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Peat moss in the garden: not as green as you want to be

I was clicking around my online issue of the New York Times recently when I got "schooled." There in the Opinion section was an editorial scolding me for something I've been doing all my gardening career ... using peat moss to enhance my soil. (Read the editorial.)

According to the smartypantses at the Times, peat is a carbon sink, so digging up peat bogs to get at the moss releases carbon into the atmosphere. As a substitute for peat in the garden, they propose the use of compost. But, since peat moss is an important component of my compost production, I'm probably going to have to look elsewhere for greener solutions. (The editorial also refers to the use of peat moss as "ground cover," which I assume is a reference to mulch. I've never used peat moss as mulch and can't imagine it working very well for that purpose.)

I try to be as green as possible in my garden, but I'm no angel. I use fluorescent lights to help my seedlings develop; I water from my well when my rain barrel isn't enough (or is that "enuf"?); and, I've been known to cheat and add a little chemical fertilizer to give my tomatoes a boost late in the summer when the organic stuff just isn't cutting it. And, now I'm planning to build a hoop house, covered in petroleum-derived polyethylene, when I guess I should be using stardust and whispered dreams instead.

Since I've already bought about 2 cubic feet of the deadly stuff, I'm going to monitor my use of peat moss carefully this year, while I look for a substitute. The first place I'll try to eliminate it is in my compost pile. Peat moss does such a nice job of providing organic material, aeration and drainage to my compost pile that I'm going to miss it. But, I suppose I can just substitute some more "brown" material and some small twigs. It will take a bit more work, but I think I'm up to it.

Soil improvement is another matter. I'm not sure I can produce enough compost to take up the slack for the missing peat moss. And compost can get pretty compressed without something like peat moss to help produce some friability.

Anyone have any ideas on green products to use in place of peat moss for soil amendment? I particularly like the way peat moss helps retain soil moisture in my raised bed, so its replacement is going to have to serve that function. What say ye?

Posted: April 18, 2012

Comments

Comment: 

Are you composting leaves from your trees?  I recall from my long-ago boyhood that at my grandparents' lake place (Forest Lake, 1930s) all of the leaves were raked and piled in a huge pile back in the woods.  That's the pile we went to to dig for worms for fishing bait.  As I recall, what we were turning over was a rich black slimy substance mixed with partially-decomposed leaves.

Comment: 

I've heard of using coir as a substitute for peat moss in seed-starting mix (http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/blend-your-own-seed-starting-mix). Not sure how well it would scale to compost.

Comment: 

Coir,a product made from the fibers of the out shell of the coconut, seems to have a lot of the characteristics of peat, without the damaging environmental issues. It's a bit pricier, but I'll give it a try.