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Increasingly, gardeners are looking to use peat-free compost. This is because the extraction of peat can harm the environment. But what is peat-free compost?
Peat-free compost is an organic form of fertilizer. Natural materials like sawdust and coconut butter are used to replicate the aeration and water retention that is associated with peat-based composts. This compost is widely used and is appropriate for most gardens.
Peat-free compost can bring a huge range of benefits. For example, it will be able to protect plants against high temperatures and provide nutrients. Keep reading to learn more about peat-free compost and how you can use it.
Why Do People Choose Peat-Free Compost?
Historically, peat played a huge role in composting. This ingredient was used because it could improve the water retention of the soil and allow more air to reach the root systems.
But over recent years, many gardeners have wanted to choose a mix that doesn’t contain any peat. To understand why we need to first know a little about the way that peat is made and extracted.
Environmental Damage Caused by Peat Extraction
Peat is formed in bogs from the partially decomposed remains of plants and animals. This process will take thousands of years.
As a result, the process of extracting peat has proved to be environmentally damaging; here are some of the impacts it can create:
- Releases greenhouse gases. Peatlands are a major carbon sink. This allows them to absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. By destroying these environments, carbon dioxide will be released. It’s estimated that digging up peat releases 11 million tonnes of carbon each year. For context, this is more than three coal-fired power stations would produce.
- Can lead to flooding. Peat forms in boggy areas along the waterways. By extracting the peat and altering these areas will change the flow of water and might increase the risk of flooding.
- Impact on wildlife. Digging up peat also has a profound impact on the animals that live in those areas.
Because of this, some countries in the world have initiated a ban on peat. For example, the United Kingdom hopes to phase out this ingredient by 2024. Even if your country hasn’t banned peat, you should still be able to find peat-free compost mixes.
Are Peat-Free Composts as Effective As Mixes That Use Peat?
Hopefully, you have a better idea of why people are choosing not to use peat. The good news is that the peat-free alternatives are just as effective. They will use a range of natural ingredients to replicate the role that peat played.
How To Know If Compost Is Peat-Free?
If you want to switch to peat-free compost, you will need to look for a specifically marked peat-free bag. If this isn’t on the bag’s label, it will likely contain peat. If you prefer, there should be ingredients listed on the bag. Or you can opt to make your own compost.
What Is Used Instead of Peat?
As we mentioned, peat is primarily used to help retain water and help aerate the compost. There are a few ingredients that can perform a similar function; these can include:
- Coconut fiber
It should be noted that the type of ingredients and quantities used will often depend on the manufacturer. Often, they will make up one to two-thirds of the mix. However, in the right proportions, the results of the peat-free compost will be very similar to those using peat.
Lowering The pH
Sometimes, gardeners will use peat compost as a soil amendment. This is designed to lower the soil pH levels, to make the ground more acidic. Sometimes further ingredients might need to be added to peat-free compost to do this. For example, you might want to use sulfur.
What Are the Benefits Of Using Peat-Free Compost?
There are a few reasons why you might want to consider adding peat-free compost to your garden; these include:
- Environmentally friendly. You won’t be supporting the removal of peat from natural bogs and the environmental damage this practice can cause.
- Retaining moisture within the soil. Compost can help stop your ground from draining out. This is particularly important during the summer months.
- Helps positive microbes thrive. Positive microbes are required to help your plants access the nutrients from the soil.
- Limit the growth of weeds. If you cover your garden with a layer of compost, it will be harder for weeds to gain a foothold.
However, there are a few downsides to bear in mind. First, peat-free compost might be more expensive than mixes that contain peat. They will also be a little harder to source.
If you want, you can save some money by making the compost yourself. However, this will be a more time-consuming process. Often, it can take a few weeks for the compost to be ready. Plus, there is a chance that you will be inviting pest species, like rats, into your yard. However, you can take precautions to avoid this.
Finding The Right Type of Peat-Free Compost
There are plenty of types of peat-free compost that you can choose from. There are a few elements you should consider to make sure that you are finding the right one for your needs.
Consider the NPK Content
One of the most important things to think about is the amount of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium (NPK) within the fertilizer. These are the key nutrients that plants will need to grow. However, each type of plant will require a slightly different level. The NPK ratio should be listed on the label when you are buying compost from a hardware store or landscape center. The NPK will tell you how concentrated these nutrients are.
When considering the NPK levels, it’s best to think about the type of plants you want to grow. For example, when growing flowers, it might be better to choose a peat-free compost with a higher level of phosphorous. This is what will encourage them to produce more spectacular blooms.
The next thing to consider is the pH level of the compost. Most of the time, it will be either neutral or slightly alkaline. This is the range that most plants will prefer. If you have plants that prefer acidic soils, you will often need to use an ericaceous compost or find a way of treating the soil to lower the pH level.
It might be a good idea to test your soil before you add the compost. As we mentioned, compost can sometimes be used to amend the soil, bringing the pH levels into a range that is more suited to growing plants.
Other Elements That You Should Consider
While these are some of the most important considerations, here are some of the other things that you should think about:
- Size of the bag. Avoid buying too much peat-free compost. While it won’t expire, over time, it will start to turn stale and lose its nutritional value.
- Inspect the material. If possible, inspect the compost before you buy it. The material should be a rich brown and crumble in your hands. It should also have an earthy aroma. You shouldn’t see any uncompostable materials like plastic, metal, or eggshells.
- Salt levels. This is harder to test. But you should choose a compost that has low levels of soluble salts. High levels of soluble salts can potentially be harmful to seedlings.
Tips To Make Peat-Free Compost at Home
Of course, you don’t have to visit a store for your compost. You can make it at home. Here are the steps that you should be following:
- Set up an area for compost. The first thing to do is set up an area that can be used for your compost. Ideally, this should be a shady site. You might also want to take some precautions to protect the site from rats and other predators. If you want, you can use a compost bin.
- Start with a base of bulky items. Next, you will need to create a layer of bulky items, like larger sticks. This will be the base of your compost pile.
- Add organic materials. This can be anything from garden waste, like leaves, to kitchen waste. Sometimes, you might want to use some manure to add more nutrients to the pile.
- Keep it damp and turn it regularly. If left by itself, the compost pile will get quite hot. Because of this, you will need to keep watering it and turning it frequently.
- Monitor and test. You might want to test the compost regularly to make sure that it is staying at the right pH level. You will know when it’s ready when the compost turns a dark brown color and has a crumbly texture.
Making compost can be a little tricky, with a few elements to keep in mind. This video goes into more depth about the process.
How To Use Peat-Free Compost in Your Garden
Once you have created or purchased peat-free compost, it’s time to start using it in your garden. Let’s look at some of the things that you should keep in mind as you are doing this.
Choosing The Ideal Time to Apply Peat-Free Compost
It’s most common to add compost to your garden at the start of spring, just as the temperatures are starting to rise. This is when most plants will begin their growth cycle. As a result, they will need to have access to the soil nutrients that can be provided through compost.
How Much Compost Should You Use?
The next thing to consider is the amount of compost that you want to use. This will often depend on the plant. Here are some tips you can use:
- Using compost as mulch. One of the most popular options is to use compost as a form of mulch. In this case, you should spread the compost around the garden. You will need to have a few centimeters covering your plants.
- Adding compost to a potting mix. If you are planting into a pot or garden bed, you can add some compost to the potting mix. You can mix in one-third compost.
The good news is that it’s hard to use too much compost in your garden. Often, the biggest limit is the amount of compost you can buy or make.
What To Do After Adding Compost?
After you have applied compost to your garden, it’s best to give a generous watering. Over the course of the growing season, you might want to add some fertilizer. This ensures that the plants have the nutrients they need to grow.
Just be careful to avoid using too much fertilizer. This can lead to the plants getting burned from the high nutrient load and might lead to the leaves becoming discolored or the plant exhibiting stunted growth.
Other Ways To Use Compost
There are a few other ways that you can use compost within your garden. Here are some ideas that you might want to explore:
- Stepped compost. In this case, you will need to mix some compost into a bucket of water. Use one part of compost for every three parts of water. Give it a few days to soak. Then, you will have a nutrient-rich mixture that you can use in your garden.
- Reviving dry soil. If your soil gets too dry, it will be harder to grow your plants. To combat this, you can add a wetting agent to your peat-free compost. Then, you can mix it into the top layer of soil. You can finish by adding a wetting agent to the top of the area.
Many gardeners are opting to eschew the use of peat for environmental purposes. The good news is that there is an ever-growing range of peat-free composts. Because of this, you will be able to find peat-free compost that will suit your type of garden. Or you can choose to make your own version at home.