For Peat’s Sake…

Biodynamic Gardening Club Events 2022 – Growing your biodynamic gardening know-how
22nd January 2020
The satisfaction of saving your own seeds
21st July 2021

Gardening without Peat 

Developing alternatives to using peat is a top priority for all of us. We’ve put together the following guidelines and some useful links  to help you achieve this in your own garden, allotment  or balcony. The momentum for peat- free gardening (and farming) is growing fast – which is why we urge everyone to find out more and come to their own decisions on which  peat -free alternatives they feel are best. And to make your own!

Peat – free composts

Homemade composts: For gardeners who are able to, the only truly sustainable and by far the cheapest solution is to begin to make your own sowing and potting compost mixtures. This is not difficult and there is a wealth of advice on YouTube and websites to help you. This excellent  feature from Garden Organic which includes advice on growing peat-free is a great place to start https://www.forpeatssake.org.uk/peat-free-growing

Bought composts: The good news is there are already several peat-free sowing/ potting/mulching composts on the market that use alternative substrates:- 

 Sylvagrow ( fine bark, wood fibre, coir ) https://www.melcourt.co.uk/products/gardener/peat-free-composts

Fertile Fibre , SA certified organic (coir, vermiculite, sterilised loam) https://www.fertilefibre.com 

Dalefoot composts,SA certified organic ( bracken, sheeps wool, comfrey) https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk

New Horizon peat -free composts ( bark, wood fibre, coir) are also available from garden centres and the Co-op. 

Morland Gold, SA certified organic composts, based in Yorkshire  do contain peat (plus leafmould) , but from sustainable UK sources:  “ particles of peat and leaf mould from lakes and dams, where they have collected, having been naturally washed into rivers and streams by rainwater. Using a specialised water filtration system, we process these particles into a dark, fine medium. https://moorlandgold.co.uk  

  • Finding the best peat-free bought compost for you is a matter of trial and error. As Charles Dowding pointed out  recently,  no matter how much manufacturers try and achieve consistency they can vary slightly in performance from one  season to  the next.
  • The Horticultural Industry is developing a responsible sourcing index, based on  six criteria: energy use, water use, social compliance, habitat & diversity, pollution, and resource use efficiency. Though this will be a valuable guide, making your own has to be the best way to ‘tread lightly on the planet’ (and avoids transport !) 
  • Coir, a waste product (the dried outer husk) from coconuts, is currently the most readily available inexpensive lightweight alternative to peat; for  preference, choose coir derived from certified organic coconut farms.There is some debate and misinformation about how ‘sustainable’ coir is. Like peat, unless you live in a country where it’s  grown such as Sri Lanka & India, it needs to be  imported.

Storing BD preps

Biodynamic preparations are the cornerstone of biodynamics. Unlike all other gardening products, chemical or organic, they are used in tiny amounts and have subtle powers.  

Because of this it is vital to store them correctly, both to preserve their innate special qualities but also protect them from all forms of radiation ( electro-magnetic, UV, etc.). 

Why is peat recommended to store the preps, and what are the alternatives? 

Almost 100 years ago, Rudolph Steiner envisioned the preps so farmers could increase the health and vitality of their soils and plants, and make their own on their farms. He foresaw that electromagnetic forces would increase vastly, and indicated peat be used to shield and protect them from these. This is primarily why peat has traditionally been the medium of choice to protect the preps. Peat is also substantially ‘inert’ in the sense of being stable – it’s also lightweight and long lasting when dry so does not need replacing , so has been ideal for farmers who make preps in bulk and thus have to store and protect them for up to 12 months.

Research is undergoing to find alternatives  – in Brazil, for example, they use dried bracken, and in India coir, which research suggests also protects the preps from undesirable radiation. The pressing need to go peat free and keep peat in the ground to help combat climate change is fuelling other innovative solutions. 

Fortunately, gardeners need  not wait. We only need very small quanitities of the preps and do not have the same storage requirements as farmers, and thus have other options. We can also experiment with renewable compostable garden materials at hand. Small quantities of preps are also best used as soon as possible.

The key is to store preps in a material which is as inert /stable as possible ; soil and home made compost are teeming with microbial life, so are not suitable. Our BD gardening adviser, Hans-Gunther Kern, suggests the following:  

1. Composted moss grown in lawns – next best to peat re ‘inertness’ once broken down. 

2. Composted bracken – second to moss, also virtually inert once broken down. Trials are being conducted in Germany.

3. Leafmould – oak or  beech is best. 

4.Sub – soil : dig down until the colour changes from rich brown top soil to  the unimproved light coloured layer reflecting the  base mineral rocks. 

5. Composted wood shavings.

If  this is not possible, use one of the bought composts  mentioned above; or responsibly sourced/organic coir. 

Guidelines  to keeping and storing  your preps 

  • As a general rule, buy your BD preps  just before you want to use them; and use them quickly within 3 months.
  • With the exception of  the sunshine prep ( horn silica), which is dry, the preps will arrive slightly moist to the touch; check they do not start to dry out  – if they do,  moisten with a  few drops of  rain/filtered water, mixing well. They should be only just damp – so a couple of drops in the packet or in a glass jar with them is generally all that is needed.
  • Store all BD preps well away ( a minimum distance of 60 cms) from all electro-magnetic fields (EMF) – TV’s, mobiles, radio, micro-waves, etc. including  electric cables in sheds or your home. 
  • Because of its affinity for light, store horn silica in glass jars in sunlight; this prep is the exception and has an indefinite shelf life as long as correctly stored. 
  • Keep all other preps – soil activator ( horn manure); compost preps;  mausdorf starter; and the  dried barrel prep – somewhere cool and dark, in small glass /earthenware jars with loose fitting lids in a snug fitting box. 

What if I need to store them for longer or want to give them added protection?

  • As we’ve suggested, where possible try and use material on your holding/garden, or what is local to you. If that is not possible, then use one of the composts/coir mentioned above.  
  • You do not need much: bury them by surrounding  them on all sides (plus top and bottom) approx. 2-3cms thick in their box. 

Join the campaign !

Along with our colleagues at Garden Organic and organisations like the RHS, National Trust and the country’s leading peat-free advocates including Monty Don and Dave Goulson, we fully support their campaign  For Peat’s Sake https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/news/peats-sake-campaign We hope you will join them, too. 

References
https://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/alternatives-to-peat/
https://www.thecompostshop.co.uk/peat-free-compost
https://earthfriendlygardener.net/2017/03/30/gardening-peat-free-compost-which-best-buy-sylvagrow-seed-container-fertile-fibre/
https://moorlandgold.co.uk

Digging the Dirt on Peat
Read our feature here https://www.biodynamic.org.uk/digging-the-dirt-on-peat/