Bag of Sphagnum Peat Moss by Forest Farming

Bag of Sphagnum Peat Moss by Forest Farming

Want to know the hardest part about being ecofriendly?  You must constantly question, investigate and take action — incorporate your new-found information into your lifestyle.  And that brings me to peat moss…

I wanted to try a specific vegetable garden method but found out it uses 1/3 peat moss in the base soil for each raised bed.  Just can’t do…here’s the story on where peat moss comes from and why we need an alternative!

As the above photo depicts, peat moss is used as a soil amendment to improve garden soils.  It’s also used to top-dress potted plants (such as orchids and those huge potted plants in shopping malls) to help with water retention.   Peat moss is the partially decomposed remains of formerly living sphagnum moss that grows in bogs.  These wetlands store water and provide habitat for many unique plants and animals (such as the sundew, below).  It takes hundreds to thousands of years for peat moss to form!

Sundew growing in sphagnum moss with sedges and horsetail (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Sundew growing in sphagnum moss with sedges and horsetail (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Bogs (and another type of wetland called fens) are important habitats for preserving biodiversity.  They are home to a unique suite of plants, animals, insects, and soil micro-organisms.  With global warming, these water reservoirs become even more important, re-charging our groundwater and storing carbon dioxide.  If you want to learn more about bogs, check out this 5-minute video produced in Ireland by Tailored Films for coilltetv about the raised bogs of Ireland — the reasons why bogs are important apply to all bogs (and fens!):

Much of the peat moss we buy in the United States is harvested in Canada and the peat moss industry is working to restore the damaged peatlands.  Can we truly restore bogs that took 100’s of years to form?   Restoration is much more than re-establishing plant species…it’s more difficult and maybe impossible to truly restore the ecosystem with all its components…the unique variety or plants, fungi, lichens, mosses, animals, insects, and soil micro-organisms.  It took 100’s of years for peat to form and it will likely take 100’s of years for peatlands to recover – if they ever can.

Left: Schwarzback peat bog in Belgium (photo by Gilles San Martin); Right: Industrial peat harvesting, Ireland (photo by Sarah777)

Left: Schwarzback peat bog in Belgium (photo by Gilles San Martin); Right: Industrial peat harvesting, Ireland (photo by Sarah777)

The above photos were taken in two different countries, but I think you get the picture.  Harvesting of sphagnum moss greatly alters these unique habitats.

So what to do?  Here are a two Peat Moss Alternatives:  

  1. Compost — Composting is awesome!  We’ve written about worm composting and building your own compost bins.  It’s so easy, provides a great soil amendment for your garden…look like it’s time to share my various compost systems in a future post.
  2. RePeet — the renewable peat-free alternative developed by Organix, Solutions for Sustainability.  Organix says this is the first real answer to the ever growing challenges facing the peat moss industry and its customers.  “It is a true peat moss replacement having undergone a life similar to one spent in a peat bog, but in a much shorter time.  The primary component of RePeet is digested dairy manure which is processed through an anaerobic digester.  Anaeroabic digesters are the latest movement in the US energy market to discover ways of decreasing dependence on foreign oil and are most commonly located on a dairy farm.  These digesters operate in a liquid saturated environment, void of oxygen like a peat bog.”  Thank you, Organix!   Can’t wait to try RePeet!

Lots to think about when it comes to the choices we make.  Not easy being ecofriendly…but it sure feels right and worth the effort!

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