This week has seen a change in the weather and it now feels more like spring-time in England than the previous few weeks have. I for one have been grateful for the help watering the plot (although a little concerned about my seedlings being eaten by slugs and snails)!
At our committee meeting, we had a look at the latest draft of the Green Charter. Anja Thies, Jill Kaye and Kate Burton have put a great deal of effort into producing a succinct, informative document which we all agreed is what we were looking for when we discussed the charter at the AGM last year. There’s still some fine-tuning to be done, but as soon as it’s ready we’ll be sharing it with you all.
One of the things we noted about the Charter is that it covers a lot of topics and some of these we’ll need to go into in more depth outside that document. A particular area we discussed was the use of peat-free compost.
Peat-free was a hot topic in sustainable gardening a few years ago, but more recently it seems to have dropped out of focus as attention has shifted more toward plastics and no-dig. In fact, after typing ‘why use peat-free compost’ into my search engine to brush up before writing this blog post, I found that the top few articles were all from around 10 years ago.
Yet using peat is no more sustainable than it was 10 years ago and using peat-free compost is still an important aspect of growing sustainably. So in brief, here’s why it’s good to avoid peat:
- Peat bogs take thousands of years to develop. Only 1mm of peat is laid each year and only 3% of the earth’s surface is peatland – you can imagine the impact if all gardeners use peat to plant their seedlings every year.
- They are important carbon sinks and carbon stores (limiting climate impacts) if they stay where they are, but huge carbon sources (increasing climate impacts) if dug up and damaged for use in compost and elsewhere.
- They are also of global significance for biodiversity with the majority of peatland species and habitats rare, threatened or declining.
- Before the 1950s, peat wasn’t widely used and yet humans have been farming for thousands of years.
- When peat compost dries out too much, it can blow away or become very resistant to re-wetting.
And a few tips on how to avoid peat:
- Only buy peat-free compost (if it isn’t labelled as peat-free, then it isn’t peat-free). Which? Gardening magazine’s best buy compost was peat-free this year (https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/compost/article/best-compost). Unfortunately, only Which? Subscribers can view the whole article, but we’ll try and source some of this for the shop when we re-open.
- Make your own compost – most things growing on your plot can be added to the heap, it all breaks down in to useable nutrients for the plot (there’s some useful links on making compost below).
- Use the compost from the communal heap when it’s ready (we’ll email you when it is).
- Add other organic manures, such as green manures which you can grow yourself, or animal manures which you can often source from farms in the surrounding areas (again, we’ll email you as and when we get leads on any organic, sustainable manure sources).
- When making raised beds, fill these with topsoil and other organic matter instead of peat-based compost – this might take longer to build up your bed, but will help avoid the bed drying out.
More information on peatland habitats and what work is being done in the UK to protect them: https://www.iucn-uk-peatlandprogramme.org/about-peatlands/uk-peatlands
Some more articles on avoiding peat in gardening:
And some advice on composting:
Written by Olivia Morton