There Is A Huge Difference Between Peat and Peat Free Compost. But It’s Not What You Might Think. Peat Free Is Easier To Use Than Many Think.

With the peat free ban we will have to learn How To Cope With Peat Free Compost. Many gardeners have already changed to peat free but others really don’t want to make the change. They complain about poor quality peat free alternatives. And they have a point!

At a time like this it is easy to forget all the complaints made about peat. I’ve seen big pieces of wood in peat. I’ve seen lumpy peat and I’ve seen peat with both lumps of clay and stones in it.

Seedlings growing in homemade peat free compost
Seedlings growing in homemade peat free compost

Against that peat free compost has a reputation for containing pieces of wood, plastic and even wire. That can’t be good! And it does nothing to encourage the use of peat free compost.

I’ve explained why the change to peat free has been made previously. But in a nutshell its because of environmental concerns and was agreed after a consultation where 95% of the respondents called for a ban! It’s an overwhelming number so hardly surprising that the ban has been implemented.

If any reader doesn’t like the ban now is not the time to complain. We all had a chance to comment during the consultation and it was widely promoted in the media, especially gardening magazines and daily newspapers.

What Is Peat Free Compost?

It’s simply compost that contains no peat.

Years ago horticulture and gardeners didn’t use peat. Then it became popular for decades. Now it’s being banned. We managed before it was made available and can do again. But peat free requires a different approach.

The Problem With Peat

No, not the environmental problem. There’s been enough written about that. Let’s go back a bit further to when peat was first used in gardens.

There were loads of complaints as it was poor quality. It often contained big pieces of wood (mainly bog oak), there were problems with it being too wet and the reverse. Once it dried out it was almost impossible to re-wet. And according to many growers the nutrient levels were low to non existent.

Put simply, it was a very variable product.

So the extraction and bagging industry got to work on improving peat. They screened it to take out the wood. Then they milled it to make it less lumpy. And before they brought it into the mills they allowed it to drain after digging.

And to ensure it was easy to re-wet they added wetting agents. Nutrients were also added. These were often chemical fertilisers rather than organic additives. But they still sold the peat as being natural and organic in nature etc.

The screening and milling resulted in some wastage. So the millers were delighted when the grow bag craze started. It meant they could include the poorer quality peat in the grow bags and most gardeners wouldn’t notice! Today many grow bags are peat free. But the quality hasn’t improved much in far too many cases as this Which report demonstrates.

Who Supplies Peat Free Compost?

Whereas peat extraction companies supplied peat and knew enough to improve the quality with additives etc., peat free compost suppliers have no vested interest in their product.

The extractors owned their peat bogs and had invested a lot of money. Too often the peat free suppliers are just middle men that buy whatever they can get their hands on and get it put into bags. They then sell it to the highest bidder. The retailers, often DIY type businesses, have no expertise and buy on price.

Some composters are entrepreneurs that have seen an opportunity to produce something people want. Others are councils trying to get rid of food and green waste. They run green waste schemes where we pay for green waste collection and they then compost the organic material and sell it to whoever wil pay most for it.

Mass Produced Peat Free Compost Is Made By Councils And Other Manufacturers.
Mass Produced Peat Free Compost Is Made By Councils And Other Manufacturers.

No one in the buying and selling chain necessarily has much knowledge of the product and often care even less!

The people that suffer are the end buyers ands users. The gardeners that then go on to complain that peat free compost is rubbish.

Sadly, until we complain about the quality to the retailers, until we demand out money back it isn’t going to change. Complaining in a Facebook gardening group isn’t going to make any difference. We have to take the complaint to the retailer and hit them in the pocket.

How To Cope With Peat Free Compost

My answer is simple. I often make my own compost from the product of my compost heap mixed with home sterilised loam. It is easy to do and doesn’t take that long.

If you buy a poor bag of peat free and don’t want to take it back, try mixing it with another bag from different batch .. I know it’s a hassle but I’m trying to be practical. But Id rather see it taken back with a complaint that it is rubbish. Only with enough gets complained about are standards likely to change.

If the peat free dries out, then water with a wetting agent. Peat contained wetting agents for years so why not try the same tactics!

And if you think it is short of nutrients try adding a small amount of powered organic fertiliser. Don’t overdo it though. I can’t tell you how much as it depends on the type you choose to use.

The main thing to remember is that peat free isn’t peat. You had to learn to use peat and now you need to learn how to use peat free. Most gardeners can learn to do this. It’s not rocket science. But it does take a bit of practical understanding of gardening and plants.

It really isn’t so hard to learn to use peat free compost. If I can at my age I’m sure anyone can.

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