Peat is formed over thousands of years by decaying vegetation, it is unique to bogs and peat lands and is one of the biggest sinks for carbon. When Peat is harvested this carbon is released into the environment and contributes to global warming
As a carbon store peat holds more carbon than the combined forests of Britain, France and Germany, it is beneficial to wildlife as many rare species inhabit peatland, for water management peat holds up to 20 times its own weight in water and and helps control flooding, peat can also preserve vegetation, landscapes and people that arechaeologist can use to study our past.
Peat reforms at a rate of 1mm a year this is a limited resource, so we need to look at alternatives. The 3 main uses of peat in the garden are as soil improver, improving structure and draining in sandy and clay soils, as a growing medium for seed sowing and planting and as a garden mulch although it dries out quickly and can be blown off the soil surface.
Some alternatives that are available are.
As a soil improver,
Well rotted garden compost,
Composted bark or wood chippings
Farmyard manure this can be used on soil in autumn and weathered and broken down over the winter.
Leaf mold, if you have the space fallen autumn leaves can be collected and placed in wire bins and left to rot down for a couple of years, this can then be sieved and added to the soil.
As a growing medium
Well rotted sieved garden compost, can be used to make a potting mix but as you can not be sure of the nutrients it contains you may need to add fertilisers.
Composted bark, this is usually composted forest products like bark and sawdust and if this is well composted it will provide a structure very similar to peat, however it may be difficult to know the nutrient content.
Coir, this is a by product of the coconut industry and has become very popular as a substitute for peat, when left to rot down it can act in the same way as peat improving drainage and water retention.
As a mulch
Organic garden materials such as manure, grass clippings, leafmould, bark, straw or stalky material etc.
Non-organic materials such as black polythene, stone chippings or crushed slate etc.
Dalefoot composts have developed a natural alternative to peat based composts using a mix of wool and bracken, the bracken contains high levels of potash which is essential for all fruiting and flowering plants, the sheeps wool ensures good moisture retentiveness due to its natural hygroscopic qualities, as the wool breaks down it releases nitrogen acting as a slow release fertiliser. They have a range of composts available including mixes for bulbs, vegetables and seeds plus a soil improver for clay soils. Dalefoot compost are produced in the uk and can be delivered directly to your home.
If you are looking at ways to garden more sustainably, reducing or cutting out peat and trying some of the alternatives can really help to slow down the destruction of peat areas and reduce carbon emissions into the environment.