As part of the England Peat Action Plan, the government has announced the intention to ban the sale of all peat-based compost in garden centres by 2024. This brings into even sharper focus the need for growers to look at peat alternatives.
Fargro has been working with hundreds of growers to trial peat-free mixes in preparation for going 100% peat-free. It’s important to understand there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the grower. Every crop has individual characteristics and requirements that require careful consideration when transitioning to peat-free growing.
Developing new peat-free mixes
Our growing media and nutrition expert Sean Whitworth has selected three peat-free mixes containing alternatives to peat. The sustainable ingredients in these mixes ensure they are future-proofed with no one ingredient taking centre stage.
The mixes have been trialled by customers growing a broad range of crops, such as bedding plants, salad crops and hardy nursery stock.
Pairing mixes with existing infrastructure
An important consideration in all the trials was fitting these mixes to match the existing infrastructure in a particular nursery. For example, what irrigation system the grower was using and the effect this may have on the leaching of nutrients, what guidelines had to be followed to meet certifications, and what the specifications for the end product were.
Once the trials were underway, all efforts were focused on adapting and replacing nutrition, irrigation and husbandry within the confines of the existing infrastructure to ensure an equivalent product to the peat-grown crop was created.
Trials have been running since March 2020 and early indications show that, in some cases, we have seen a more robust crop with a stronger rooting system compared to plants grown in peat. It is thought that the structure of the peat-free mix is more open, with a higher air-filled porosity, which has led to improved root development.
Maintaining proper plant nutrition levels has been the key factor in ensuring success. The differences between peat-based and non-peat based growing media can mean that growers have to rethink how they achieve good nutrition. It’s important to work alongside growers and to understand their particular circumstances to achieve this.
The three mixes selected by Sean have distinct characteristics: one mix has a high base-level of fertilisation; one has a slow-release nitrogen source; and the final mix includes DCM organic fertilisers. We work alongside growers to see which mix will suit their situation best and offer small-batch trials to ensure they have the confidence that they are using the correct mix for them.
From our recent grower trials, we are pleased to say that things are consistently heading in the right direction. We have seen impressive water retention with good air-filled porosity and good rooting within the crops, which puts the peat and peat-free mix on the same level without any pitfalls.
Giving growers peace of mind
Growers need the confidence that a product will meet specifications across the board, from product quality to shelf life. We know it is not only about getting it right at the nursery, the product also needs to perform in the long term and continue to look its best on the shop floor. Shelf trials thus far have been positive, being comparable to the peat-based growing media controls.
Where to from here?
Trials are continuing across a broad spectrum of growers and we are now commencing trials on crops that require longer growing time frames. Some customers are already moving towards 100% peat-free, due to pressure from their supply chain, and we are ready to support them with this transition.
To find out more about these trials click here or if you would like more information, please contact Sean Whitworth, Fargro Growing Media and Fertiliser Specialist on 01903 256856 or mobile 07788 929796
3 peat-free mixes
Mix One: Jiffy Growing Media Pot Mix
pH 5.7 EC 1.1 – Wood fibre: 0.40m3, Coco pith: 0.35m3, Bark fraction 0: 0.15m3, Ecocom 0-15: 0.10m3, TBF 17-10-14-4: 1kg, TBF Special: 0.5kg, Fiba-Zorb: 0.25kg, Lime for requested pH
The peat-free pot mix is designed to be used with a liquid feeding system, to not contain a lot of coir and to use more wood fibre. The higher level of wood fibre means there is more of a base fertiliser in the mix to give plants a good start and to help to avoid nitrogen problems in the crop.
Mix Two: Jiffy Growing Media General Mix
3.0 pH 5.8 EC 1.0 – Bark fraction 0: 0.15m3, Woodfibre: 0.30m, 31 Ecocom 015: 0.12m3, Coco pith: 0.28m3, Perlite 3: 0.15m3, TBF Special: 1.00kg, Crotodur (31-0-0): 0.25kg, Lime: 0.41kg
This mix has a low percentage of coir, a high percentage of wood fibre and also contains perlite. The fertiliser is the TBF special at 1kg per cubic metre and also contains crotodur 31-0-0. This a slow-release nitrogen that breaks down, feeding the wood fibre the nitrogen it needs over a period of 3–4-month period.
Mix Three: Jiffy Growing Medium Standard General Purpose
pH 5.80 EC 1.0 – Ecocom 015: 0.20m3, Bark fraction 0: 0.20m3, Coco pith: 0.60m3, TBF 1710144: 0.50kg, DCM Eco Mix 1 (9-5-3): 2.00kg, Lime: 0.56kg
A general peat-free mix with a higher coir content. This mix contains the organic fertiliser DCM as DCM ECO MIX 1 (9-5-3), which ensures long and continuous controlled release for a duration of 75-100 days – ideal for a range of crops.