Environmental leaders and other famous voices such as Monty DonBritish horticulturist, author and broadcaster, has called out: Gardeners should stop using peat, because of the consequences of continuous harvesting on diverse habitats on coal soils. mud, and the native plants and animals that live there, are too high.
But most such ordinances do not include precise instructions on what to use as a substitute – at least suggestions that can reliably lead to success, especially for those beginner.
If I were gardening in the UK, where the government’s schedule for banning peat in horticultural products has spurred product research and development, the answer would be easier.
Instead, I felt a bit like the first time I tried adapting a favorite dessert recipe to be gluten-free, making it easier for friends to come over for dinner. The doughs that are new to me have a completely different texture and buoyancy – and the density and moisture content of the finished cake are not discernible. No simple flour swap will do that.
Luckily, I had a backup dessert – and time to practice before another visit, with better and better flour alternatives popping up on my grocery shelves. That’s basically the approach I’m taking to learning how to be peat-free.
Goal: The tree of happiness and the right thing for the environment
I searched for instructions from Brian E. Jackson, an associate professor in the department of horticultural sciences at North Carolina State University, whose graduate degree and career have focused on soilless media or media. Dr. Jackson, director of the university’s horticultural substrates laboratory, is one of the few scientists at public universities in the United States to study the role these materials play in horticulture. and agriculture.
Like many gardeners, I wanted to do my part to protect the peatland habitat, I told him. The peatlands provide hydrological services, filter water, and act as giant sponges to prevent flooding.
However, the loudest argument in the call for ‘mud is not a bag’ – nor to harvest it from the marsh to bagged it for sale – is the important role peatlands play when carbon vast sink. Peat mining releases a significant amount of CO2, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
Oh, and I wanted something else, too, I said to Dr. Jackson: I want my plants – especially the most vulnerable, the vegetables and flower seeds that I will sow in the apartment and bag – thrive. I am looking for results with specific peat products that I have trusted, among the many options marketed since peat was introduced to horticulture in the 1960s, became what he called the “Rolls-Royce of landless farming vehicles”.
Dr. Jackson confirmed what I suspected: Finding a recipe that works for me – whether premixed or mixed at home using multiple ingredients – will require experimentation, just as that cake did.
Yes, he understands the longing I feel as I scroll online through a full complement of all-purpose packaged media, all bearing the hallmarks of the Royal Horticultural Society. reputable family. But those products, created by Melcourt Industries Limited, are only sold to UK consumers, not for export.
Dr. Jackson admits that in the United States, we don’t have seedlings or other special blends yet. “The first discussions about not using peat in the UK were 20 years old, so they had a long time to reflect,” he said.
However, voluntary targets set in 2011 to end the sale of peat in their home garden products by 2020 have been missed. Last December, a ban effective in 2024 was announced, with a timeline of 2030 for products intended for commercial growers.
No such regulation applies here or in Canada, the source of the majority of horticultural peat in North America, and the country is still expanding production in response to intense market pressures for horticulture. with media that do not contain soil. Canada is home to about 27% of the world’s peatland, 0.03% of which is currently harvested or has been mined, according to Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association. Follow National Statistics Office over there.
Peat bans and other environmental efforts are not the only cause of what Dr Jackson calls “a perfect storm” of landless media demand, forecast to quad times by 2050. The cannabis boom is another factor, as is the changing industry. growing plants like berries and citrus in soilless growing systems, rather than in the field. And so is the gardening boom fueled by the pandemic.
Reduce peat, step by step
So what alternatives can American home gardeners confidently start using?
Dr. Jackson proposed a three-year transition plan, allowing us time to practice exploring and getting a feel for alternative materials. It also allows more time to introduce the product in North America, reducing research and development efforts aimed at commercial growers, the biggest consumers.
Achieving significant reductions in peat use without compromising crop quality or health means taking it step-by-step, while keeping a few key principles in mind. One, one warning, repeat my toast.
“When you are testing new soil materials, people will try to compare them and treat them the same,” says Dr. Jackson. . “But one of the educational transformations that must happen is understanding that new products may not be of the same quality. They may need to be treated independently, like new material – not what you’re used to. “
We need to get a feel for the different nuances, including how these new-use medias moisturize (or don’t) and whether they provide a solid (but not compact) base. The individual peat products are not the same, and that is even more true of less familiar substitutes.
Another fact: No product is free from environmental marks – whether from manufacturing, shipping to market, or both. Coir, which originates mainly from South Asia, requires a large amount of fresh water for washing and preliminary processing. Perlite, mainly of Greek origin, and vermiculite, from South Africa, require a kiln to process. Even local, easily renewable materials, like wood fibers and bark, require energy to process.
Most importantly: Don’t try to get your first taste of new material by completely changing your sprout mix, says Dr. Jackson. Seeds sown in plots or blanks require a medium with consistent fine particles.
“Seedlings can be very intolerant of such physical properties, and also of chemical properties such as pH and salt,” he said.
Try a phased approach, such as using your old backup mix for most of the seeding, while sampling a new product or two in smaller trials along with it. Or experiment with extending your brand of peat with another ingredient like coir. Easy to do, because wholesale failure will send you to the garden center for a replacement transplant – seedling grown in peat.
You can be more confident when testing potting mix for larger containers, says Dr. Jackson. Look for mixtures made from bark, where peat is considered a secondary ingredient, and try a mixture mixed with compost.
One more potential solution: Stop backfilling and transplant trees and shrubs with soil that’s been fortified with peat moss, as some gardeners are still able to do. It’s no longer a prescription – and not just to limit peat use. Current best practices recommend letting plant roots find natural soil, not some artificial environment; If you need more filling, mix the excavated soil with homemade compost.
Meet some of the top ingredients
The current substitute for peat is coir, a fibrous waste product from coconut processing. Since plantations are in tropical and subtropical areas, often near salt water, potassium, sodium and other salts must be washed away from the fibers of the fabric.
Dr. Jackson adds that salts are “particularly repulsive to tiny seedlings”, adding a disclaimer that all brands are not equal. “It’s a miracle material if it has the right particle size and there’s no salt in it.”
Start reading labels and consider trying familiar brands that may already have the infrastructure and capital to test more closely. For some small parallel seed starting experiments, I will expand my current vehicle with the Eco-co brand of compressed coir seed starting bricks from Gardener’s Supply Company or compacted bricks from Gardener’s. Ground burpees start with coconut fiber concentrates, and can make a packet or two of coir cells.
In the containers, in addition to expanding my potting mix with compost or a labeled coir product for potting, I was prompted by Monty Don’s Blog to incubate some fallen leaves into leaf molds. Separate a pile, cut into small pieces and let it age. Sift or sieve the crumbs before use.
It is wood products that will fill the largest part of the peat replacement puzzle here and globally, says Dr. Jackson. No other raw organic raw materials are available or more readily available, often as a by-product of sawn timber and other forestry operations.
And not only composted bark but also new crafting products are made from the inner wood of the tree. He and other researchers spent 18 years sourcing, processing, formulating, and learning to use uncomposted wood products as soil-free additives.
As consumers, we’ll need to keep reading labels, looking for better and better iterations.
“Changes are happening and solutions are being made for consumers who want them,” said Dr. Jackson. “In the meantime, there are options for getting educated, choosing products you try and doing the tests yourself gradually.”
Margaret Roach is the creator of the website and podcast A Way to Gardenand a book of the same name.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/02/realestate/gardening-peat.html Why gardeners should stop using peat, and what to use instead