• Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

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…

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4 Responses

  1. 1
    Victoria Smith 

    At Recycle Now we are keen to encourage more people to use peat free composts. It can be confusing knowing whether products are peat free or not. Some of the major manufacturers are now using a logo to help make composts containing recycled materials more easily identifiable. If the bag doesn’t say peat-free then it most likely isn’t. Wording such as ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘compost’ and ‘organic’ can often confuse gardeners into thinking they are buying peat-free products.

    You can also visit and download a ‘Buying Guide’ which provides useful hints and tips on where to go to purchase compost that’s good for the environment.

  2. I agree with you about Peat, its place is in the ground as a carbon sink and as a habitiat NOT in the bottom of plant pots!

    If you don’t mind I will link to your post from my blog.

    I make a LOT of compost and this year am in the happy position of only buying in seed growing medium. I am doing all other potting on into home made growing medium ( a third each sand, loam, compost)

    I have bought Household waste site peat free growing medium before ( New Horizon is one such example) and its ok and MUCH better than using peat based mixes.

    However its not certified Organic, which matters to me, so I use Fertile Fibre or Moorland Gold certified Organic seed growing medium and have them both to be very good.

    Interesting post and the rest of your blog is interesting as well 🙂

  3. 3
    Peat Free 

    I would like to make a few constructive observations re “Use green compost” if that is OK.

    “My personal experience is that the compost produced from green bins is very woody,”
    When buying green compost if you want less “woody” material just ask for a compost screened to a smaller particle size, I would suggest 10mm. Different screened composts are better for different applications.

    “of lower quality”
    This very much depends on what “quality” you are looking for. Compost is very highly regulated in the UK and the qualities of good compost far exceed many conventional “composts” found in garden centres. In addition to the excellent nutrient content of compost which is slow release and doesn’t leach, compost has been demonstrate to increase moisture retention, naturally suppress disease, improve soil structure, increase natural biodiversity and many other things on top of this. Nature has used this “compost” for millions of years successfully.

    “I suspect that bind weed was introduced to my garden”

    I am not sure where you sourced your compost from but compost from a PASS 100 & Compost Quality Protocol (CQP) producer will be weed seed and pathogen free. It is all killed in the composting process and this is verified periodically by laboratory analysis which is a requirement for producers to have these certifications.

    I hope that this has been constructive. I would like to write more but time an space won’t permit. If you want to find a good green compost supplier in your area just visit:


  4. 4
    The Gardener 

    Hi, I thank you for your useful comments regarding using green compost.
    With regards to your first point I collected some free compost from our local green bin recycling plant called Donarbon. Since it is free we don’t get to choose the size of the particles. Similarly with regards to your comments on Compost Quality Protocol and the seed & pathogen-free quality, since we have to collect the compost with a shovel from a huge outdoor compost heap into our own bags, I think that it would be difficult to guarantee that that compost is pathogen & weed seed free such as per your comment above.
    I had a look at your website and I was wondering about the cost of your compost which is not mentioned there.
    I have bought some peat-free compost from B&Q and was rather satisfied with it (although of a lesser quality than peat compost in my opinion).
    However I think that if we are to encourage more and more people to do their bit towards protecting the environment by growing their own and making the effort to use peat-free compost it would make sense to give back the recycled content from our green bins for free.

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