Grown in Wales

Grown in WalesGrown in WalesGrown in Wales

22

October

Why Peat Free ?

Charles Warner

For horticulture, peat is the most amazing stuff. It has all the right properties to create perfect compost for our plants to grow in. What's more it is just lying around on the ground and there is loads of it in certain parts of the world. Like oil it's one of those resources that is just too good to ignore but like oil there is a cost in it's use and there are finite quantities of it on the earth.

You can never grow just the right number of plants to fulfill demand. The garden centre trade does not allow for that. If the sun comes out in March garden centres are thronged with customers . If it snows in April, they stay away. The only way that a grower can satisfy that demand is to grow more than enough plants. The alternative is to be short of stock and that would be a quick way of going out of business. So for the grower, management becomes a case of managing the cost of the surplus.

When I worked on a larger nursery in the Midlands, this was achieved by keeping large quantities of plants at a stage ready for potting. If demand suddenly increased then the potting machines ran faster and for longer. Some of the wasteage was minimised by only wasteing plants at the propagation stage and then only after they had been kept confined for too long. Although this approach worked very well, as the trade slackened in the summer there would be plants that went past saleable condition. Some nurseries try to use these plants for next years production in the belief that this saves them money but it does not. Preparing a small pot and potting into a larger one is a costly business and unless a very good return is made for the larger pot the cost outways the benefit. It's far more economically viable to chuck the whole thing into a skip and hence into land fill. And of course that is what happens.

So it was that I watched each day as the lorries came, sometimes three in a day, to pick up skips full of plastic pots and peat based compost and put them into land fill.

Now nurserymen and peat reps all over the country tell me that there is lots of peat available and that extraction does not harm the environment and that extraction for horticulture is insignificant statistically but I can't get the image of those dusty lorries and the precious peat heading for land fill out of my mind. For myself, I don't need to get into a debate about it. If there is a viable alternative to a product that is ecologically important and finite then I feel duty bound to use it. I am told over again that peat free compost does not perform as well as peat but I challenge anyone to find better plants than ours which are all potted into peat free compost. It's more expensive and it tends to dry out a bit more quickly but I feel happier about it and that is what counts.

I guess the whole thing was reinforced when I visited the somerset levels last autumn. We witnessed the huge gathering of starlings that they call a murmuration I believe. This is one of natures most awe inspiring sights. As the birds return to their roosts at night amongst the reed beds they wheel and turn in huge, billowing clouds that are patrolled by bemused peregrine falcons and then as dusk falls, they swoop down en mass and chatter deafeningly until the light fades. This is a fantastic spectacle and one that I recommend everyone to see but it's only one part of an ecosystem based around the peat deposits. If you remove the peat, it's gone . So we will be accepting the extra cost of the peat free potting compost as our little tiny bit towards helping to retain those fragile and important peat bogs.

This link is an edit. I found it after posting the above  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dayhJpnbH3o&feature=related 

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