Tuesday, 20 April 2010

For Peat's sake...

I was reading the latest Plantlife members mag and noticed that 2010 is meant to be the year that the UK government target for 90% of the total horticultural market to be peat-free is met. Just how likely is this? Apparently in 2007 it was only 54%.

There are so many reasons why we shouldn't be digging up peat. The price of providing gardeners with a light, moisture retentive substance includes: destruction of an incredibly rare habitat along with all the associated plant and animal species, plus peat bogs act as a really important carbon sink (i.e. they store up masses of carbon dioxide. When the peat is dug up the carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change). It's the equivalent of burning fossil fuels.

So what can we do to help? Only buy peat-free compost. Check the labelling very carefully. This includes any potted plants, as a lot of nurseries are still growing with peat-based media.

I could've kicked myself recently. We went to the local garden centre (Nottcutts) to pick up a couple of bags of my usual favourite, New Horizon recycled compost. They didn't have any (not even a space for it) but they did have a different brand made from composted bark, labelled peat-free. Previous composted bark compost I've bought has been a bit rubbish, and as there was no sample available, I made a little hole in a sack to see what it was like. As expected it was really big chunks, not suitable for seed sowing etc. But, lo and behold, there was an organic compost which, when making a little hole, was brilliantly light etc, so we bought a couple of bags. Too late, it dawned on me that this was probably full of peat (which is of course 'organic'!), despite it not saying it had peat in it. In fact it didn't say what was in it at all, other than it was from 'organic sources'. It certainly did not say 'peat free'.

So my lesson has been learned....don't fall for misleading labelling. On searching the web I've found another garden centre nearby that does sell my New Horizon compost. I will be emailing Nottcutts to ask them to stock New Horizon again too and point out the dodgy labelling of the 'organic' compost.

I think we all have a responsibility to buy peat free (even better if you don't need to buy compost at all and can produce all you need yourself.) It's not good enough to say that the alternative composts don't perform as well as peat-based ones. The environmental price of buying peat-based is too high.

Lecture over. And excuse the bad peat pun in the title, I'm sure it has been much-used elsewhere.

PS had first of the spring greens tonight. Yum.


  1. I've gone peat free this year but am not finding it very easy. The stuff I have seems to be composted bark as you describe and seems to dry out very quickly. I have had to mix my own with leafmold (sp?) and some soil to be able to grow things in it. But i am trying - honest!

  2. I just wish compost nowadays was more reliable - lots of people are complaining of poor germination and weak plants. Lots of compost as you have noted has pieces of wood in which when rotting robs the compost of nitrogen! You can't even just stick to one brand as quality fluctuates so much!

  3. Thanks guys. Yep I completely agree about unreliable compost but I really rate the New Horizon products. I think they came top in some consumer survey for peat-free compost too.

    Amongst their products is a multipurpose which is the one I usually buy. It has a few big bits in but they're quite easy to pick out when seed sowing. I think they do a special potting compost too, which is quite fine.

    The website is www.william-sinclair.co.uk if you're interested. Let me know how you get on if you do buy any :o)