FOR years there has been a reduction in the use of peat to grow plants in as a substrate.

For generations of gardeners using peat was (and still is) the norm. However, in recent years the extraction of peat for use in the sector has been recognised as a process that carves up the natural habitat of peat bogs.

The complexity of the wildlife that exists in any ecosystem is a finely balanced entity and removing it to grow plants in is on the way out, albeit very slowly. This is a debate that has regularly bubbled away for decades and I can remember when I started out gardening in the early 90s reading about it everywhere.

Last month you might have heard Bunny Guinness from Radio 4’s Gardeners Question Time say on the Today Programme how using peat to grow plants was the least of our problems as a society and this led to something of a backlash from all corners of the media world.

From a personal perspective I see no logical (or ethical) reason to extract peat when there are such good alternatives available. Frustratingly, for the wider public these excellent alternatives are often in the shadows as the largest manufacturers of peat-based composts still have the monopoly on the shelves and pallet-flanked entrances of our major supermarkets and garden centres.

On the nursery we have been using a peat free compost for the last five years, it is used to grow everything including the tens of thousands of seedlings produced every season. Our compost is made by Melcourt ( from a wood-based product made in the UK.

It is a joy to use and we were struck the first year of using it how much better the plants grew compared to the previous compost we used that was peat-based. Another manufacturer closer to home who has been quietly, but doggedly, making a stunning impact on the retail sector is Dalefoot Composts ( who operate from a farm in the north of the county. Their story is worthy of an article alone but in essence they use local ingredients including bracken, fleece and manure to create a growing medium that is very special indeed.

A word of caution, there has (and still is) some absolute rubbish pedalled as peat free compost, often the last thing you’d want to grow anything in. As with all composts, if it appears cheap then there will be a reason. In the short term it’s a bargain, in the long-term you get poor results.

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