Resource item

A Vision of Peat – Picayune Item

A grip on the peat

Posted at 1:01 p.m. on Saturday, August 27, 2022

By Felder Rushing

OWhy do some experts oppose the use of peat in our gardens? Is it really used up completely, like coal and oil, and does it release tons of carbon dioxide in the process? Or is there a viable way to put some of it to good use, as we should with other natural resources?

In fact, I use very little peat, other than a little in the mostly bark soil and around my blueberries. And I understand the major ecological issues in almost all agricultural enterprises. But here’s my take on peat, starting with what it is in the first place.

I live part of the year in the moorlands of northern England, which, like southern Mississippi, has lots of constantly wet, nutrient-poor wetlands that only support highly specialized plants, including sundews carnivores and pitcher plants which obtain their nutrients by trapping and slowly digesting insects.

But where Mississippi’s bogs are typically wet muddy sand perched above clay, Britain’s cooler, wetter rolling moorlands feature shallow basins carved out by ancient glaciers, now lined with pockets deep and very acid sphagnum moss on which are mainly heathers, sedges and small thickets. tiny blueberries thrive. Sometimes it forms thick floating mats over deep, tea-colored ponds, creating a “shaking bog” that feels like walking on a partially deflated bouncy house. The trees actually lean towards walkers, who sometimes accidentally step into the hidden underground lake.

As new sphagnum moss grows, old plants slowly compact into brown, compost-like peat. Until fairly recently banned, the densest types of peat were cut into fuel bricks for heating or cooking; most of this high quality combustible peat is now gone, but there are well over one hundred million acres of looser, fluffier types of peat in the United States and Canada.

I have been an independent peat harvesting inspector, ensuring that horticultural peat harvesting does not destroy the environment, which it does not; they essentially remove the top foot of the vegetation, suck up the peat, then carefully replant the area in a shallow wetland filled with the original native vegetation and wildlife. Sort of like opening a pillowcase, removing the stuffing, then smoothing the pillowcase down. Impossible to distinguish a harvested bog from the surrounding countryside, as far as the eye can see and beyond.

Yes, peat harvesting around the world releases tightly stored carbon. But the truth is, since we started using it in potting soil in the 1950s, less than 0.02% of Canadian peat has been used for horticultural purposes.

We have tens of millions of acres left and we will never be able to use even one percent. So, apart from other industrial uses, and even taking into account the costs associated with transporting it from Canada, gardeners hardly contribute to the environmental problems associated with peat harvesting.

By the way, just like the unsustainable overuse of cypress mulch, coir production, which does not retain nutrients as well as peat, has its own serious environmental issues.

Why, then, does English gardening expert Monty Don keep advising us against using it? Mainly because Britain used most of theirs, mostly for fuel. And sadly, many journalists shy away from thorough research and simply emulate the advice of others, whether it’s sound or not.

All this to say that, rather than a knee-jerk reaction to all peat use, simply reduce what we use. Bark and compost are my primary garden and potting soil amendments, with some more durable peat added to better retain moisture and nutrients. And I will continue to use peat around blueberries.

For me, it’s a pretty good compromise.

For more on this, as well as photos, visit Felderrushing.blog.