and helping to prevent floods and provide potable water (drinkable) to surrounding areas. Water from peat bogs is what gives Scottish whisky its unique flavour! Sadly peat habitats are disappearing at an alarming rate, with over 40% of Ireland’s peat bogs being destroyed between 1998 and 2012!
Developing over thousands of years, peat forms a humus rich growing media which retains water and nutrients.
This attribute lead to peat’s popularity in the 1970’s within horticulture as a cheap super growing media, which could be harvested and processed on the cheap. Bans and restrictions on peat use have started to be shaped very slowly with an aim of 2030 for the use of commercial peat to stop! Sadly the harvesting of peat releases around 400,000 tonnes of green house gases each year, that is the same as adding 100,000 cars onto the road! Along with destroying vital habitats which many rare birds need for nesting.
Coir is often shown as being a good replacement to peat, this very fine material is the left over matter when producing matting/rope from coconut fibre! This “waste” product is great for germinating seeds, but not so good for plants over 1 year old. For home use the best peat alternative to use is either composted green waste from your local composting service with some added sand or to make your own compost, which we will be covering in another blog post as we approach spring.
The regulations about labelling compost, along with what is legally allowed in compost is very lax, as such commercially composted green waste can contain high levels of weedkiller and other such items, due to almost no restrictions in what is composted!
So when your selecting your growing media or wondering the garden centre looking at plants, have a think about what they are grown in and choose peat free.