Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Problem of Peat Moss

I thought that gardening was basically safe -- growing my own seeds and planting them in the yard was just about the greenest thing a person could do, right?

After my tomato seedlings grew too fast and got too leggy, I looked for pots that were a bit deeper to repot them. At the Orchard Hardware & Supply, I noticed that they had "fiber" pots instead of peat pots. I read the label and was shocked to discover that peat pots are not at all good for the environment!

The fiber pots I purchased are made out of Coir -- the outer husks of coconuts -- a totally renewable resource. Coconuts grow 4x/year vs peat bog which grows at a rate of 1 mm/year. Harvesting coir does not harm the tree or the surrounding area -- the rest of the coconut is used (mostly for food). Coir is organic plant material and will biodegrade over time and does not result in mold and other problems inherent in peat moss pots and soil additives.

- 10% of all the world's fresh water is in peat bogs
- Amateur gardeners account for approximately 70% of the peat used in horticulture.
- Peat extraction requires draining an entire bog, irreversibly damaging a delicate ecosystem.
- Once dried, peat extractors remove up to 22cm of peat/year - the bog increases in depth only 1mm/year. It will take 220 years for the peat bog to renew itself, and the ecosystem that once supported wildlife and plant life is likely to never return
- Peat bogs act as a carbon sink, absorb 10-20% of the 7 gigatons of carbon produced by humans/year.
- Peatlands hold around 1/4 to 1/3 of the total carbon dioxide in the world, released very slowly through anaerobic decomposition. Harvesting results in the release of thousands of years of carbon held in peatlands into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

Coir as a replacement for peat moss
Sierra in News


ib mommy said...

I've seen a lot of bloggers lately talking about square foot gardening. The author recommends using peat moss and then goes on to say he knows it's not environmentally friendly but since you're only using it to get your beds started and it will last for years it's okay to use a few bags.

The lasagna gardening method also uses peat moss for a layer. As peat moss is used to retain water I find this an unnecessary layer. Plus, it is most widely sold in plastic bags which adds another element to its environmental unfriendliness.

I have to say, I got a little irked with the Square Foot Gardening book. You can make raised beds by simply putting down a layer of newspaper or cardboard and filling in the box with compost and other organic matter. I made one last year with horse poop!

I guess I need to be a little more vocal when I see people using the SFG method!

Jenn said...

mihl - you're welcome, and thanks for visiting!

ib mommy - totally agree when it comes to newspaper and cardboard, though I've never used it. I plan to garden year round and will put in winter veggies when my tomatoes are done. :)