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The Reality of Peat Moss Production


BS Bulldozer
We hear a lot of disagreement over the sustainability of peat moss production, but how many people have really looked into it? I have. First off, the idea of peat moss not being sustainable started in the UK, where the use of peat is most certainly not sustainable. They have very limited areas of Sphagnum bog, and have been burning peat from those bogs for millenia. Here in the US practically all peat is sourced from Canda, where tbe situation is very different. First off, Canada has more area of Sphagnum bogs than the entire land mass of the UK including Ireland and the surface area of the Irish Sea. If you take the area of those bogs and figure on about 1 mm of peat deposition annually, while factoring in that far less than 1% of those bogs have ever been commercially exploited, and bogs which go out of production are legally required to be reclaimed , it's readily apparent that Canadian peat production would be sustainable at several times the current level of production. The math on this is solid. A quick look at the numbers shows that Canada possesses 113.6 million hectares of Sphagnum bog. At 10,000 square meters per hectare, that's 1,136,000,000,000 square meters. Multiply that by 1 mm of peat deposited annually, and you have 1,136,000,000 cubic meters of peat deposited annually. Current annual comnercial production is about 1.3 million metric tons. On a dry weight basis, peat is about 400 kg per cubic meter. 1.3 million metric tons is 1,300,000,000 kg of peat. At 400 kg per cubic meter, that's 3,250,000 cubic meters of peat produced and sold yearly, compared to 1,136,000,000 cubic meters naturally deposited. That's 400x the deposition as compared to the extraction. And again, all this occurs in the less than 1% of peat bogs commercially exploited in the history of the industry in Canada. Feel free to check my math and any assertions I made.
Very interesting! I would love to know why the peatmoss I buy has been continually degrading in quality. I made the guess that they're scraping the bottom of the barrel (as you said is what's being said). In the past I have tried (and am again) coco peat. Before I was not extremely pleased with it. Too early to have a feel of it for this go, though, as it is still early.
Around here, at least, big 2-3 cu. ft bales of peat are sold, mostly for use as a large scale soil amendment. I have bought such bags of peat in the past, but they last forever for my uses. I would be curious to hear how much peat is used as a soil amendment compared to that used to grow potted plants. I suspect such numbers would hard to find, if they can even be estimated. However, I'm going to guess that the use of peat for potted plants is relatively minor. If there is indeed a problem, it would make more sense to convince the biggest users to find a substitute, not the little guys. I do understand the value in making symbolic gestures, but the real problem needs to be addressed.
Feel free to check my math and any assertions I made.
I've often wondered about this. Thanks for posting. Do you have sources for the numbers and info you got above?

In the past I have tried (and am again) coco peat. Before I was not extremely pleased with it. Too early to have a feel of it for this go, though, as it is still early.
Coco peat is what I've been using for the past several years.
With Neps (the only carnivore I currently grow) I use a mix of coco peat, coco fiber, bark chips and perlite (*EDIT* I've also used a similar mix with Sundews, total success).
The coco fiber looks like this:


The coco fiber adds a good structure to the mixture.
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Peatlands in Canada and elsewhere are a wildcard in climate change and the kind of drainage incorporated into mining operations raises concerns - see Peatlands and climate change. Even where not drained, those areas are warming and drying and they're going to be a major fire problem going forward.

I used to do a lot of field work in an area of Maine where peat mining was getting underway at the time (for energy, not horticulture). One of the first large operations wasn't far from a small river that's one of the last wild Atlantic salmon streams in the US. I was heading to a site down that river when all of a sudden everything was coated with dried peat. We had come upon a tributary that the mine drained into and the couple I was working for that day told me a recent storm had overwhelmed the mine's inadequate stormwater system and the peat that washed out of there covered everything as far as we went that day. I reported it to the state and later heard the company got a light slap on the wrist. I left the state >30 years ago and have never been back to the area so don't know if it was a one in a million incident or a regular occurrence, but my mom was born and raised in a coal mining town and it seems to me that mining companies and mining regulators are too willing to accept "accidents".

Full disclosure: I think peat is somewhere between awful to mediocre for most horticultural uses, especially those that seem to use most of it. For Sarracenias, I started using wood chips, the double-ground kind sold for playgrounds. Two years into this experiment, I'm very happy with the results.