Very interesting to me, I was researching zone maps yesterday and pulled up Garden Rant's opinions about how politics and commercial interests are intertwined with what's going on about zone maps.
I was aware that peat moss is not desirable. It forms a crust when it's on top. It lacks nutrients, so there are other organic materials better used as soil additives. And we are depleting the peat bogs.
I think I'll bookmark Garden Rant to spend more time exploring there.
I'd like to weigh in with an opinion here. I'm sorry, but I can't buy into the depletion theory. In my estimation, it doesn't matter much if it's renewable or not, and I won't be guilted into abstinence from using any form of peat.
Here is a reply I often leave when the non-renewable thing comes up:
"Sorry, but I'm not buying the non-renewable lament. In Canada alone, there are more than 270 million acres of harvestable peat bogs. If we make the conservative guess that the harvestable portions of these bogs are 10 feet deep, that means there are probably more than 900 billion cu. ft. available for harvest, just in Canada! That doesn't even take into consideration what's available in Europe, Asia, or places like New Zealand where they also mine peat. Canada currently has mining/harvesting operations underway on approximately 40 thousand acres or about .014% (that reads 14 one thousandths of 1 percent)."
Check the math - it's accurate and conservative. It's more likely that the next ice age will be upon us and glaciers will have covered what's available before we even use a noticeable percentage. Renewable/non-renewable = moot.
The author is using a logical fallacy called 'appealing to emotion' and is very loose with his 'facts' throughout the article, because facts are difficult to manipulate ... though he cleverly words some parts in an attempt to strengthen his case. How much CO2 do you think escapes from a disturbed peat bog? Probably no where near the amount that escapes from opening soda bottles in an average size city in a single day. Do you think it costs less to harvest/ship peat from Canada, or to gather, grind, load onto a ship, and transport coir across a sea and 2 oceans from Sri Lanka to the US?
Peat is a resource, like coal, oil, gold, fresh water, lumber ... It makes no sense to me, to leave a product unused because of someone's PC perspective based on emotion rather than facts. YMMV
I have no issues with using peat. I lived in the Candian Arctic and have flown over expanses that are nothing but untouched muskeg so I've always questioned the seriousness of the depletion theory. It also should be noted that areas in our northern national parks are protected. Just my personal opinion. Some Canadians are choosing not to use peat moss because they feel differently.
It isn't really a matter of renewable or not for me personally. I don't use peat, have no use for it really at all. I however do know from personal experience the damage that is done to a habitat when it's disturbed, that to me is a bigger issue. We had owls for years living in the woods in and around our property, you could hear them regularly. When the acreage behind ours was sold the new owners opened it up for logging of the old growth oaks. The owls left and it took almost 10 years before they came back. I suspect that in the harvesting of the peat moss the same holds true in that the habitat is destroyed for all manner of things living in it. While it may not seem like a big deal people thought the same of rain forest and wetlands, not realizing what an impact their loss would have.
I also didn't get the impression that the writer was trying to guilt anyone into anything lol, but rather was sharing information. Which is why I shared it, because it was information that I didn't know.
Written in a conversational tone - not trying to inflame.
To be clear - I didn't say above that he was trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone - only that I wouldn't feel guilty about using peat; but, if you asked me if I thought he was laying guilt at the readers feet, I would say 'definitely'. It's an emotional appeal.
When there are 270,000,000 acres of harvestable bogs - and that doesn't include the portion of unharvestable bogs that are probably greater in area than those that are harvestable, should anyone feel guilty about using peat because it disturbed a habitat? Where do we draw the line? Based on similar thinking, we should leave all resources untouched for fear of upsetting something's habitat. It's not as if there is only a handful of peat bogs. ;o)
Some of the other arguments he put forth were a little too over the top for me to swallow, too. That aside, I have not yet seen an argument that came close to convincing me, from a factual and/or statistical perspective, that there is any logic in our refraining from using peat. That's not because I have a closed mind, it's because I tend to look at facts and to remain unswayed by emotion or political correctness.
Perhaps since I am not looking at it in the same way, I do not find that he is trying to guilt me into anything. I don't see how encouraging people to compost and or use a different source is politically correct, lol. I don't use peat moss thus had no reason to ever look into where it came from or how it was harvested.
As for disturbing habitat, I do take issue with that regardless of how many millions of acres there are, humans have decimated so much of the earth's habitat and all manner of life with that sort of thought process. It's like there is an abundance of this so what if we use it up. Sometimes, it isn't till decades later that the realization hits that gee maybe it was serving a purpose that we didn't know about. Remember it was not so long ago that it was ok to cut down the rain forest and fill in the wetlands! People know now that the rain forest not only plays a large part in the habitat for countless plant and animal species but that it impacts the climate as well. Wetlands have been destroyed and flood plains filled and developed and now people are realizing that what they thought of as wasted space was actually going to save their towns and homes when it did flood.
I don't claim at all to know the purpose of the peat bogs but I am sure they have one that goes above supplying gardeners with peat moss. Everything has a purpose and most of the time it really has little to do with the humans on this planet lol. I certainly do not believe that this planet and all it's resources were put here for me to destroy at my whim, but I am also odd enough that I go out of my way to catch and release insects caught in my house and to not run over woolly bears crossing the road lol. I love the habitat that surrounds me, five acres worth of old growth trees and native plants I call my own. I do everything I can to keep it undisturbed and I have been rewarded with abundant wildlife that so many people never get to encounter. I live in the woods yet I have eastern blue birds nesting along side wrens and chickadees and all manner of other birds and woodpeckers. I have barred owls and great horned owls nesting here too and even get the pleasure of having the random blue heron stop by my pond. Deer, skunks, raccoons and foxes have been seen wandering in and around my property, chipmunks play tag in the dead trees and
the squirrels are all over the place in shades of grey, black, red and even white. The flying squirrels and bats come out at night to feast too and are such fun to watch! They are all here because I haven't destroyed their habitat, they are here because it's a place that provides what they need for nesting, eating and raising young. For that reason, because I can see it and hear it, I do believe that sparing habitat is something really important and something that should be taken into consideration whenever we, especially gardeners are using a product or thinking of using a product.
That of course is just my opinion ;) as a nutty nature loving gardener lol!
While I respect your opinion, I don't believe that a zero tolerance for disturbing the collective 'anything's' habitat is a realistic view to hold - idealistic perhaps, but not realistic. Knowing that only 14/1,000 of 1% of the harvestable peat (and again I point out there are more unharvestable acres that are too small to bother with or that are inaccessible, than there are harvestable acres) is being harvested, and someone thinks that is too much - to me that is essentially a zero tolerance policy. If, in fact, we were ACTUALLY contributing to the decimation of the few remaining peat bogs left in Canada, I could allow that your argument has traction. But we aren't.
If you owned 270,000,000 acres of harvestable peat bogs, and 300,000,000 acres of unharvestable bogs, and mining operations on only 3,780 acres (less than 6 square miles TOTAL) of peat was enough to satisfy the needs of everyone who uses peat in the US, wouldn't you share? I know I would. I'd feel guilty if I didn't. ;o)
You said, "I certainly do not believe that this planet and all it's resources were 'put here' (my emphasis added) for me to destroy at my whim ...", and I feel the same way. I'll add to what you said though. I think the resources of this planet were put here for us to use. To use wisely - yes, and to be good stewards in our approach to how we do use those resources. I cannot believe that resources were 'put here' to remain out of our reach when there IS a way to use them wisely and in a conservative fashion.
Oil, iron ore, bauxite (for aluminum), gold and silver ores ..., are all resources that require upsetting something's habitat to bring them to market, and they are assuredly in shorter reachable supply than peat, yet you and others who decry the use of peat probably haven't many misgivings about availing yourself of these sundry products. How do they differ from peat?
Check out the article on peat moss on http://www.thegardenofoz.org - I think the bigger question is whether or not peat moss is the best medium to use for a particular purpose ... vs. whether or not it's renewable. I use peat based planting formula for seed starting and for potting plants, but I feed my soil with compost.
This is an interesting discussion. I appreciate the opposing (or should I say "different") viewpoints presented here.
I remember reading a book by a British writer, Monty Don, in which he implored the reader to avoid using peat moss. After reading through this thread I decided to Google peat bogs and the United Kingdom and I came across this story (linked below) reported by the BBC.
It seems to me like the issue might not be just about whether to use peat moss but to be concerned about where it comes from. It sounds like we can extract the peat moss from Canada with fewer side effects than we can in the UK where poor management of their fewer hectares of peat bogs appears to be contributing to global warming through the release of carbon.
I agree with you, GG. Peat may not be the best for certain applications, but I think we should be allowed to make our own guilt-free decisions about whether or not we as individuals think it is appropriate. I was thinking of it as more in terms of its use in containers than as a mineral (garden) soil amendment. I never use peat in the gardens or beds - I use compost, but I DO use it extensively in containers and find it better suited to container culture than coir.
GS - something KEY in that article is this quote: "The National Trust believes (my emphasis added) this may be contributing significant quantities of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere - but says the exact amount is not known. "We can only make a 'guesstimate' at how much UK peatlands are leaking carbon ... This is very vague and the basis for the article. Terms like "What evidence there is suggests ..." suggests to me there is far too little definitive in the article and too much bending of the facts to suit a particular agenda. I don't know about you, but I would be interested in seeing real studies by independent scientists - those not on the government dole who depend on the 'chicken little' syndrome they create in order to acquire the grants that keep them in business before I make a decision.
I would allow that there is perhaps rightfully more concern for keeping the bogs intact in other parts of the world than in Canada, but I haven't really looked into the situation on other continents, so based on facts, I couldn't decide one way or the other.
Interesting discussion. I'd like to add something else to the mix:
Most "soilless" potting soils are peat based, at least what is available locally.
Peat is cheaper than coir - I just purchased a few bales of coir.
When I am asked to help someone starting out with gardening, I endeavour to stress the point of "balance in all things". When someone catches the gardening bug, I do not want to dampen their enthusiasm. While it would be ideal for the beginner to spend a year or more making compost & amending their native soil, I find this a bit unreasonable. Most folks will need to amend the existing soil, depending on what they have on site. Not everyone has leaves or grass or manure to work with. So - do what you can with what you've got & with what's available. I prefer to encourage the newbie's desire to grow food & flower, and help them learn so that the end result is good stewardship. It is my hope to turn them into composters, as it is less expensive than purchasing amendments, as well as being quite satisfying. (well - it is for me, LOL).
I have 25+ raised beds in my vegetable/cutting garden. My soil is clay-based: rich, but dense. I live outside Seattle; maritime climate. I amended with peat/manure/leaves for the first few beds.
Bringing in "topsoil" was expensive & out my way, "topsoil" is non-existent - a figment of our imagination. Those first beds provided my family with food, and still do. I rarely use peat anymore, but when there is a need, it is used, such as container culture.
Another example: I hear frequently how wrong it is to have a lawn. Yet my 3/4 acre of lawn provides me with a major component for producing compost for my 1 1/2 acres. I live in a rainy area, so watering a lawn is not necessary, except for those couple weeks we so lovingly refer to as Summer. Fertilizing is minimal - 1 application in spring. I believe it is important to consider the many facets of why & how one practices something before issuing a blanket rejection of that practice. Not everyone gardens under the same conditions, so practices will vary.
As far as not disturbing the habitat, where is the correct place to draw the line? Taken to its logical conclusion, one should not garden at all, as anything we do to effect change disturbs what is already there. Again - balance is the key.
Knowledge is a wonderful thing, as long as its benchmark is fact/logic/reason.
I use local peat moss [6 miles away]. I like it and agree with tapla. Wow! Some people are not being realistic in my opinion. The anti-peat mantra is discrediting environmentalism [radical] ...in my opinion.
Happened to be browsing this morning in one of my old books about soil, and thought about this thread.
The book title is Improving the Soil, a book in a series entitled Rodale's Successful Organic Gardening, author Erin Hynes, paperback published 1994.
I'll quote from page 88, where they have a half-page about peat moss as a soil amendment:
What it is: Peat moss is plant debris that has partially decomposed under water, without oxygen, in bogs. Peat is a finite resource because it takes a very long time to form. It has already been depleted in bogs in Ireland and northern Europe, but it is still plentiful in Canada. However, you should use peat sparingly, substituting amendments like compost and shredded leaves whenever possible.
What it does. . .
How to apply it. . .
Where to find it: Peat moss is commonly sold in bales at garden centers and discount stores. Look for Canadian peat, since Louisiana peat is often of poor quality and excessively acid.
I'm going half way into the coir. I make my own potting soil which is heavy into compost replacing at least 20% more peat moss. I have also started to use some of those water crystals. Against many opinions I do use my excellent garden soil in the mix which is 17% organic content . If those crystals hold the water as some claim I will continue to increase their use trying to reach a water every other day except for the very hot windy days.
Last year coir was only 10% of my mix. All of it goes into the compost piles at the end of the season save the amount that sticks to the root balls. That too makes it into the compost but it takes another year to get the root masses decomposed. I've done it that way for many years. The used potting soil reconstitutes itself over winter. In the fall I manage to get some genuine manure in there to. I feel it is better in the end result than any purchased potting soil I can buy.
For those who think this can not be done I have a standing invitation for their visit to see my doings anytime.
For the record - there is very little difference between the bulk density (coir is a little heavier), total water-holding ability, the water retention curve, or the longevity of peat vs coir. Coir is very low in Ca and S, and extremely high in K. It also breaks down more quickly than peat. Since the pH of coir comes in at 6.0+, there is no way to use dolomite as a Ca/Mg source if you use it as a primary component of your soil w/o raising pH too high - you should use gypsum as the Ca source, which also overcomes its S shortcomings, which means you'll need to provide Mg regularly during the life of the planting because most soluble fertilizers don't contain it. The nutrient content of coir vs peat in container media is a non-issue as well. Since, from the plant's perspective, the physical structure, the longevity, and the water retention of soil components are by far the most important considerations when deciding what you put in your soils, it would be very difficult to make a believable case for the superiority of coir over peat. If the reasons for selecting coir over peat are political, that's another issue altogether.
Doc - I always advise against using mineral soils in container media because they supply nothing needed you cannot get from any one of a number of commercially available organic or chemical micro-nutrient sources and they rob the soil of valuable aeration while increasing water retention. I'm not sure how anyone could ascertain that their soil consists of 17% organic matter because the % of organic matter in any soil is in constant flux. In any case, it's likely the organic component of a garden soil would be in extremely small particles and considered inappropriate in container media by most, and which is likely why you find yourself admittedly acting in the face of contrary opinion. The same is true of manures in container soils. In any appreciable quantities, you have the soup they quickly turn into to deal with as it clogs soil macro-pores.
Potting soil cannot reconstitute itself over winter. It continues to break down during the cold months, albeit at a reduced rate, but a soil that is breaking down into increasingly smaller particles is not being reconstituted, it is collapsing.
If someone grows in a soil that works to THEIR satisfaction, it's no clarion call to the masses that they should necessarily follow suit. Jack may think he's growing in a great soil because he hasn't yet grown in anything better, while Jill may think it horrid. There are many considerations that go into deciding what is and what isn't an appropriate soil, and it makes no sense to me to handicap (the collective) yourself by building, reusing, or buying a soil that you'll likely have to fight for control of the plants vitality because of inherent structural collapse and the accompanying out of balance, inverse relationship between water retention and aeration.
The only part of an NPK soil test I use is derived at 17% organic content as reported by Pennsylvania State University. The rest of my testing is biological content testing. I have tested both my soil and my aerobic compost tea for biological content when deemed to be a needed expense. When I see the lowly worm still alive in my pots when returned to the compost in the fall I doubt that there is any soil there that will not improve with the association of compost and compost teas. There are no man made chemicals in my potting soil save some that may have come in airborn.
I just read recently that coir does not break down near as quickly as peat. I see little difference between peat and coir. Coir is a sustainable product. Coir may release the water it holds a bit less efficiently that peat.
The rest of your comments do not relate to any good organic management of soil I have seen.
When the elements of compost go into or onto a patch raw it just takes longer for that organic material to go through the process moving to compost, to humic acids and beyond with the bacteria of the plants making and maintenance to finish the job. No matter what the source or amount within reason of the organic content it is constantly converting with help from the biological content of that patch. The structural collapse you mention is the natural building of the soil as is well known and intellegently explained in many biological studies. If any literal collapse is in play it is not the organic content of a healthy soil fueling the collapse. It would be tracable to the biocides ( manmade fertilizer, insecticide, miticides and fungicides). It is the same old issue. One group of elements build the biological content when used properly while the harsh manmade chemicals harm or kill the biology of the soil in all instances. When the soil is bombed with chemicals the structure collapses sooner or later because the organic content has been burned out by the chemicals.
I see no differences where the healthy soil is put into use. If you have a healthy good medium one does not need pill bottle management. Which organic mass one adds to create structure makes little difference. All organic mass that will rot returns eventually to very near a PH range of 6.8 - 7.2. That is again...anything that was once living and that can rot.
The whole world will eventually return to organic management or flat out die of starvation for lack of ability to sustain life with wholesome food products. We in America for the most part have killed off our healty soil already...nearly all of the commercial farms are a sorry mess. What we replaced reasonable organic management with (chemical fertilizers) produces food of far less wholesome value and ruins the soil to boot. We are in horrible shape to say the least. I sincerely hope we have not gone to far in the wrong direction. Our latest claim to fame is the fact that nine of our worst weeds have become imune to Roundup while many more are at various stages of becoming imune. This fact right beside an agricultural community striving to make Roundup immune food plants. Who boy...aren't we an intellegent bunch?
Like you, I maintain an all organic approach to husbandry in my gardens and beds, but I've found that approach less than ideal in/for container culture, which is what I limited my comments to and will continue to. I didn't think the discussion was about gardens, farming, mineral soils, round-up ... the inclusion of which tends to cloud the issue, or was additionally being limited to strictly organic management practices for container culture.
While structurally collapsing organic soil components are indeed requisite fuel that feeds the soil biota helping to make in situ soils better, they are just that in containers - structurally collapsing matter ... accompanied by increased water retention and decreased air retention. The unbalancing of this inverse relationship between water retention and aeration is undoubtedly the single most prevalent cause of the failure of container plantings. This relationship is also much more difficult to maintain (or even create) in a productive range in containers when soil particles are initially small (garden/topsoil, compost - finished or unfinished, manures ...) and the organic component breaks down quickly.
I find it curious that you dismiss my offerings with the comment they don't relate to any good organic management of soil you have ever seen. If one holds a view that is politically motivated insofar as their approach to container culture, there really isn't much to discuss because the choices end up being based on individual values, and who should argue against the values of another? What IS good management of container media, and why are we obligated to ensure that that management adheres to another's view of what is sound? Further, why should we feel obligated to conform to another individual's self-chosen organic practices?
If one's mind is not made up, and the person considering different perspectives is results oriented, placing a measure of value on things like the relative certainty of success, there is more than enough reason to consider focusing on building your soils structurally durable enough to ensure adequate aeration for the intended life of the planting. I contend that this is very difficult to achieve with combinations including garden/topsoil, compost, manure; and though one person may be perfectly happy with the results of growing in these soils, I have seen through years of experience and thousands of conversations about soils, that the overwhelming majority will not be satisfied.
Because mixes of garden/topsoil, compost, manure would be far less expensive than mixes of pine bark, peat (or coir), perlite, you would think it would be a foregone conclusion that nurseries and greenhouses would grow in it by virtual economic necessity, yet they do not. They are willing to build a (actually, they usually pay for a pre-made) mix that usually contains some mixture of conifer bark, peat/coir, and perlite/vermiculite. What they use depends on how long the plant material will be in the soil before sale, but even bedding plants that go to sale in a matter of weeks rarely use compost, manure, garden/topsoil as a single component of their soils, much less in combination.
Al you are an intellegent being. Green houses are dealing with a medium that only needs to hold up for a few weeks when we consider gardener's and market supply each spring. By the time these plants get to the big box retailers they are pot bound or within another week or so will be beyond the point of much value.
One seventeen acre greenhouse site working at the next level producing rooted cuttings of hundreds of landscape plants uses soly Pennsylvania Peat. This fine organization still is turning his longest held rooted cuttings in about a year. That would be his four inch liners of Rodys and Azalias right along with many hardwood foundation plant rooted cuttings.
The next level is growing them on in pots, cans and buckets to be consumer ready again mostly at the big box stores and retail nusery outlets. Balled and Burlap I believe is totally grown in soil. Most of the larger pots, cans and buckets are ammended soil growing mediums.
The largest wholesale nursery in our area is totally grown in soil organically managed because that has proven to build the fastest and most healthy plants for them. They are so confident concerning the biological success of their products that Mycorrhiza is alive and well in all of their wholesale liners. All is a very big word but I would go so far as to say most understand that a transition to total soil support is greatly helped in the presence of living Mycorrhiza. They also know that the soil in many backyard gardens and foundation area leave a whole lot to be desired.
Compost piles containing the basics: manures, elements of compost, compost and added trace minerals are now showing up on farm an in farm supply sources. They can not make enough but they are getting better at cooperating to get more of the excellent compost up and ready for the farms and backyard gardeners alike. The back yard gardener may no longer be the largest compost producers. We have lots of cattle so manure that can be used and used profitably is on our fields, in our gardens and composts.
There seems to be no relationship what so ever between how they are started and how they are grown. If this applies to commercial growers and commercial nusery practices why then would we think for one moment that a backyard gardener potting for a patio grow would not benefit with this knowlege?
What makes a bark/peat-based soil any less organic than a compost/manure/topsoil soil? Isn't it MORE organic? ;o)
I've tried to stay focused on the STRUCTURE of container soils and why I feel most growers will have great difficulty growing in the mix you described, but the conversation seems to be straying to issues that don't bear on the original.
When you said, "For those who think this can not be done I have a standing invitation for their visit to see my doings anytime.", I kind of figured you were sort of sticking your chin out and inviting conversation (said pleasantly in a conversational tone.), so I obliged, but I have no desire to include lots of tertiary issues, because they are time consuming & really not pertinent to the chat.
I guess if I had to summarize, I would say that a container soil that IS well-aerated, and will REMAIN well-aerated for the life of the planting will be much easier to grow in and will produce more robust plant specimens than container soils that start out heavy (water-retentive), and the basis of which are any combination of topsoil, compost, and manure.
Generally, when mineral soils (topsoil/sand) are included in production media, it is in part to add weight. It also increases CEC, which is not of that much importance in container culture. It is rarely included at more than a 10-15% fraction. If compost is finished, the particulate size is small - and it will be water retentive when compared to other materials like ground or partially composted conifer bark. If it is not finished, it will continue to collapse in soils and N immobilization can or will be a consideration. When compost IS used in production media, it is generally used in combination with conifer bark and at a fraction of less than 20% in combination with sphagnum peat (i.e. compost + peat =