In my last post, I mentioned that I am trying to cut down on my use of commercially produced compost. I’d like not to have to use any at all, but that is currently not practical. As a child, I can remember my father buying big bales of peat to use in the garden. These days we know how much damage peat extraction is doing to the environment – not only does it led to the destruction of rare habitats, it also causes erosion and leads to the release of enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Most of the peat we use in the UK comes from Ireland, the Baltic states and Finland; so, whilst we are protecting habitats here at home, gardeners are contributing to the destruction of peat bogs across other parts of the world (amateur gardeners are responsible for 60% of the peat used in the UK) . My dad also used John Innes compost, which is soil based. However, beware of reckless purchase of such composts – I bought a couple of bags a few years ago and got them home to discover that they also contained peat – I was mortified.

There was a bit of a media hew-ha last year when Alan Titchmarsh (well known TV gardener in the UK) said that he would not give up using peat because there was no alternative when growing some plants. I, and many other gardeners (both celebrity and amateur) beg to differ – I have not used peat products for many years and this has not stopped me growing whatever I fancied… although, I have to admit to never having tried to cultivate a bog garden of my own!

I have used a variety of commercially produced composts over the years – some I liked better than others, but none have been a failure in all respects. I’ve used one based on the waste produced from brewing Guinness (can’t remember what that was called – it was a long time ago), one from cow muck (a bit sticky), some from peat particles collected from water treatment plants (Moorland Gold) plus a variety of coir-based composts. I like coir in many ways (my favourite is Fertile Fibre) but my issue with it is ‘compost miles’; I really don’t like the idea of my compost (despite originating from a waste product) having had to be shipped so far round the world (from Sri Lanka in the case of Fertile Fibre). I do occasionally buy coir still, but in order to minimise emissions and transport I buy the compressed bales… that way all that is being moved around is the coir itself – the air, moisture and nutrients I add when it arrives in my garden, the latter in the form of ‘worm wee’ from my wormery and the water from my water-butts.

But I am lazy, and I do like to have a bag of ready-to-use potting compost; I want something that isn’t peat based, is made in the UK and is produced from waste or renewable resources. And so, these days, I buy wool compost, which seems to have a good texture and an excellent capacity to retain water. It’s made – as the name says – from wool, but also contains bracken (plenty of that here in the UK) It seems to be the best option for me, but I encourage you to research what is available in your area and make the most of local products that avoid the use of peat.

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