Has anyone watched Toby Buckland investigating the issue of peat-based compost in the special edition of the BBC1 Gardeners’ World programme last Friday? The debate around the necessity for gardeners to use peat based compost was very interesting and has certainly brought to light issues which I personally was not aware of.
In particular, I am amazed that despite the fact that the government is aiming for peat free compost by 2010, it appears that most compost manufacturers do not seem to label the content of their products adequately. In fact only last Sunday I was visiting my friend who was potting some tomato plants in his greenhouse and I casually asked him if it was peat-free. He was adamant that it was because he assumed that peat free was the standard these days.
However, I took a closer look and told him that actually there was no indication of the content on the bag apart from the additional fertilizer added for extra growth (from a famous brand which I shall not mention here). I have since also noticed that there is limited information about peat free compost or the ability to buy it on the internet.
With regards to the environmental impact of peat extractions there still seemed to be some debate. As it appears that the peat beds, once refilled with water, may be able to ‘regenerate themselves’ in the long term. However there is little doubt that peat extraction is destroying a precious habitat as well as having detrimental effect to the potential for capturing C02 in the peat bogs.
One question which was left out in the programme was the question of price of the peat-free compost since I think that it is a strong factor in the decision. To me it poses the same dilemma as the free range chicken campaign. Personally I resolved that issue by paying a bit more for a smaller free-range chicken because at the end of the day I tend to eat too much meat, and I would rather have less meat but of a better quality.
For me the best way forward to reduce the amount of peat use would be:
Compost more of our own waste. I for one like to do my own compost and enjoy being able to recycle a lot of my household green refuse – I feel like I am doing my bit towards safeguarding our children’s future. Hopefully this may contribute towards offsetting some of the environmental impact which my lifestyle has on the planet. However, despite introducing a second compost bin back in November I do not produce enough compost for all my needs (sowing, potting, greenhouse containers, etc…).
Improve labeling on compost bags from all suppliers. Informed customers can make the decision as to whether they want to limit the environmental impact of peat extraction. If the government is to meet their peat free target then this is an obvious measure to enforce. A lot of gardeners would be prepared to swap to peat free if only they could identify it.
Use green compost. Local councils recycle green bin waste and in many areas of the country people get access to this free green compost which can be used in the garden. My personal experience is that the compost produced from green bins is very woody, of lower quality and I suspect that bind weed was introduced to my garden that way. However, it is still very useful for mulching wide areas of the garden and I would like to see more councils communicating about availability of free recycled green waste compost to more people.
Are you concerned about the environmental impact of peat extraction? Do you have any additional ideas to add to the above? Please leave a comment…