What are the
benefits of using peat-based compost?
the Potential Environmental Drawbacks to
Are there Any
is Peat-based Compost?
Compost is a generic term used for organic matter that has
decomposed and can be used to fertilise and aid the growth of plants.
Compost can be produced from everyday waste materials, such as
garden weeds, egg shells and potato peel. In fact, it is estimated that
30% of household waste is compostable. It can also be mass manufactured
to produce the best results and is used in almost all agricultural and
horticultural endeavours to increase plant growth. It is dark brown and
friable in appearance.
Common compost, ready to use.
Image credit: http://www.casperwy.gov
Peat is a naturally forming, organic substance which forms in
anaerobic conditions (in the absence of oxygen) usually in the presence
of stagnant water. It is usually formed in mild climates, such as those
found in the northern hemisphere. It is an extremely fertile growing
medium for various types of flora.
Peat is an integral part of modern gardening, due to its
fertile properties and is often the main ingredient in modern,
Used by both amateurs and professionals, peat-based composts
came into common usage in the mid-20th century.
It is often mixed together with sand and loam, though many commercial
composts are almost 100% peat.
Natural, concentrated peat,
the precursor of coal. Image Credit: http://www.usgs.gov
are the benefits of using peat-based compost?
Peat has allowed the gardening industry to thrive, as it is
perfect material for growing a wide variety of plants, from cucumbers
to chrysanthemums. The natural nutrients in peat, present due to the
partially decomposed plant material, make it the easiest medium to use
to give gardens a kick-start. Hence, amateur gardeners are the biggest
users of peat-based composts. It is also the only viable option for
certain specialist plants.
Another reason why casual gardeners continue to buy peat-based
composts is the price. Many peat-free composts require extra processing
and hence the price goes up. It is also the case that if a gardener
finds a compost that works for them, they will be reluctant to change
to newer brands that have a reputation for being unreliable.
Many leading gardeners still use peat based composts to some
are the Potential Environmental Drawbacks to Peat-based
The peat that is used to produce the garden compost is mainly
derived from peat bogs. Peat bogs are among the rarest and most fragile
environments in the UK, and are often hundreds of years old. Natural
peat bogs are being destroyed to meet the demand for composts and the
peatlands of the UK have hence become some of the most endangered
natural habitats in the country. With only 6000 hectares of bog left in
the UK that is in a natural condition, this equates to a loss of 94% of
all peatbogs in the UK.
The intensive mining of peat has adverse effects on the
climate, and destroys valuable ecosystems. Many rare and endangered
species live in and around peat bogs and these are having their way of
life threatened. Species that live around the bogs include dunlins (a
rare species of wader), dragonflies and butterworts (rare carnivorous
A peat bog in America, where
conditions are perfect for peat formation. http://www.epa.gov
The peat business is also extremely damaging to the climate,
as estimates believe that removing and processing peat for composts
release around 630 000 tons of CO2 into the
atmosphere. The peat used in the UK is also sourced from Ireland or
Baltic nations such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, meaning further
carbon is emitted during transportation.
Though the problem with peat has been known for at least 20
years, it has been very difficult to phase out of common usage, with
almost half of composts used in Britain continuing to be peat-based.
There was a campaign in the 1990’s to try and drastically
reduce the amount of peat in compost and a complete phase-out of peat
was hoped to have occurred by 2010. However, most professional
gardeners admit that it is very hard to stop using peat altogether,
because there does not seem to be a sustainable substitute with the
Famous gardeners that have spoken out against using peat-based
composts include Alan Titchmarch, Monty Don and Charlie Dimmock.
Some conversation societies are petitioning to have peat-based
composts banned all together from British gardens. The RSPB and other
societies are urging the government to bring in policies to help phase
out peat-based compost by 2015.
there Any Green Alternatives?
Though most gardeners seem in favour of making the
environmentally-friendly switch, many are put off by the lack of widely
available, green alternatives. However, there are plenty of viable,
peat-free options on the market as well as home-produced alternatives.
Defra have announced that, though peat is best for some very
specialist plants, for general garden use peat-free compost works as
well, or better.
A recent Which? Survey found that
peat-free composts actually performed better than peat-based rivals in
the growing of potatoes and potted plants.
Emma Cooper, presenter of the Alternative Kitchen Garden
podcast, has advocated the use of wood and food scraps as a viable
Many peat-free composts have a reputation for being
unreliable. However, John Walker investigates this claim in his new
book, ‘How To Create An Eco Garden’ and finds it to be false-at least
in part. He recommends 6 peat-free composts as being the best in the
market, which can be found on his website , www.earthfriendlygardener.net
He also says that your level of gardening experience should
not prevent you from getting good results using peat-free composts.
A typical compost bin, used for
home-produced compost. Image credit: http://www.auburnwa.gov
The Guardian Weekend, pg 74-75, 16th