For years garden books, magazines, and gurus have advocated adding peat moss to your soil to raise the level of organic material. It works. What can I say? There is no doubt that adding peat moss to your soil, your potting mix, or rooting mix will provide a much richer soil structure. However, there are some drawbacks to peat moss.
The major con in my mind is the source of peat moss. Peat moss is created when moss, mostly sphagnum moss, which grew in wetlands in cool, wet climates, died and formed deep layers of what we call peat. Peat bogs capture tons and tons of carbon every year, sequestering it into the ever-deepening layers.
A Bit of History
Man learned about peat early. Evidence goes back thousands of years that man was mining peat for fuel and to store food. Peat has some interesting anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, making it an excellent means of storing some types of vegetables.
The Hidden Costs of Peat Moss
Experts estimate that over 10 million cubic yards of peat mined annually in the US and Canada. This mining requires the draining of the wetlands, drying the peat that, milling it, packaging it, and transporting it to market. It is an expensive operation and it leaves huge scars on the landscape that are almost impossible to return to their original condition.
Originally, most of the peat we used was mined in England and New Zealand. More than 90% of the wetlands in these two countries have been destroyed. Some studies report that it can take 90 years for a mined peat bog to return to its original biodiversity.
The Differences in Peat Moss
Peat moss comes in grades. The best peat moss comes from the peat that lies just below the surface of the bog. The deeper the peat, the lower the quality of the peat, and the lower the quality of the peat moss. That is why some peat is very expensive and other bags much cheaper.
Peat moss is acidic. This acidic nature is one reason peat moss will kill bacteria. Just remember that it kills all the bacteria, good and bad. Adding peat moss to soil that is already acidic can push the pH lower than what your plants will tolerate. Use care when adding peat moss as a soil amendment.
Alternatives to Peat Moss
There are several alternatives to peat moss, most notably coconut coir. Coconut coir is a renewable resource. Peat moss is not. Coconut coir is environmentally more friendly than peat moss. Because of the damage the mining does to environmentally sensitive areas, peat moss is in no way environmentally friendly.
I suggest looking at the alternatives to using peat moss in your garden, landscape, and greenhouse. Coconut coir has its disadvantages but taken as a whole, it is a much more economically and environmentally sound choice.
Links and Resources
For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.
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