Happy New Gardening Year! Whilst it may be too cold in January to do much gardening, there is still plenty of planning to do. Whilst planning your garden, take time to consider the most important product used when gardening – Compost. Many people are understandably confused when faced with the sheer amount of choice of composts available, and the biggest debate of all is whether to use Peat or Peat-Free compost. Nothing divides gardeners like peat.
Peat became hugely popular with both commercial and amateur gardeners in the mid 1970’s due to its stability, lightness, predictability and low cost. Before this gardeners either made their own compost or bought ready-made loam compost. Peat remains the mostly widely used planting medium in the UK and around 70% of all extracted peat is used in horticulture.
The Problem with Peat: To meet the demand, UK peat bogs were drained and destroyed resulting in peatland becoming one of the UK’s most threatened habitats. Because of commercial extraction 98% of the UK’s lowland raised peatbogs, one of our rarest and most vulnerable habitats, have been lost. There are just 6,000 hectares in pristine or near-natural condition left. Each of these bogs holds its own unique community of plant and animal species and peatlands contain one of the world’s most important carbon stores. Peat is imported, the latest government figures show that 62% of the peat in compost comes from the Republic of Ireland, the Baltic States and Finland. Like oil, peat is a finite resource: it will eventually run out. We can’t control what happens in the countries we import peat from, however being less reliant on peat makes commercial sense, and manufacturers are beginning to understand this.
Not all Peat is bad: No one denies that we need to protect peatlands and peat bogs however not all peat is harvested from bogs. In Somerset, for example, peat extraction from agricultural land creates wildlife habitats. Lots of Scandinavian countries have huge areas of peatland that have not been living bogs for ages.
So why do gardeners still use peat-based products? It’s estimated that as many as 90% of gardeners don’t realise that compost labeled as “multi-purpose” contains between 70-100% peat, unless it is labeled as peat free. Keen gardeners tend to use a compost brand they know and trust, and until recently peat free composts have had a reputation for being unreliable and inconsistant, especially those at the cheaper end of the market. Peat free composts tend to be coarse which is not ideal for sowing small seeds. Peat free composts are more expensive because they have been processed more and because they are heavier haulage costs are higher. At the end of the day, gardeners want a bag of compost that will perform well****. Successful results gained by organisations including The National Trust, Kew Gardens and the Prince of Wales’ estates, show that we can garden without the use of peat. Having been vocal about peat-free gardening for more than a decade, Monty Don states in his experience, New Horizon’s Peat Free performs well.
What can you do? The UK government plans to ban the sale of peat by 2020 in the meantime the choice as a consumer is yours. Peat-based composts already contain less peat than they did before but equally important you can see how easy it is to be peat-free. In the future, if you choose to purchase peat-free compost for the best results always follow the instructions on the bag, and be prepared to water and feed more frequently. But if you use peat-free products, you’re providing an incentive to companies who are making the move, so stick with it, the price will reduce and the quality will improve.
Rachel Sobiechowski BSc (Hons) P&R Garden Supplies, Fengate Drove, Brandon 01842 814800 www.p-rgardensupplies.co.uk