According To Seabrook ... Consistency still evades peat alternative

My apologies for returning to the subject of seed/cutting and potting composts sold in the garden trade. Peat-reduced and peat-free mixes just get steadily worse and the now standard practice of using all manner of diluents impoverishes good sphagnum peat.

Every time I write on the subject, I get comments from all sources encouraging me to continue to speak out. Why must it be me alone who sticks his head above the parapet only to have it kicked by people with vested interests in originally organic, then environmental and now sustainability issues?

Two reports in The Sun earlier this year brought yet more evidence of composts unfit for purpose being sold to unsuspecting gardeners and growers. We now know that claims have been lodged by growers in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Surrey for crops lost to polluted compost.

One retailer had 12 pallets of multipurpose compost replaced because the originals were not fit for sale. A bulb grower trialled ten composts and only one gave desired results.

Even if gardeners find a bag and brand that is acceptable, chances are the mix will have changed by the time they buy another bag. This year when bags were opened they smelt strongly of raw manure, and seeds and plants potted on into the compost failed. When this was reported to the company, the customer was told: "If the compost was placed in a wheelbarrow or similar and turned regularly the smell would disappear."

It defies logic to use fossil fuel to collect green waste from suburban streets, use more fossil fuel to compost it, make polythene bags to hold the material and then use more fossil fuel taking it back from whence it came. Air-dried peat can be compressed, uses less fossil fuel to make into compost, to make polythene to hold bales and less for transportation.

On top of that, sphagnum moss is growing in the northern hemisphere faster than we are using it in potting compost and it is therefore sustainable.

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster.

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