For anyone reading our posts, you will know that we are always trying to find ways to reduce the environmental impact of our business. This is ephasised by reducing, reusing and recycling, wherever possible. Composts have been high on our agenda from a number of years.

Peat has long been identified as a valuable natural resource that is host to an important and unique ecosystem. Traditional horticulturalists have argued that the peat bogs in Ireland and eastern Europe have massive reserves and that there is no suitable alternative to peat as a suitable growing media for raising young plants. That mindset has been slowly erroded with the dawning realisation of the importance of carbon as a causation of global warming. It turns out that as well supporting a important important ecosystem, peat is also a masive store of carbon, on a similar scale to fosil fuels and, dare I say it, the tropical rain forests. Even amoung climate warming sceptics, there can be few who think that cutting down tropical rain forest is a good thing. As well as being the lungs of the Earth, fixing CO2 into Oxygen, they have a massive store of carbon in the trunks, branches and roots of the trees. The same is true of peat bogs. Left undisturbed, they act as a living organism, hosting a vast array of their own flora and fauna and steadily fixing carbon into peat at a rate of about 1 inch every 1,000 years. The amount of carbon trapped in peat bogs is staggering and while oil and coal have a life cycle 250m years longer than peat, the damage caused by removing peat and draining peat bogs is many many times more than is immediately apparent. As soon as the delicate balance of moss, organic matter, water and oxygen is disturbed, carbon trapped for eons goes into terminal decline and while not necessarily immediately, it is irrevocably lost to the atmosphere. Not just from the peat that has been extracted but also from the open and drained landscape that is left behind.

When considering whether to use a peat based compost, ask yourself the question “Would you be happy to cut down the rainforest if it made your gardening a bit easier or cheaper?” If your answer is “No”, then you need to stop using peat now.

Over the last 20 years, Governements and the peat industry have known the damage that peat extraction is doing to the environment and slow measures have been taken to reduce the amount of peat in garden composts. This had several effects. It has reduced the quality of many composts because they incorporate green waste or low quality alternatives and even with a reduction of peat by upto 40% or more, the corresponding increase in the consumption of garden composts has meant that peat extraction has not fallen as fast as hoped. A few years ago, most peat used in British composts came from Ireland. Ireland has recently banned peat extraction completely and it is expected that the British governement will eventually do the same. Over the last 5 years we had noticed an increase demand for peat free composts and last year about 60% of composts that we sold were peat free. There was a problem though. Our supplier was local (we like local) but as a peat extractor themselves, we felt they were not as committed to peat free products as they were to their peat based range. The composts had become rather coarse and hot. The heat comes from recycled material that has not fully composted, This can result in high conductivity (a high concentration of nutrients) that inhibit growth in small plants and seedlings. If we wanted to go peat free, we needed a company that had more commitment and experience in peat free composts. You can read more about the environmental impact of peat in this blog wriiten by a friend of ours.

Two years ago we approached Melcourt Industries as a prospective new supplier. We had experience of their peat free products from as long ago as 20 years ago but Melcourt has been producting peat free products for twice that long. They are now the industry leaders in the peat free world and at last, after 2 years of uncertain production and sourcing of materials, the installation of a third bagging line has meant that they are now able to supply us with their full range of composts.

Melcourt are the Rolls Royce of peat free composts, they hold a Royal Warrant and many of their products are certified as RHS approved. Their composts are far more processed than almost all competitors, meaning that they are finer in texture and the closest alternative to peat we have ever seen. Most importantly, their professional range, called SilvaGrow has no green waste added at all. This means the conductivity is much lower than what we have been used to and is far more suited to growing young and delicate plants and seedlings. Their range of composts is extensive and we have stocked a very similar variety to that you will be used to. Of course the names have changed but we can help explain what each compost is suited for or you can read about them on their every detailed website.

So what is in their composts? In general, it is bark, wood and coir from sustainable resources. Greenwaste is in a few products, such as their soil improver and the budget brand of multipurpose but by choosing the SilvaGrow brand, you will be certain that there is no green waste included. There is a Tub & Basket compost, with added wetter for water retention, ericaceous compost and a full range of John Innes alternative. There is even an Organic brand that includeds seaweed as the source of nurients. Quality doen’t come cheap but we have already noticed that their product is far superior in many aspects to what we have been used to. There is no slump (compaction) in the bag and the compost seems to go a lot further as a result. Luckily, their rrp’s leave us some room to discount, so please check out the multi-buy discounts. So far we have had nothing but good comments and even a few congratulations for stocking Melcourt.

For those gardeners who have previously suffered at the hands of a poor quality peat free compost, either because of coarseness, conductivity, heat or reduced moisture retention, please give the Melcourt products a try. We don’t think you will be dissapointed. We would love to hear back from customers about their experience with this new range.

Look out too for a new range of peat free plants that will be grown for us by one of our nursery suppliers. We will be highlighting this range when it comes available in a few weeks time and it will be very interesting to see how the plants compare to those grown conventionally. Like fossil fules, peat has a very limited life and we should welcome and adapt to the new world. Lets hope it’s a better one?

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