Sales of peat will be banned for amateur gardeners in 2024 – but why wait until then to ditch peat?
Making your own compost is one of the most satisfying garden activities, and it not only provides crumbly goodness for your veg and flower beds but reduces your reliance on bought-in compost bags.
Fallen leaves rotted down into leaf mould, kitchen and garden waste converted into compost, garden soil and sand are the basic ingredients to create your own seed sowing and potting-on growing medium and soil improver.
But if you have to buy-in, consider your footprint. Peatlands like rainforests take thousands of years to develop and during their formation help mop up chemicals, lock in carbon and reduce flooding. Butterflies, dragonflies, nesting birds and exquisite sphagnum mosses also call these peatlands home.
Buy peat-free instead and you’ll help reduce damage to this valuable habitat. And it’s an easy swap to becoming more eco-friendly in your garden.
Here’s five top tips for going peat free this autumn:
Turn scraps into super-soil
Transforming garden waste and kitchen scraps into free compost feels like a gift. And although you’ll need a little patience, it’s a simple process. Like a good coffee, everyone has their favourite blend. For the perfect garden brew, aim for a good balance of carbon (browns), nitrogen (greens), and air and water. Browns can be provided by shredded paper and cardboard, while greens such as plant and kitchen waste inject the nitrogen – and you need roughly 50/50 of each. Good things to compost include coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, egg cartons, vegetable and fruit peelings and garden cuttings. Pop your bin directly on to the ground, so the worms can do their work and let nature take its course.
Garden Organic is running a Successful Composting workshop in October. More details here.
Create your own potting compost recipes
For seeds: mix one part loam (garden soil) with one part leaf mould. Make sure the two are well sieved (no big lumps), firmed down, and the mix is kept moist.
For cuttings: These need excellent drainage so their ends don’t rot, and a fine-textured medium to help the roots establish. Mix half sharp sand and half homemade compost or purchased peat-free growing medium such as coir.
For containers: Plants grown for extended periods in pots need a good source of slow-release nutrients. Recommended mix: equal parts loam and homemade compost. If your loam is rich enough, you can scale back to a smaller amount of compost, added fresh each year.
Be shop savvy
If you need to buy in peat-free compost, look for what works with your garden, location and garden task. All brands have different ingredients, and the term ‘compost’ is used to cover a number of assorted products from seed compost to container gardening. Spend as much as you can on shop-bought compost because you get what you pay for. And only buy what you need.
Peat-free compost is more sensitive to storage conditions so has a shorter shelf life. Avoid faded bags which might be last year’s stock (most bags have a bagging date at the base), and don’t leave bags outside for prolonged periods as this can change nutrient composition and quality over time.
Because of their high coir and woodchip content, some peat-free mixes can dry out more easily. They also have a coarse texture, which can appear dry on the surface but damp further down. Check by putting your finger in the soil to see if it’s dry all the way through or get a feel for the weight of your pots when they’re wet. Avoid run off by letting water absorb a little before you water again or sit pots in trays to allow moisture to be drawn from below.
All bagged composts have CRFs (controlled release fertilisers) included that will feed the plant over a period of a few weeks. Most peat-free composts provide fertiliser up to four weeks. But if you observe your plants on a regular basis, you will know if they need extra feeding (normally in the spring and summer). Or you could use homemade liquid feeds, such as comfrey tea.
Find more information, including a free online course, at www.forpeatssake.org.uk.
The Grow Your Own Wicked Leeks series is written by Garden Organic, the national charity for organic growing. Each month we bring you timely advice on what to do in your organic patch, whether you’re an experienced grower or just starting out. Share your own tips and gardening photos on social media under #GYOWickedLeeks.