We only use peat free compost. We also only use organic fertilisers but this is another issue and one that I’m not certain is going to be an ultimately sustainable thing. I’ve been advocating organic compost for many years and am constantly surprised by the number of people who respond with the question “What’s peat?”, so…
What is peat?
Peat is an ecosystem that’s the most efficient carbon sink that we have on earth. This is because the plants in the peat bogs capture the CO2 released from the peat itself. In natural peat bogs the generation of new organic matter is greater than the rate at which it decomposes but it still takes thousands of years to create the layers of peat. These are around 2m at most and currently cover about 2% of the planet. Peat forms in wetlands where the restricted oxygen supply slows down the rate of decomposition, and primarily consists of sphagnum moss but other plants contribute to it too.
That’s basically it, all we really need to know is that there is a finite supply as there is no way that it can replace itself at the rate that we use it. Although it’s primary use is as a fuel, another major use is for garden compost. It’s increasingly important in this time of environmental awareness that we take steps to reduce our footprint, the use of peat is a major contributor to the the release of CO2 into our atmosphere. As gardeners, along with single use plastic, one major step we can take is to cut peat out of our inventory.
I was originally buying mine from our local allotment shop. Unfortunately is was deemed to be too expensive at £3 a bag more than the regular peat based compost. My argument was that although it’s more, how much do you really use? If it was 50 bags a year then I could understand the economics but most people use very few. Compare this to other luxuries, a pint of beer for example and it suddenly becomes very little.
The upshot of this was a new supplier who could provide bags of compost at a reduced price. The medium that was supplied was terrible, it was a woody and un-decomposed matter that when sieved left as much to be discarded as kept. The original compost was incomparable and so far superior that we decided just to buy an entire pallet for ourselves and sell on what we don’t need. Poor quality peat free compost makes a bad impression and gives people the idea that this is what it’s all like. That’s not the case and there are many great suppliers providing a medium that is in my opinion superior to any containing peat that I’ve tried.
We also need to understand that there isn’t just ‘compost’. I know of people who use bagged compost on allotment plots as a soil conditioner. It will work and there’s nothing wrong with it other than the cost. A 50 litre bag will cover a very small area if you want a decent layer. Several years ago I found a local supplier who makes PAS100 certified compost from the green waste dropped ad the recycling centre. This is only 12 weeks old and resembles the cheaper alternative that I mentioned before. It’s certainly not a potting compost but spread thickly each autumn makes for the best soil come spring. It also costs £120 per tonne, that works out at about 30p per barrow full. Want to know where you can get it? Try here, http://www.qualitycompost.org.uk/producers.