Peat has been an essential ingredient in composts sold in British garden centers since the 1960s, although it’s not really all that healthy for plants. The reason this soft turf is sought-after by gardeners is because it is able to hold both air and water, and is generally free of disease and pests. This makes peat the ideal place for seeds to germinate and grow solid roots.
Many people are unaware of how the compost made from peat we purchase each year for their gardens takes a lot of years to create. The peat is extracted from bogs, fens, as marshes, the peat comprises the decayed remains of the old animals and plants. The peatlands of Europe comprise 5 times the carbon than forests. Also, removing peat for agricultural purposes or removing it for compost releases CO2 into the atmosphere, speeding up climate change.
The UK government is preparing to prohibit peat usage among amateur gardeners until 2024.. The initial plan was that gardens in England would cease selling peat-based products before 2020. Peat is a relatively inexpensive resource, and switching it to compost made of alternatives does not make financial sense for these businesses without the need for a legally binding regulation. This is why peat accounts for approximately 35 percent of sales of compost, which is an increase of 9 percent in the year 2020 alone.
With the proposal of a ban and the promise to restore 35,000 hectares of peatland across the nation by the time of the ban, retailers will no longer be able to hinder the transition to compost that is not peat-free. For those who are green, evidence suggests that more environmentally friendly compost is still able to keep gardens looking beautiful.
Peat taken from an agro-sludge in Ireland. Kevin Foy/Alamy Stock Photo
Peat-free compost mixes
The search for alternatives to peat started in the 1970s when the environmental impacts of degrading peatlands began to cause concern within the UK. The initial generations of other options for composting were mostly made from the waste products that were composted. This included the clippings of grass and trees from gardens and parks (known by the name green waste) and food processing byproducts, such as brewer’s waste and manure from animals.
The inconsistent composts had many reasons. They were usually altered from one season to another, which made gardening difficult to make the necessary changes. Some contained higher levels of nutrients than what plants needed, and the physical structures of some alternative composts were quite different from peat, requiring the method of watering the plants to be altered, which could be challenging for amateur gardeners. In the early days, they were sold through the retail market to people in general, causing disappointment to those who had grown accustomed to using peat. This created a long-lasting opposition to alternatives to peat.
The most recent research carried out by professional growers, producers, and consultants has led to an entirely new type of compost. Different materials, including coconut fibers – can be mixed to create composts that work as effectively as peat. The latest research phase focused on how various ingredients interacted in blends. It resulted in manufacturers cutting down on how much green material they utilize, which tends to differ in terms of quality.
Green waste was used as a substitute for peat in many of the composts used in the beginning as an alternative. Ellyy/Shutterstock
One study examined these various blends of coconut, bark, and wood fiber. The results showed that they could be effective in replacing peat in all aspects of sowing seeds to the growth of young plants to bigger ornamental nursery stock as well as soft fruits. An in-depth analysis of each one’s capacity to hold water as well as air in the appropriate proportions – and their ability to drain – identified a formula that can determine how various materials perform in a given mixture, assisting manufacturers in developing composts of high quality.
The majority of the latest research has focused on investigating the effectiveness of peat-free blends under commercial conditions for nursery plants. There’s no reason gardeners who are hobbyists shouldn’t be able to achieve the same success.
New peat-free compost blends are now available in garden centers. New Horizon, a mix of plant fiber and loam, has outsold several products made from peat. Unfortunately, it is the case that only one out of twenty retailers has committed to stop selling peat from their shelves by the end of the next year.