Made up of partially decomposed remains of dead plants, they accumulate on top of each other in waterlogged places and leads to the formation of peat bogs over centuries. Non-renewable, it can be used as a fuel, insulation, within whisky production and more importantly, horticulture.
The advantage of using peat for horticultural purposes lies with its ability to retain moisture in soil when it’s dry, yet preventing the excess water from killing roots when it is wet. A quality growing medium when mixed with sand and loam, it was favoured by many commercial growers and amateur gardeners as it improves soil structure and increases acidity.
Although often used as a soil improver due to its ability in moderating soil humidity, peat itself has little nutrient value.
So what’s the fuss?
Healthy peat absorbs and stores carbon - described as carbon sinks, the National Trust estimated the amount of carbon stored within our peat bogs equate to about 20 years worth of national industrial emissions.
However, as it degrades at an extraordinary speed due to industrial scale productions of peat moss, overgrazing and burning as a fuel, much of the locked-up carbon has been released back into the atmosphere, contributing towards global warming. As a result, peat has been discouraged as a soil amendment by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
How to go peat-free?
Although we have seen an increase in peat alternatives being used by amateur gardeners in recent years, as our overall usage grow, we are in fact still using the same amount as we did in the late 1990s.
The short answer is composting – a key part of organic farming, composting essentially requires collecting waste and waiting between 9 – 12 months for it to turn into black gold; (meanwhile, just keep topping up the compost pile!). Other materials, such as coir, chipped bark, straw, garden waste and leaf mould are known to work better whilst costing less.
Alternatively, ensure you buy multipurpose composts that are clearly labelled 100% peat free – many multipurpose compost, unless stated, can contain anywhere between 70%-100% peat!
Looking for a composter?
Quick guide on how to compost