Banning peat no longer makes sense for gardeners — or the planet
The second important argument against a peat ban is that peat substitutes simply aren’t as good for growing plants. Peat has, to date, unrivaled water retention and drainage properties. It is no longer, rightly, recommended as a soil amendment or mulch. But for seeds, cuttings, and potting soils, it’s generally considered the best.
Our competitors in horticultural industries across the Channel are expected to double their use of peat by 2050. Only the UK, Germany and Switzerland are proposing a ban.
Substitutes such as coir (coconut fiber) are imported from Southeast Asia. This has a high salt content and needs to be washed in fresh water – a very scarce resource in the coir’s countries of origin. Other substitutes are waste with high plastic contamination. These may well cause more damage to the environment. Also, these substitutes don’t hold water so well, so to compensate, more fertilizer is needed, which is then washed away faster with the additional water applications.
As for sustainability, Canadian peat companies that supply all of North America extract peat more slowly than the rate at which it is deposited. In addition, bog restoration is an integral part of British industry. Pat Walls of Bulrush Horticulture (bulrush.co.uk) has done a lot of pioneering work in bog restoration. Following the removal of the first 2-3 meters of peat (leaving approximately one meter), the water table is raised and then recolonized with moss.
Pat points out that a lot of damage was done by previous generations who dug around the edges of raised bogs by hand, which then affected the water table, allowing heather, birches and other plants to grow. enter, leading to a slow decline. Much work is needed to restore and manage these sensitive habitats. To that end, Keith Nicholson of Westland Horticulture explains that the company has spent over £40m since 2005 to develop its full peat-free and peat-less range.
However, the proposed ban is far too soon. There simply isn’t enough non-peat substrate of sufficient quality to replace the 2 million cubic meters of peat we use every year.
Hopefully the government is aware of the pressures placed on horticultural growers in the UK by the peat ban.
I just invested £19.38 in a 150ft long and 6ft wide roll of scaffolding netting (scaffolding-direct.co.uk). This year, I will make sure to have rich pickings of my crucifers, leeks, arugula and other vulnerable vegetables. The only way to do this without resorting to chemicals is to cover them – and horticultural covers are quite expensive.
The holes in this netting (designed to prevent construction debris from falling from great heights onto the hapless ones below) are about a millimeter, so it will keep butterflies, leek moths, flea beetles, pigeons and more away . I’m either going to prop it up on hoops or throw the net right over the crop.
You should be careful with this latter approach though, as you will often see butterflies sitting on leaves touching or crossing the net and then laying their eggs, which will subsequently produce many very hungry caterpillars.