Ministry of Controversy

The Real Dirt on Peat Moss

by Guest RanterKen DruseCanadianpeatbogFlickrPeupleloup

“Do you know what sphagnum peat moss is? Do you know what it’s used for?”

I asked several gardeners these questions after a lecture I gave in Connecticut a while back. Here are the results of my informal poll.  Fifteen out of 20 people did not know what peat moss was, including the manager of a garden center. (He thought it was the same as homemade compost.) Perhaps more surprisingly, seven out of the 20 people did not know what peat moss is supposed to be used for (although they all bought it). One person said her husband spread it on their lawn. Most of the gardeners suggested that peat moss was a mulch to put on top of the soil.

Peat moss is the partially decomposed remains of formerly living sphagnum moss from bogs.  Because it’s nearly impossible to rewet once it’s dried, it repels water and makes a terrible surface mulch.  As a soil amendment, which is what the baled product is mostly sold for, peat moss is also a poor choice.  It breaks down too fast, compressing and squeezing air out of the soil, creating an unhealthy condition for plant roots. Peat moss can be a useful growing medium for containers, however, when lightened with a drainage material like perlite.

The biggest problem with peat moss is that it’s environmentally bankrupt.

Peat moss is mined, which involves scraping off the top layer of living sphagnum moss. The sphagnum peat bog above the mined product is a habitat for plants like sundews, butterwort and bog rosemary, as well as rare and endangered animals like dragonflies, frogs and birds, not to mention the living moss itself.  Despite manufacturers’ claims that the bogs are easy to restore, the delicate community that inhabits the bog cannot be quickly re-established.  Yes, peat moss is a renewable resource, but it can take hundreds to thousands of years to form.

Like all precious wetlands, peat bogs purify fresh air and even mitigate flood damage. 

And there are archeological reasons to preserve peat bogs.  In the acidic moss below the living layer, wooden artifacts of people who lived long ago survive, even the remains of the people themselves.  CO2 is also preserved – trapped in the moss, but released into the air when mined. In fact, peat bogs store about 10% of all fixed carbon.

In the U.S., peat moss is almost exclusively used by the horticulture industry. 40,000 acres of sphagnum are currently being harvested in Canada, with 90% of the product destined for gardens in the U.S. In the U.K., where peat moss is burned as fuel, as well, nearly 94% of the lowland bogs have been altered or completely destroyed due to harvesting.  And most of our peat is shipped hundreds of miles, often when it’s wet and heavy, which adds further to the fuel required for shipping.

Many conservationists, gardeners, and wetlands scientists in these countries have recommended a boycott of peat. The Royal Horticultural Society hopes for a 90% reduction by 2010.  Areas in Ireland have already banned the harvesting of peat moss altogether.

Producers in both Canada and the United States maintain that they never cut sphagnum faster than it grows, and leave behind enough peat to ensure regeneration. The Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association claims that peat-moss operations keep the bogs from being drained for development, that five to ten years after harvesting, the bog will be a “functioning wetland” again, and that after 25 years, 90 percent of the original flora will grow back.  I have my doubts. Some wetlands scientists point out that a managed bog lacks the biodiversity of the original bog.

In a development at the center of the gardening world, Monrovia Growers has just introduced a new line of bagged “soil” which contains peat moss.  That’s according to their press release about the products; the word “peat” never appears on their website.

Though gardeners seem to have been programmed to buy peat and are as loyal to the product as some car-buyers used to be about their beloved Pontiacs, there’s simply no need to use it. Chopped leaves make a much better and more attractive mulch, and compost is superior as a soil amendment.

If only more Americans could be encouraged to compost.  If only corporations started  their own composting facilities, and if only more municipalities got serious about composting.

In addition to homemade compost, I use coir, a byproduct of the coconut processing industry.  (Here’s one reliable source.) This formerly discarded material can be shipped completely dehydrated – very lightweight – which reduces its energy requirements for transporKen_druseting.

What do other organic gardeners think about peat moss, coir, or about Monrovia’s new products?

 

This week on the radio show “Ken Druse Real Dirt,” Ken interviews Tovah Martin. It’ll be available  tomorrow right here.
Canadian peat bog
photo credit.

Posted by on April 30, 2009 at 3:57 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.
Comments are off for this post

55 Responses to “The Real Dirt on Peat Moss”

  1. sarahammocks says:

    Thank you, Ken, for this thorough and clear explanation of peat moss. I use peat moss to make hypertufa pots, but I would like to stop using it. I have heard coconut coir is a good substitute. (yeah, I know cement is not exactly a green product either, but I think peat is far worse) I am surprised that many organic garden writers still advocate the use of peat moss as a potting mix, and don’t mention that it is nonrenewable resource.

  2. kate says:

    I hope every gardener gets a chance to read this. Thank you, Ken.

  3. Rebecca says:

    I am glad I didn’t buy any peat moss. I had touched it before and thought, “I don’t need this in my dirt” not that I knew what it was, not really at least.

  4. I appreciate the awareness that you raise. My son is an archaeologist and my husband has a forestry background. It’s only coincidental that I have never intentionally purchased peat since i’ve been gardening for 30 years. But, your point about bagged “soil” does raise questions about what is in the bag of garden soil that I sometimes buy when I don’t need dump trucks of good, organic soil brought in. Or, when I buy bagged potting soil. I will make it a point to read the ingredients more carefully, but we will only know if the manufacturers are honest about what’s in the product.

    Thanks,
    Cameron

  5. Norah says:

    Amen!! I never cease to be surprised at the number of people buying peat when it’s the worst thing to add to their heavy clay soil.

  6. judybusy says:

    Thanks so much for posting this! In my first year as a gardener, I followed the advice of some article and dug in a bale of peat moss. I did so with some guilt, as I knew it came from bogs _and it just can’t be a good thing to dig those up, can it?_ It made the soil brick-like for two years, and I never did it again. That was also the last year I double-dug anything!

  7. Thanks for this article. I have long since stopped using or recommending peat moss as a soil amendment and I now recommend regular mulching with leaves or compost. Mushroom ‘manure’ is also great for gardens.

  8. d_2 says:

    when would peat moss be good to use?

  9. David says:

    I off the stuff! I used it on my square-foot-gardening beds because that’s what Al recommended.
    I will find another way to acidify the soil for my blueberries.
    I wished my garden centers would carry coir as readily as they carry sphagnum peat moss.

  10. Victoria says:

    Thanks so much for this- I’ve known about peat moss for over 15yrs and stopped using it. But so few people seem to know much about any kind of soil amendment. Except of course, real farmers.

    I also wish someone would do a post on the dangers of chemical lawn herbicides. The suburbs get inundated with these toxic sprays in the spring- it would be great to have a zoning ordinance against them!

  11. Shanna says:

    Thank you for tweeting about your post and the awareness that it brings. Retweeting and you’ve inspired me to get more serious about composting – not that I’ve used peat moss, but am guilty of buying bagged soil & mulch.

  12. Peat moss is also a leading cause of houseplant death. It has a tendency to stay overly wet for a long time, and then all at once becomes a water-repellent brick which can only be re-wet with great difficulty. Neither state is good for plants. Miracle Gro potting soil appears to be approximately 140% peat moss.

    It’s a bane of my personal existence, too, because a lot of the plants we get shipped to us from Florida are potted in something which is mostly peat, which makes watering at work even trickier and more problematic.

    It does have one positive use: if not too finely chopped, it’s the best medium I’ve found so far for rooting Cryptanthus (http://plantsarethestrangestpeople.blogspot.com/2008/12/scarecrow-cryptanthus-cvv.html) offsets, which are painfully slow to do anything in soil but which seem to root quickly and well in sphagnum.

  13. trey says:

    We carry coir as a substitute for peat moss. Peat still outsells coir, either because people like what peat does for their potting soil, or they don’t know about coir. Peat is generally acid reacting so it’s great for acid loving plants like blueberries or azaleas. Coir is neutral, and I have had a couple of people tell me that is why they like coir. No one in our area uses peat moss as a soil conditioner. It’s use is almost always for seed starting, and container mixes.

    Monrovia’s website focuses on what they think is important in their “soil”. The ingredients for all soils are listed on the bag, from the most used to the least. Peat moss is there, just like most quality potting soils. The lack in mentioning peat in their website is not unusual in the potting soil world.

    Many people focus on the cost of the product rather than what’s in it. When people question the price of an exceptional potting soil I use the ingredient list to show why it’s better. Just like Monrovia’s website say’s, “If your mix contains too much sawdust or fresh bark, for instance, you will likely see the leaves of your plants yellowing due to a nitrogen deficiency.” That’s what makes up the majority of ingredients in many of the cheaper potting soils, sawdust.

    So if we are concerned with the depletion of resources, what about the sawdust that is used in many potting soils, and bulk purchased soils? It’s use is far more widespread than peat.

    Just as you point out that, “Some wetlands scientists point out that a managed bog lacks the biodiversity of the original bog”, so the forest where the sawdust originally comes from also lacks that “biodiversity” of the original forest. I also wonder about the coconut plantations where coir is harvested from. Are they bio-diverse? Coir comes from fibers found between the husk and the outer shell of a coconut. The coconut plantation certainly displaced the native flora and fauna of the area they are grown in.

    You are correct that compost makes a great soil conditioner, though people growing in containers generally need a potting soil, not compost. Some will make their own, but most buy the bag, and either way they use many of the same ingredients.

    I am stunned that the manager of that garden center did not know where peat came from. This might explain why peat moss is used so often where is shouldn’t be, in the ground. Perhaps through education we will be able to steer people to better alternatives for their situation, and thus avoid the depletion of the peat bogs. It’s not the use of peat that is bad. It’s the mis-use of peat in situations where it is unwarranted that causes problems.

  14. keewee says:

    I also do not like peat moss. I started using coir last year and like it.I also use leaves to mulch.

  15. I last used peat moss about 20 years ago. My reservations about using coir is the carbon footprint of transporting it from the other side of the world.

    I prefer compost. I have four compost bins. I never have enough.

  16. Elizabeth Stump says:

    Did I know where peat moss comes from? Yes. DId I know how it’s harvested and that it takes a long time to build up a peat bog? Yes. Do I buy peat moss? Yes. Am I aware how it dries like a brick? Yes. Do I use it as am amendment for lighter fluffier soils with vermiculite and perilite to my potting soil? Sometimes when I need to acidify my soil – though I prefer rice hulls if Ph isn’t an issue. Why do I keep buying it? Because coir costs $13 for a 10 qt. bag, and peat costs $10 for a 2 cu. ft. bag. So to buy 2 cu. ft. of coir would cost me $67 (actually $66.95 as there are 51.5 quarts in 2 cu. ft. of soil). So I would have to buy 5+ bags of coir at $13 for 10 quarts for a 2 cu. ft. bag of peat that costs $10.

    WHEN COIR IS AS CHEAP AS PEAT, COIR WILL FINALLY REPLACE PEAT.

  17. LauraBee says:

    Wow. I knew it was dug out of the ground, but “mined” never dawned on me. I knew about the water repellent properties which is the main reason I avoid it if possible.

    Ummm …. so if we need to acidify extremely alkaline soil ( because the thought of summer without homegrown blueberries is intolerable ) what should we use ? Preferably something organic. I do not have enough compost to go around, no matter how much yard debris I swipe from the neighbor’s green-waste bins.

  18. Michele Owens says:

    Great post, Ken. Thank you.

    I’ve noticed that my neighbors seem to think that the only soil amendments with any legitimacy are the ones that come in plastic bags.

    People need to understand that they can enrich their gardens with stuff that’s right in their own backyards–their own kitchen scraps, fall leaves, manure from the horse barn down the street, composted yard waste.

    It’s easier, it’s better, and it doesn’t destroy any bogs.

  19. Brie says:

    It’s surprising how rampant the use of peat is given the impact its harvest has on ecosystems.

    Coffee grounds, leaves, or pine straw are good for acidifying. And while I have no idea how environmentally friendly it is, there’s always bagged sulfur pellets. One bag can last a lifetime.

    I went through a little peat dilemma when i was briefly into culturing carnivorous plants, since all the information I would read recommended peat mixes. But I’ve since given that up, although I may eventually get back into it. Have CP enthusiasts been using coir successfully as a substitute?

  20. Barbara E says:

    Thank you for your excellent article. For me – whether it is pots, mulch, or garden veggies – compost does the trick.

  21. Bob Vaiden says:

    “WHEN COIR IS AS CHEAP AS PEAT, COIR WILL FINALLY REPLACE PEAT.”

    You mean when the peat bogs have been virtually destroyed, and peat becomes more EXPENSIVE than coir… or simply does not exist.

    We are stripping and sterilizing this planet…it will stop sometime relatively soon… one way or another.

  22. Christina Salwitz says:

    As a former Nursery worker, I was telling customers this for years! THANKS Ken Druse for writing about this topic. We need to publicize this on a much larger scale.

  23. Elizabeth Stump says:

    Yes, Bob. You are correct. When peat bog have been depleted to the point where the price point matches coir, then the “average” consumer will say, “Gee, why is peat so expensive now? Hmm, I guess I’ll try coir since it seems to be about the same price point at peat (or is cheaper than peat finally).”

    Yes, we are stripping the planet. But it is when a renewable source, such as coir, matches the price point of peat (which has been in the mindset of gardeners for decades versus the relatively new product coir) that we’ll stop using peat in the quantities we use today and people will switch to coir. When it comes right down to it, many people don’t want to pay the premium price for a greener/sustainable product. Just look at the produce aisle. How many “average” consumers want to pay more money for “organic” produce? Now you see the battle coir has in replacing peat.

  24. commonweeder says:

    Great post! You have shown that many gardeners don’t know why they buy the products they do – succumbing to advertising or ‘what everyone else does.’ Educating ourselves as gardeners is a never ending process.

  25. Jenn says:

    Thank you! Thank you!

    I knew all of that about peat, but never made the connection that peat was sphagnum. Duh!

    Thank you for a very informative piece!

  26. Germi says:

    I am SO depressed by Elizabeth Stump and her price point argument on using peat instead of a substitute, like coir.
    To have the right information and to do the wrong thing, because you are saving money, is as cynical as it gets. I am constantly encouraging people to garden, garden, garden, because I believe that gardening actually changes the world for the better.

    But I would like YOU to stop gardening.

    Is your savings really worth the damage you do every time you purchase peat? I suggest you visit the peat bogs that are being harvested so that your garden can be a bit more acidic – your actions are changing the world …

    Why not garden with plants that are adapted to your native soil? There are ways to amend soil that doesn’t involve the gutting of specialized ecosystems – why not explore those?

    Oh, yeah – the money… we are ALL having to pay because of attitudes like yours. Please – until you can garden wisely, DON’T GARDEN!

    And as for your produce argument, where have you been? Farmer’s Markets are thriving, and CSA’s are are popping up in communities all over the country! My local grocery store- chain store – has recently devoted almost half of its produce and dairy/egg space to organics. And Whole Foods is one of the most profitable stores in the country, even during this economic downturn.

    Things ARE changing – get on the(hybrid/electric) bus! Yes, you might have to pay a little more… but it IS worth it! Our planet is worth it!

    And thank you, Ken Druse, for always being illuminating. My very first garden book was ‘The Collector’s Garden’ – you really changed my life!

  27. Carolyn says:

    Thank you for this post. I read ingredients labels on bagged soils and amendments the way I read food labels. I’m trying to avoid peat and cypress products. It takes diligence, and sometimes I fall short. Thank you Ken and Susan for making me more mindful.

  28. Elizabeth Stump says:

    Dear Germi,

    I prefer rice hulls to peat. I have had a bale of peat sitting unused for over a year. I am all for organic, I shop at farmers markets and I’m organizing a garden at my daughter’s preschool with a compost pile so we won’t have to buy amendments. My point is that the “AVERAGE” consumer, who is NOT educated about peat’s lack of sustainability will wonder why they should pay a 5x premium for coir. Personally, I use bark from some dead pine trees I had felled after being attacked by beetles. I hand chopped the bark for mulch myself, FYI.

    My argument, to play devil’s advocate is that those who aren’t aware of how peat is harvested will not see the point of paying for coir. And even then, some won’t want to pay for it at it’s current cost. If cost weren’t an issue at all, then everyone would buy organic all the time.

  29. Claire Splan says:

    And while we’re at it, maybe we can also launch a campaign to get people to stop buying those god-awful Jiffy peat plugs for seed-starting. Not only are they unsustainable, they’re absolutely terrible for seeds and seedlings because they go from being completely waterlogged to dry as a brick. Tender, developing roots don’t stand much of a chance in such an environment. A total waste of money, and ecologically unsound to boot.

  30. Layanee says:

    Gee, what percent of the worldwide reserves of peat moss are being ‘mined’? I believe I read 1%. There is no substitute for peat in the professional growing world which will give the same result at the same cost. How many jobs revolve around this industry? Hmmmm, way more than either the financial industry or the auto industry. Peat has lost favor over the past ten years with many gardeners and, perhaps, rightly so but there is always another side to the story.

  31. Kathy Green says:

    I use compost, pine needles and coir. Coir bricks here cost about $14, and expand to about 2 cubic feet. I only use it in my pots since we live in a semi-arid environment, and it holds in the water a bit better than compost. The compost I use in all my gardens, and the pine needles which are from Ponderosa Pine I use for paths, mulches, etc. These type of pine needles are about 6 inches long, so they are not good for general purpose mulch. I think coir will get to be more mainstream eventually, but not until the “big box” stores sell it. Here you can only find it at independent nurseries. I like the coir because it is easy to store a brick rather than the large bags, and it is sustainable to an extent. I tried coir mixed with a little bit of worm castings for starting seeds, but did not have much success because it held to much water and the seeds either rotted or the seedlings failed to grow much.

  32. This is an important post. Peat moss is never sustainable in the garden. I’ve never purchased it, but my mother used to. I’ve not purchase coconut coir (pronounced core) either, but I would if I ran out of compost. At the fast rate my compost cures here in Florida, that seems unlikely.

  33. Karl Katzke says:

    Thanks, Ken, that was fascinating. I didn’t realize what the effects of using peat were… no mo’ for this gardener!

    Now if I could just get my compost to break down faster…

  34. Barbara says:

    How about educating garden centers or a downright ban?

    Europe is fading it out – why not us?

    YO KEN – I LOVE my 5-speed PONTIAC! She’s got much better mileage than yours!

  35. chuck b. says:

    I use a peat-based sowing media to start seeds as suggested by, ahem, Ken Druse in his book Making More Plants. The alternative, “compost that has been sifted through a 1/4-inch mesh and sterilized [in a microwave oven]” has not worked for me, at all.

    When I finally finish the bale of peat I bought ~two years ago (probably in another year or two), I will definitely try the milled coir (cocoa peat) product sold online by Peaceful Valley. (I’ve never seen it or anything similar sold at the nurseries I visit most often.)

    I see a lot of coir-based germination media for sale that nonetheless includes a lot of peat moss, which makes me wonder if the coir alone is at all sufficient. Have they not milled it fine enough?

  36. Rick Brown says:

    There is a lot of information here in this discussion about how peat is used today. Canadian Peat is currently an affordable and a proven necessity for optimal plant growth. University production recommendations for growers are based on university developed peat-lite mixes. Fortunately several of our universities and soilless mix companies have collaborated in research using pulverized pine trees as a renewable and more locally available peat alternative. We are also using local municipal yard waste compost and a commercial hardwood sawdust, native sedge peat and municipal compost blend marketed as “New Peat”. The Good news is extensive university and soilless mix company research coupled with ongoing nursery trialing should make these products commercially viable alternatives this year on a limited scale. In future years we all will all be able to significantly reduce the amount of Canadian peat in soilless media. We have been recycling and using compost, new peat and coir for the last 5 years to reduce our peat use in Florida and hope to share our findings and success with the growing community to benefit everyone. http://floridafriendlyplants.com/Blog/ and http://www.floridafriendlyplants.com/

  37. Sara H – there are many peat-free recipes for hypertufa making – do a google search. You may have to experiment a bit with ratios to get one right for you.

    A lot of peat is purchased for those who dig and store their semi-hardy tubers and bulbs (such as canna and dahlias) here in the Mid-Atlantic. There are substitutes too but one rarely sees them mentioned. Try sawdust, perlite, wood shavings, shredded newspaper, sand, or vermiculite.

  38. greg draiss says:

    We uswd to sell several truckloads of peat moss a year now less than two.

    Coir, in compressed block form, while an excellent substitute is shipped several thosuands of mile much of it coming from Sri Lanka.

    Peat moss is never shipped wet, at least I have never seen it shipped wet in my thirty years in the industry. The extremely heavy weight would bust truck axles and and make trucks overweight and not allowed to cross the border.

    Peat moss does not break down quickly at all and does not force air and water ouf soil.
    The amount of peat stripped off the top of bed each year is minimal due the dense nature of the product. Peat beds in fact replenish them selves from the bottom up faster than they are being depleted.

    Even so peat moss is a horrible product and Miracle Gro Potting Mix is a horrible product as well.

    You will not stop people from buying peat moss on the envronmental front. Educating them as to why it is bad will do the job with far better results.

    The TROLL

  39. Jay says:

    I like peat; it’s useful in clay or sandy soils. People lucky enough to have quality soil can get pretty preachy about people who have to import amendments.

    Saying peat is “mined” is really misleading language. I suppose the same reasoning would mean I mine the lettuce from my garden.

    The manufacturers argument that they are cutting less than the amount that grows in an area per year is pretty compelling. A lot of people don’t understand sustainable harvesting. I would not think that group included gardeners who harvest product from their gardens year after year. Growing peat is really no different.

    That said, I don’t use very much of it. I try not to import anything in my garden where I can avoid it. I use as much compost as possible, and I use paper pots for seed starting.

    But I would recommend peat as a soil amendment when it is useful or required.

    Anti-peat activists need to get off their high horse – gardeners are not the problem, they are the solution.

  40. greg draiss says:

    The GARDEN NAZIs have struck.
    You are telling people to stop gardening because they use peat moss?

    The smoke coming out of your Hitleresque ears is doing more to pollute the air the carbon footprint (BS that is anyway) of peat moss being trucked in from Canada.

    The loonies are in control in Washington and are sending their troops into our gardens…….

    The TROLL

  41. Sick of left wing liberalism says:

    While finding substitutes and improvements for peat is a good thing, environuts that base their decisions purely on emotion are bad for the country and the world.
    Why has no one mentioned this statement by the all knowing, all seeing Ken Druse?
    “The Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association claims that peat-moss operations keep the bogs from being drained for development, that five to ten years after harvesting, the bog will be a “functioning wetland” again, and that after 25 years, 90 percent of the original flora will grow back. I have my doubts.”
    So he has his doubts but has no proof of his opinion or did he even bother to do any research, scientific or otherwise. For 90% to grow back in 25 years is a very great accomplishment. To cover this argument, Old Ken says, “Some wetlands scientists point out that a managed bog lacks the biodiversity of the original bog.” Yeah. I could find some scientists somewhere that would swear the moon is made of cream cheese. 90% after 25 years. That is success. And why do these leftie, anti-capitalist, business haters that are currently the cause most of our problems in this country today always jump on some bandwagon without knowing the whole story? Many times the cure is worse than the disease. Slow down you sheep. Yes Create and use compost. Excellent idea. Recycle. Another excellent idea. Stop the bashing of peat users and lead by example. When the demand for peat goes down, less will be harvested. Oh yeah..the use of the word “mined” is another ploy by the left to instill negative emotions, never mind that mining made and makes this country run. As you can tell I am sick of anti-American socialists hiding under the skirt of the so-called environmental movement.

  42. gardener says:

    Ken–you ever been to a peat bog? Have you ever seen the bog restoration process? Have you spoken w/the leading Canadian Universities regarding peat, bog management, bog husbandry? Do you know the requirements that a peat company has to go through before ever gaining approval to open a bog? Have you ever seen peat harvested–it’s not a mine and to make that comparison is a joke.
    Obviously the answers to all the above is “NO”, you’ve no knowledge or history of peat moss bogs, management or husbandry.
    Unfortunately it’s loose cannons like you that make these kinds of assertions & accusations on which you know absolutely nothing about, to influence people. Geez what a joke!
    Compost is good, coir is beneficial in some instances. As far peat moss–until you know your
    facts you’re better off saying nothing. You owe your audience that much.

  43. David Turnbull says:

    How about some balance here – 1)using the word “mining” is a misrepresentation of how peat is harvested, it is in fact vacuumed in very thin layers from the surface of the bog, 2) peat is harvested from less than 2% of the peat reserves in Canada, please note harvested from, not harvesting 2%, in fact the volume of peat harvested is a tiny percentage of peat reserves, 3)that there are huge reseves of peat that will never be touched in Canada, 4) finaly coir requires large volumes of fresh water to flush out the salt content of the fiber, fresh water that is not plentiful in the 3rd world countries where it is harvested, fresh water that is then contaminated by the salt and then there is the shipping cost related to the distance. I hope the truth doesn’t get lost in the hype here. Have fun gardening.

  44. Tom says:

    Acidifying -
    I’ve heard vinegar can be used, carefully. But it can also be used as a weed killer so I’m not sure.

  45. David says:

    Correction, correction, I made a major error when I said peat was harvested from 2% of the bogs in N. America. Wrong! It is from 0.02%. If you choose to look at the facts you will see we have a huge, very sustainable resource in peat in N. America. Dream on about ever running out!

  46. paul short says:

    Ken
    Your recent blog article “the Real Dirt on Peat Moss” has generated considerable discussion. You reference our Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association in your comments and we welcome the opportunity to engage with you and others. In order to ensure a full and informed debate it is important that resource facts and evidence based on science are presented to your readers.

    I appreciate the distinction you have made between the peat which our industry harvests, and the living sphagnum moss. The properties that you attribute to the peat however are inaccurate. To assist you in better understanding the horticultural values of peat I would encourage you and others to contact us through our email address cspma@peatmoss.com or our web site, http://www.peatmoss.com. Further, I suggest that your readers discuss directly with our companies the merits of their various products and the appropriate uses and application.

    A basic premise in the article is your view that “it’s (peat) environmentally bankrupt”. As a biological resource not a mineral like coal or gravel our industry is subject to the same principles of sustainable resource use, regulatory control and monitoring that other renewable natural resource values are subject. In Canada, Peatlands cover around 279 million acres. To help your readers put this into perspective all the bogs in Canada would cover the four western states (Washington, Oregon, California and New Mexico) and the size of the peat harvesting industry is less than the area covered by the city of Portland, Oregon.

    The Canadian peat harvesting area used during the past 70 years is in total only seventeen thousand hectares (42,000 acres). This equates to less than 1 acre in 6,000 being harvested.

    A key measure of resource sustainability is the rate of harvest to natural ecosystems production. Within Canada over 70 million tonnes of peat accumulate each year. Of this the sphagnum peat moss industry harvests 1.3 million tonnes. (Source Canadian Peat Harvesting and the Environment; Second Edition, Issues Paper, No. 2001-1North American Wetlands Conservation Council, Statistics Canada, 2005.)

    Clearly, based on the above information the commercial use of sphagnum peat moss by the Canadian horticultural peat industry does not represent overharvesting.

    Concern is expressed in the article regarding the restoration or reclamation of peatlands once harvesting has been completed. The members of the CSPMA adhere to the strict guidelines in the Preservation and Reclamation Policy established by the Association.

    This policy includes:

    • Identifying bogs for preservation.
    • Leaving buffer zones of original vegetation to encourage natural succession after harvesting.
    • Leaving a layer of peat below harvesting levels to encourage rapid regrowth.
    • Returning harvested bogs either to functioning ecosystems, forests, wildlife habitats or agricultural production areas.

    The industry has committed to a restoration program that returns the peatlands to functioning wetland ecosystems. We recognize that peatland functions provide water storage and filtration, support flora and fauna biodiversity, and act as carbon storage sites.

    Understanding these functional relationships and determining the best practices for restoration and reclamation has been at the center of the jointly funded research program, supporting the Industrial Chair in Peatland Management housed at University Laval, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. The CSPMA has been a major funding partner together with the Governments, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the University Laval. Close to $4 million dollars has been provided to date and there is a commitment for the next 5 years to advance the research needs for peatlands with an estimated additional funding of a further $4 million.

    The results of the research are significantly changing the practices of not only Canadian peat companies but have been introduced throughout the world through the work of the Industrial Chair, Dr. Line Rochefort. The Peat Ecological Research Group (www.gert-perg.ulaval.ca) is an excellent source as well as the CSPMA web site for information on restoration.

    The success of the research has shown that by following the restoration steps on sphagnum bogs, that within five (5) years following completion of harvest the Sphagnum has accumulated 4-8 inches in depth, the pitcher plants are fully developed and birds, animals and amphibians have started to return to the bog.

    You note the value that peatlands provide in CO2 emission/sequestration and by implication the role they play in climate change. The CSPMA commissioned an independent report by J. P. Cagampan and Dr. M. Strack, University of Calgary, entitled Peatland disturbance and Climate Change: What is the role of Canada’s horticultural peat industry. The following is a direct reference from the document. “The peat horticultural industry in Canada represents relatively small emissions compared to total peatland disturbances globally. Canadian peat horticultural emissions (0.89 Mt CO2-e) represent 0.03% of emissions for all degraded peatlands (3 Gt CO2-e) worldwide. Moreover, emissions are 0.006% of all total global net anthropogenic emissions (15.7 Gt CO2-e).” If you or your readers would like a copy please advise.

    Reference to the United Kingdom (UK) and their peat policies invites a comparison with Canada both in the amount of peatlands as well as use. While Canada has 25 percent of the world’s peatlands, (111 million hectares) the UK has only one quarter of one percent (1 million hectares). The Canadian peat industry has as its policy to ensure that important peatlands are conserved. In the UK, on the other hand, 300 years of agriculture, urban sprawl and infrastructure have left the country with only a handful of peatlands that are still active wetlands. The remainder has been altered by development.

    Interestingly you mention that the UK (England) burns peat as fuel. This is not the case. The countries of Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Estonia and Russia do consume peat for energy production.

    As a member of the Board of Directors of the International Peat Society I recently attended meetings in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A presentation at the meetings on the use of peat and peat products in the UK revealed that in spite of the phasing out of harvesting and policies and legislation aimed at removal of peat and peat products, peat remains a significant component in the horticultural practices within England.

    I should also mention that the Canadian horticulture industry is conducting a number of independent initiatives including Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), and Sustainable Benchmarking. The LCA will examine the life cycle of peat, coir, bark, dairy and green compost. The purpose will be to provide a solid basis for comparison on the alternative products to better inform the gardener and the market. Our Sustainability Benchmarking program will examine our environmental, social and economic activities in order to assist the industry as well as individual companies with advancing our sustainability interests.

    In summary, I thank you for the opportunity to present the resource facts and sound science behind the activities of the Canadian horticultural peat industry in our sustainable management of peatlands. I would encourage you and your readers to contact our office by phone (780 460 8280), email cspma@peatmoss.com or our web site http://www.peatmoss.com to be more fully informed.
    Paul Short, President, CSPMA

  47. Rick Brown says:

    Well stated, Paul, however the transportation cost from Northern Canada to Southern Florida is a big issue. Yes it is lower this year with diesel $1 less per gallon. Getting coir from the far east on container ships burning high sulfur coal is not sustainable either. We just need to each make the best decisions for the crops we grow for profitability and sustainability and not everybody knows how to be profitable or sustainable. Discussion is good and when someone who is uninformed opens them self by incorrect assertions, quite a few folks learn something. I did.

  48. Kratom says:

    Is peat most genrally found in Asia and Thailand. I’m trying to grow a type of Thai kratom tree and I’m using a peatmoss mix for this.

  49. Ken Druse says:

    I am thrilled by all of the comments to my peat moss post. We’re ranting to the converted, I’m afraid for the most part. But it is heartening to see that you are all there. (We have to put our money where our mouths are, support those in the garden community who do what we believe to be right things (like Amy and me and other hard-working communicators).
    Make compost — yes! And encourage your local officials, supermarkets, schools, etc. to make more (high-quality compost), as well.

  50. BobsterRI says:

    I had suspicions about peat, but didn’t realize quite how ecologically devastating the harvesting process is.

    Far better ways to amend the soil! Ken, thanks for raising the awareness!

  51. M says:

    Hi there,
    my husband and I are looking at buying a property with a large section of peat bog on it. Is this something to avoid? Forty acres is usable and forty is peat bog. I was thinking to have it harvested off but my husband wants to keep it the way it is and leave it .is there any way to co exist with a bog.After reading about them i no longer want to harvest it off. But would like some use of the land any ideas out there?
    Thanks

  52. Stevie J says:

    I was planning on starting a “square foot garden.” Mostly to help reduce my carbon foot print. Does anyone have a more environmental “Al’s/Mel’s Mix” to put in this type of garden?

  53. Congratulations on winning a position in the Top Rants of 2009 – I love this piece – totally wonderful and informative!

    Shawna

  54. Christian says:

    It’s too bad I didn’t catch this before, but I’ll nonetheless comment now on this alarmist piece. I agree that use of peat moss in the garden is largely unnecessary given that homemade compost is far better. For a sterile potting media, however, peat cannot be beat. ‘Real’ soil is just too heavy for proper growth in containers. I also have a problem with the recommendation of products that most people don’t have a clue about. In this case the new darling is coir, which with regards to horticulture is a worthy replacement for peat if processed properly. In addition to the long-range transport issue, coir is also loaded with salt. Unscrupulous providers ship it as is. This means to be suitable for plant growth it needs to be washed – a lot – with fresh water. You also have to understand that coir is not derived from coconuts that the natives have picked up on their walks along the beach. If you’re wary of eco-hype I would argue that coir’s claim is actually more dubious than that of peat. If the concern regarding peat is habitat loss please keep in mind that the bogs in Quebec are absolutely gigantic and that peat harvesting affects but a small fraction of the area. While I doubt the claim that a harvested area will be back to normal quickly it’s really no different than a forested area cleared for a farm that then slowly reverts back to forest.

  55. Topiary Lady says:

    I had no idea! Thank you so much for spelling it out. Glad I found this post!

  • Follow Garden Rant

    Follow Me on Pinterest RSS