For Peat's Sake!

by Annie Sutcliffe

The time is fast approaching when we gardeners start to sow our first seeds of the season.  Can I implore you to think carefully about your choice of growing medium?


Many (indeed most) of the products on sale to the public are at least partly comprised of peat– an unsustainable source that is a disaster for the environment. Even if labelled “environmentally friendly” or “organic”, if it doesn’t say “peat-free” then it isn’t!


Peat is primarily sourced from lowland raised bogs – an increasingly rare habitat in the UK and across Europe.  It’s a rich haven for rare wildlife; it improves water quality and it helps reduce flood risk, as well as storing carbon and helping to mitigate climate change.


Peat bogs absorb more carbon dioxide than the world’s rainforests – and losing just 5% of UK peatland carbon would be equivalent to the UK’s entire annual greenhouse gas emissions.


It can take a year or so for peat to build up by just 1 millimetre but it takes far less time to deplete and destroy these rich natural habitats and carbon stores.  It’s hard to justify this kind of destruction just to grow some flowers in our private gardens, or get 100% germination for our allotment veg.


There are various peat-free composts available, varying in quality and price; made from coir, wood, and even from sheep’s wool.  The latter is, admittedly, expensive, but is rich enough to use for up to three years (unlike standard composts which run out of nutrients in a matter of months) so is actually pretty cost-effective.


Some of these products may behave differently to mixes containing peat, so read the information on the packaging about the suitability of the mix for particular purposes, nutrient content etc.


If you can't find it at your shop of choice then please ask! They need to know that the customer demand is there.


The best choice of all, of course, is to make your own compost and leafmould – no packaging, no transportation, and it's free! 


More information here: