The answer to that question is yes, it is a good time to rethink the use of peat in your garden. Peat and gardening are ubiquitous. Next time you're in the garden center look at the ingredients in potting soils and seed starters. Peat moss will almost always be in there. The reasoning is because of its ability to hold onto moisture and nutrients and then release them when ready. However, in today’s changing climate (I mean that literally) it is time we compromise the short term personal benefits to help our environment in the long term.
Let’s face it, peat has been a trusted companion to gardeners throughout the world for quite some time. Peat was once used for fuel in Europe and the US. Today the sole purpose of peat is for home and commercial gardening. The problem begins when the peat is extracted from those bogs. Peatlands (bonus points if you knew that’s what the wetland was called!) store a third of the world’s soil carbon and when harvested, carbon dioxide - the most notorious of greenhouse gasses - is released into the air.
These vast bogs have taken hundreds of years to grow and develop, providing huge environmental benefits when they remain intact. These environmental benefits include:
Holding in dangerous CO2 gasses
Serving as diverse homes for native species of plants and animals
Providing a huge benefit to flood control as they can absorb and hold on water as it rises.
These three things are major concerns across the world as we are seeing an increase in CO2, a loss of our beneficial and beautiful native flora and fauna and increased flooding from overworking of the land.
All of this is something to consider especially while we are continuing to see consumption of peat increase at an unsustainable rate. While some places have begun to implement measures to reduce peat consumption, like the UK where they have banned the use of peat for gardening purposes and have reduced peat consummation by 97%, in the US we are slower to react.
So what is one to do?
Start weaning your peat usage in your garden. It is a tough balancing act: reducing peat vs growing healthy and hardy plants and vegetables. Peat does an excellent job in managing moisture ensuring your plants don’t get waterlogged and succumb to root rot. Also, peat provides a good deterrent to fungal diseases for seedlings.
You can look at products that either are hedging away from peat or are not using peat moss at all. The best substitute will be Coconut Coir, but depending on why you are using peat moss you could use: compost, leaf humus, rice hulls, recycled hemp products and much more!
Also start to think of when you actually need to use peat moss? We need to change how we think of this problem and ask what is the main use of peat moss in this situation and can I use another, similar product instead. A great example of this is using peat to dress our new lawn, but do you really need to do that? The answer is: No. But back in the day peat moss was extremely cheap and the moisture control was great. Today however, peat isn’t cheap and there are better products, like Penn Mulch (which is a recycled product), that do a far better job.
Start reading what is in your potting soils and amendments. Higher end potting soils will rely far less on peat moss and traditionally mix in other products. They tend to rely on a mix of peat, natural compost, perlite, guano, earthworm castings and coco. So not only are you getting what you pay for, but most of the time you could potentially use the product in several different places. Royal Gold: They are the kings of coco-based soils and even have completely peat free soils
Additionally, you can start the process of experimenting with a mixture of soil and other products packed with rich nutrients for your garden such as worm castings, bat guano, rice hulls and various organic amendments. You can even create a No-till garden where you create your own natural ecosystem of fungi, bacteria and nutrient rich soil that can sustain itself past one or two grows!
If you are just starting your indoor seeds consider coco coir which is a great peat moss substitute that works effectively with seedlings, or they make products now out of recycled hemp which will do a great job at keeping your seedlings happy.
A few products to consider the next time you're in Barn Owl:
For your grass seed:
Penn Mulch- Recycled Paper product. This will matte itself to the seed giving it the proper amount of water all the while feeding it nutrients.
For your veggie garden and flower beds:
Compost- Purple Cow is our favorite!
Earthworm Castings, Humus, Bat Guano, Many other organic matters.
Pots, and raised gardens:
Earthworm Casting - quality compost and various organic matter (experiment different nutrients for different needs of the plant)
Coconut Coir products Pellets
Terra Fiber is also an awesome product. It is ready to use and is made from recycled hemp. Great for water absorption as well as aeration.
Going cold turkey from peat will be difficult for many. It will require some patience and experimenting so perhaps the answer for many of us is to be respectful of your usage of Earth’s valuable and important resource. Lastly, if all this doesn’t cause you to change your habits, the rising cost of peat moss may!