Peat is commonly found in standard garden compost that you buy, and you may not have considered it at all before, but it’s very damaging to the environment.
It comes from ancient Peatlands. They built up over thousands of years and used to cover large areas of the UK.
Peatlands soak up a tremendous amount of water and carbon. They sequester much more carbon than trees! Global peatlands contain at least 550 Gigatonnes of carbon, more than twice the carbon stored in all forests.
They are vital in reducing flooding and provide much of our drinking water.
They’re also home to unique species of bird, animals and plants, including a variety of sphagnum mosses, large heath butterflies and the black darter dragonfly, and birds such as dunlin, curlew and greenshank.
However, 80% of our UK peatlands have been destroyed or damaged; they were burnt as fuel and for compost. Or the land was drained to make more farmland etc.
Mostly they’re protected in the UK finally now, after being used for a long time. But when it is damaged or reduced, it takes thousands of years to recover. And damaged areas start to leak carbon, actually contributing to climate change rather than actively helping us like it effortlessly does.
Now amateur gardening is on the up, peat is being dug from ancient peatlands all around Europe, and we’re destroying their wildlife habitats, and releasing more carbon there instead.
It’s not stopped, it just moved out of sight.
What can you do?
Buy Peat Free Compost
If you still want to buy compost, then look for peat-free compost (preferably organic).
It’s there in many garden centres, but you need to check the label closely!
Sometimes it’s not easy to find, but consumers have the power to make brands change what they sell. The more people that seek out Peat free, the more it’ll be available to buy.
Use a composter to make your own
Or if you have some space and time, then I’d recommend using a composter.
They’re relatively cheap (sometimes free on buy / sell sites) and available in most garden centres and online. Over the long run, it will definitely save money if you use it frequently.
You can also build them fairly easily if you’re handy with wood and a saw. Then you’re using less plastic as well.
You can put it on top of the soil, or if it’s not possible, you can put it on a hard surface with a bottom added for drainage. I would also add a little soil to start with too.
You can add all sorts into the composter, in the right balance between green waste (high in nitrogen) and brown waste (high in carbon). Try adding it in evenish alternating layers. The key to a successful compost is really just this balance of green and brown waste.
You can add a whole variety of things, including brown cardboard, paper (all paper materials preferably shredded or as small as possible), egg boxes, etc.
In particular, green waste, like food waste, is excellent, fruit and veg scraps like peelings (but less citrus, chop that up very small), and bread, coffee grounds, cut flowers, etc.
But no meat, cooked food, cat litter or faeces (including biodegradable nappies etc, fats and oils or yoghurt (they can attract the rats and smell bad).
Other household wastes can go in, like the odd bit of hoover dust, any hair,
Then you can add plenty of garden green waste, such as grass clippings and weeds.
Brown waste is things like twigs, fallen leaves, and soil. Cut up any branches very small, as they will take longer to break down. Sawdust and woodchips are also acceptable in smaller quantities.
If you make good use of your compost bin, you will see both the green bin and the brown bin (if you’re in Wigan borough) reduce down.
Composting – Maintenance and Troubleshooting
It will take a few months at least to turn into anything usable, but it should be easy to keep up once it’s going if you keep up the balance of green and brown waste.
Keep it moist, and if the days are very dry and hot, it’ll need a bit of water – don’t make it too soggy though.
You also need to turn it with a fork every few weeks to move the vegetation around.
Particularly need to keep this up if it doesn’t look like it’s breaking down / changing. If leaves etc aren’t breaking down, you need to add more green waste such as food waste or lawn clippings.
It can also go the other way, if it is too smelly/gooey/watery then you need to balance out and add more brown matter, like straw or sawdust.
When the pile starts to get very hot you’ll know it’s going well, that’s the bacteria working away.
You’ll also see a variety of worms and all sorts of insects, if you don’t a little manure can help.
A sign that it’s going well is that it’ll start to change in look, not rotting vegetables etc. It will be dark and crumbly, look more towards compost you buy, and smell earthy.