Using Peat-Free Compost in the Garden

by KathleenDuffy

The extraction of peat damages the natural environment, disturbs wildlife habitats and affects water quality. Time to go peat free!

The use of peat by gardeners as a growing medium and soil improver in Great Britain means that, according to Kew Gardens, over 94% of peat bogs in Britain have been damaged or destroyed. The British government is so concerned about the effects of digging up reserves of peat that by 2020 they hope that peat extraction will have been completely phased out.

Extracted peat usually comes from Ireland and the Baltic and is sold in DIY stores and garden centres. This extraction causes immense damage to the natural environment as well as depriving us of evidence of our own history.

The problem isn't exclusive to Britain and Europe of course. The damaging of peat bogs is a global concern for environmentalists.

Peat bogs are an archaeological timeline, preserving tools and even people from our distant past.

Peat Bog by Kitty Kielland
Peat Bog by Kitty Kielland

Peat as a garden material has only been popular since the 1950s. Before then, coir (derived from coconuts) and loam (soil) were the most widely used.

Just a few years ago  the alternatives available on the market were more expensive and not as efficient as the real thing. The problem was that peat alternatives either dried out too quickly or completely soaked up any water.

However, times have changed and the peat-free composts available today are as efficient as peat-based ones. 

Gardeners can make the change gradually if they wish. It is possible to buy peat-reduced composts which contain a small proportion of peat but this is mixed in with expanded wood fibre.  But why not just bite the bullet and go completely peat-free!

Let it Rot!: The Gardener's Guide to Composting (Third Edition) (Storey's Down-To-Earth Guides)

In 1975, Let it Rot! helped start the composting movement and taught gardeners everywhere how to recycle waste to create soil-nourishing compost. Contains advice for starting an...

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Organic Gardener's Composting

Back in the '70's, I made the momentous move from the East Coast tothe West and quickly discovered that much of my garden knowledgeneeded an update. Seattle's climate was unlike...

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The Complete Compost Gardening Guide: Banner batches, grow heaps, comforter compost, and other am...

Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin turn the compost bin upside down with their liberating system of keeping compost heaps right in the garden, rather than in some dark corne...

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Your Local Council May Sell Peat-Free Compost

It's made from re-cycled waste!

It's a good idea to  check with your local council because many of them now offer green compost for sale or even for free. Just recently, in our neighbourhood, tons of free compost was made available by our council  in the local car park - we just turned up with our shovels and bags.

This was the kitchen and garden waste collected from our green bins and rotted down into that beautiful, crumbly mixture, free from weeds and diseases.

Depending on where you live, however, the  quality can vary. So, it would probably be a good idea  to experiment at first on plants or vegetables that are not too valuable.

Some Plants Don't Like Peat-Free Compost

They can be so fussy! But there's an answer...

Not all plants thrive in peat-free compost. Blueberries, citrus and ericaceous plants (such as heather, pieris, rhododendron, camellia and vaccinium) do not like green waste due to the high pH content. This problem has now been solved, however, as it is now possible to buy peat-free products with added minerals that will reduce the pH content.

RhododendronCamellia reticulata So - going peat-free will mean gardeners will have to think carefully about their planting, but in the process their knowledge of their gardening environment will grow, along with the plants!

Make Your Own Compost at Home

It'll probably become an obsession!

As an alternative, or possibly as an addition to buying in peat-free compost there is the home composting route.  

Home composting  is extremely satisfying, virtually free, and there are various ways to save garden and household waste. Building a compost area in the garden from wood, buying a plastic compost bin (handy for small areas) as well as setting aside a large bucket for kitchen waste all add a new dimension to gardening.

Most local councils in the UK offer compost bins at a very reasonable price to encourage gardeners to create their own compost. They usually come in two sizes, depending on the size of garden and the amount of waste your household generates.

Some Types of Compost Bins

There are various types of compost bins on the market, but don't forget you can always improvise your own bin.  As long as the air can get to it and you can turn the heap now and then it should be fine.

However, there's no doubt that the compost bins on the market today are extremely efficient, labour-saving and tidy! And the bins that can be rotated with a handle are handy for people with limited strength.

Buy a Compost Bin Online

Exaco ECO Wooden 90 - gallon Composter

Exaco ECO Wooden 90 - gallon Composter turns garden waste into black gold, and looks good doing it. Just because it holds composted leaves and grass doesn't mean a it should LOO...

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Track Trading FG379 90-Gallon FeelGood Composter

Track trading fg379 90-gallon feelgood composter

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Keter 17190023 Dynamic Composter

Keter 1719003 dynamic composter is an award-winning, innovative and efficient composter which completes a cycle in as little as six weeks. A genuine breakthrough in its field, t...

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Bosmere K765 Wire Compost Bin

A Compost container made out of plastic coated sturdy steel wire. It can be easily erected and will hold up to 15.6 cu feet of compost. (100 gallons). Front door opens for easy ...

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It Feels Good to Care about the Environment

Saving peat bogs is vital for the environment and conservation. It is possible to make a big difference by refusing to buy peat-based products. Doing so opens gardeners up to greater knowledge and more subtle, intricate insights about planting, growing and harvesting. 

It feels good to garden in such a sustainable way. In fact, going green and caring for the environment apparently adds to the sum total of our happiness.   That can't be bad!



“Toby’s First Word” by Toby Buckland in Gardeners World Magazine, March 2009

Find out how Kew Gardens  created their peat-free compost heap on their website.

More Variations on the Compost Bin Theme

Available from E-Bay
Updated: 07/13/2013, KathleenDuffy
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KathleenDuffy on 03/16/2013

2uesday - Yes, those gel moisture retainers are great! :)

KathleenDuffy on 03/15/2013

Hello Cazort - Thanks for that really useful comment. I agree with everything you say. Very interesting what you have said about pine or spruce tree litter. I used to have an allotment and our council used to leave us a big pile of this about once a year (probably from household Xmas trees!) along with bark chippings, which make great pathways between beds. Thanks again for your post..

cazort on 03/15/2013

It seems crazy that people are still using peat for compost, when there is so much compostable waste just being thrown out . I'm glad you're writing about this; this is an important issue, and I hope you can impact this issue through your writing.

I think this issue can be tackled in multiple ways: through people boycotting peat and putting pressure on businesses selling peat (perhaps even boycotting ones that won't agree to stop selling it), and also possibly through legislation.

As a tip for lowering pH, you can use pine or spruce tree litter--their needles have a low nitrogen content and thus their litter is highly acidic and will lower the pH of household compost. Pines in particular are not picky about soil so they can be grown on relatively barren ground...then you can mix household compost in if you have plants that like somewhat acidic but still nutrient-rich soil.

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