If you buy a bag of potting compost, do you look to see what’s in it? Chances are, it will contain peat. Used by the compost-making industry for over 50 years, peat has been extracted on a massive scale – destroying over 90 per cent of the UK’s wonderful rare peat bogs, ruining the homes of birds, aquatic life, insects and rare plants. All so that gardeners can boast about their blooms.
Peat isn’t necessary in the garden. But peat bogs are necessary for the planet. Peat holds more carbon than any other ecosystem. It’s better even than forests. But destroying peat bogs not only cuts out a vital carbon storage system, it also releases the CO2 back into the atmosphere.
It is said that globally, drained and decaying peat bogs release approximately three billion tons per year of CO2 that was previously sequestered, or roughly six per cent of all such greenhouse gas emissions from human activity.
Plus it takes 1,000 years to create just one metre of peat bog. So there is nothing sustainable about using peat.
We know we should cut down on flying, insulate our houses, change to renewable energy – so why don’t we stop using peat in potting compost?
Garden Organic is fighting to get gardeners peat free. Along with the RHS, the National Trust, Friends of the Earth and Soil Association we are urging gardeners and growers to buy peat-free compost. Hassle your local retailer to stock peat-free, and if they don’t – ask why. Yes, it’s a little bit more expensive, but you are now getting a premium product. Because cutting edge research into alternative ingredients has led to peat-free bags outperforming their peat-filled equivalents.
And when it comes to your precious plants, it’s worth that extra pound or two. (As with all potting composts, buying the cheaper version is a mistake which will lead to poor growth and unhealthy plants. You will always regret it.)
And to be super organic, here is how to make your own potting compost. You need some garden soil (loam), leafmould if you have it, homemade compost, and possibly some horticultural sand or grit. Oh, and a sieve. Preferably a garden sieve, not the one used for your home baking.
Here’s three top recipes for homemade, peat-free, delicious potting mixes:
Seed sowing: One part loam with one part leafmould. Mix and sieve to make a fine medium. Add some horticultural sand if your soil is very heavy. Seeds don’t need a high nutrient compost, they carry their own nutrients for germination. Purists bake their loam first (30 mins at a high temperature) to kill the weed seeds which will compete with your little darlings.
Potting on: One part loam with one part homemade compost and one part leafmould (which will help maintain the right water holding capacity). Seedlings and young plants need excellent drainage and a little more nutrient (not too much, or they become leggy without finding their own strength).
Mature plants in pots: equal parts loam and homemade compost mixed. Plants growing for a long time in pots need a good source of slow release nutrients (from the homemade compost) throughout the growing season.
Hanging baskets and fruiting plants such as tomatoes: Regularly feed the above mixture with a liquid feed to give a fertility boost to these hungry high performing plants.
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. We hope they inspire you on your organic growing journey, whether you’re an experienced grower or just starting out. Share your own tips and gardening photos on social media under #GYOWickedLeeks.