• We are delighted that Ade Sellers of Agents of Field is joining our blog team (along with Stephanie Hafferty and Becky Searle) here at Dalefoot Composts. Ade’s piece focuses on the sheer exuberance of the June garden along with the many jobs that need our attention to keep our gardens in tip-top condition.

     

    Gardening Jobs for June - By Ade Sellars 

    The skies are blue, the birds are singing and with the prospect of the longest day of the year this month, summer has finally arrived! For the past few months, we’ve been working up to this glorious season: sowing seeds, potting on, and planting out. But with flowers now blooming and crops ready for the picking, it’s time to reap the rewards.

    So, make hay while the sun shines with some gardening jobs, that will keep your gardens thriving throughout this glorious season.

    FLOWERS
    Spring plants will recede and leave spaces in beds and borders, something that is known as the ‘June Gap’. So, look to summer’s showstopper, the dahlia, which is guaranteed to set your garden alight. With a wide range of colours, shapes, and sizes to choose from, these flowers are easy to grow and maintain, flowering right up to the first frosts. Keep them well watered, and apply a top dressing as the blooms appear.

    Alternatively, direct sow some of your summer favourites, such as tithonia and sunflowers. Ensure the planting area is somewhere sunny and sheltered, and the soil is worked to a fine tilth. Sow seeds in a shallow trough or hole, cover over, mark the area and water. As seedlings develop, keep the area free of weeds. Plants may also need staking due to their height and large flowerheads.

    Any remaining summer bedding plants that have been grown, or bought, should now be hardened off and planted up into their final growing positions. Consider using pots, containers and hanging baskets if growing space is an issue. With warmer temperatures ahead, try using Dalefoot’s ‘Wool Compost for Potting’. Not only will it provide plants with the necessary nutrients that will ensure successful blooms throughout the season, but
    its ability to retain water will ensure plants thrive during hot spells, and won’t dry out.

    Roses may have already passed their first bloom, so prune and tidy the plant. This will encourage repeat flowering varieties to flower again. Spent lupins, delphiniums and oriental poppies should be cutdown to the plant’s base, as this can trigger a second bloom later in the season. Pick flowering sweet peas regularly to prevent them from going to seed. Other perennials, climbers and rambling plants may need tying in to a support structure, as they continue to put on growth and develop blooms.

    In a few months, autumn will be knocking at our door, so now is a good time to sow autumn plants, such as pansies and polyanthus. Sow seeds onto a tray of fine compost, water and cover lightly. Place in the greenhouse and check regularly to ensure germination has occurred. Remember to keep soil moist.

    To ensure summer floral displays receive maximum hydration, water your plants first thing in the morning, or at dusk, when temperatures are lower and there’s less water evaporation. Water at the base of the plants, and not the entire bed, to save water. Mulching around the base of flowers with Dalefoot’s compost will also prevent moisture loss.

    If you want to keep water costs down, install as many water butts or water containers in and around your garden. Or, re-use your ‘grey’ water, whether it’s washing-up or bath water. As long as it doesn’t contain salt or bleach, then it’s fit for purpose.

    As we face a changing climate, you may want to consider drought-tolerant plants, such as sedum ‘Atlantis’ which won ‘Flower of the Year’ at the 2019 Chelsea Flower Show. There is now a wide range of drought-tolerant plants available in garden nurseries and online, ensuring your green space remains rich in colour and structure throughout summer, while saving on precious water.

    TOMATOES
    If growing veg is more your thing, then tomatoes are a must for any gardener. With plants in their final growing positions, a regular water regime is vital as irregular watering can lead to blossom end rot or split fruit. Blossom end rot occurs when there’s a lack of calcium and appears at the bottom of the tomato as a blackened spot.

    When flowers begin to form, feed plants weekly with a liquid tomato feed. If you are growing them in Dalefoot’s Wool Compost for Tomatoes no feed is needed. As cordon varieties grow tall, pinch-out side-shoots; this will transfer the energy into the growing tomatoes. With several trusses of flowers growing, remove the tip of the main stem. The plant can then put its efforts into producing the fruit and not waste energy on trying to grow taller. Once tomatoes fill out, remove the lower branches of the plant. Not only will this let the sunlight ripen the fruit, but it will increase ventilation and reduce problems such as tomato leaf mould. If you’re growing plants outside, this method could help reduce tomato blight, especially if there’s a prolonged period of warm, wet weather. Bush variety tomatoes can be left to their own devices. Or, grow them in hanging baskets and pots to make an attractive feature.

    JUNE DROP
    You may notice this month fruit trees, such as apples and pears, shedding some of their fruit. This is called the ‘June Drop’, and it’s perfectly normal. This allows the remaining fruit to grow on successfully without having to compete with other swelling fruit for nutrients, water and sunshine. It also improves ventilation and reduces pest numbers. Some gardeners carry this method out themselves, by reducing clusters of emerging fruit to two or three.

    VEGETABLES
    Strawberries, early potatoes, broad beans and peas should be ready for harvesting. Once the leaves of garlic and onions yellow and dieback, these too can be lifted. Temperatures are warm enough now for sweetcorn, pumpkin and squash plants to be planted outside into their final growing positions. These are greedy plants, so use a rich-filled compost, such as Dalefoot’s Wool Compost for Vegetables and Salads, and plant deeply. Water thoroughly and often.

    PESTS
    Pests and diseases will also be making their presence felt, so keep an eye out for them. Net brassicas to stop pigeons pulling the leaves apart, and prevent the cabbage white butterfly from laying eggs on the foliage. If you’re growing carrots and parsnips, erect a fleece or mesh barrier around the crop, at least 40cm high, to deter carrot root fly.

    Another method of discouraging pests is companion planting. With plants working together, the right combination can attract pollinators and deter pests. For example, planting marigolds around the base of tomatoes deters pests due to the flower’s smell.

    Or, try growing sacrificial plants, these are plants specifically grown for pests. For example, nasturtiums attract the cabbage white butterfly. They will eat, decimate and lay their eggs on the plant, leaving your growing brassicas unharmed.

    GREENHOUSE
    If you have a greenhouse, keep doors, windows and vents open throughout the day to create a decent airflow, that’ll help deter pests and diseases and keep plants healthy. If red spider mite occurs, dampen down paths daily. You may also want to create shading in your greenhouse to prevent plants from being scorched.

    A gardener can adapt, change and grow. So, let’s embrace these strengths and be mindful of our environmental responsibilities, to create a place of sustainability and biodiversity this summer, as well as a beautiful garden.

    BIOG
    I’m Ade Sellars, and I’m a gardener, presenter, writer and content producer, with a passion for growing my own food in my kitchen garden. As well as running my own gardening business, I write for magazines, produce tailored video content for gardening brands, flower shows and outdoor events and I regularly deliver talks and demonstrations around the country.

    I co-write the award-winning gardening and food blog, Agents of Field, with my wife Sophie; you can follow our adventures on Twitter and Instagram, or by subscribing to our blog.

    Website: www.agentsoffield.com
    www.adesellars.com
    Instagram: agentsoffield
    Twitter: @AgentsOfField

  • Caption: Bolton Fell Moss NNR
    Caption: Borrowed Cumbrian peatland - under special license from Natural England
    Caption: Vegetable garden produced by Pennard Plants, grown in Dalefoot
    Caption: Bevis Hughes (Eden Project), Simon Bland (co-founder Dalefoot Composts) and Tracey Smith (Eden Project) with the gold award

    Curlews, lapwing, the hum of billions of insects…. and the occasional squelch – the sounds of a peatland captured and being heard over a little piece of Cumbrian peatland, on loan from Natural England, and installed in the Discovery Zone at RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

    We are highlighting to gardeners the critical importance of UK peatlands to our climate in a unique, joint exhibit with the Eden Project at RHS Chelsea Flower Show – and it has just won a gold medal!

    Under special license from Natural England, we are putting on show a slice of bog ‘borrowed’ from peatland previously harvested for horticulture to demonstrate the environmental damage gardeners are causing to our planet by using peat compost in their outdoor spaces.

    In the immersive Discovery Zone display, gardeners are being invited ‘to step into’ the borrowed slice of National Nature Reserve (NNR) peatland from Bolton Fell Moss, a restored Cumbrian bog, to experience the secrets, sounds and beauty of these enormous bog gardens. We are giving the peatland display expert care whilst at the show to make sure it remains hydrated and will return it to its natural home once Chelsea has finished.


    Alongside, a bountiful potager of vegetables and companion planting grown by gold-medal-winning Pennard Plants, we illustrate what gardeners can achieve in their own plot by switching to peat-free gardening. All of these plants have been grown in our peat-free products which are Soil Association-approved for organic growing.


    Peatlands only occupy about 3% of the Earth’s land surface but are the largest terrestrial carbon store on the planet. UK peatlands cover around 12% of its land area and store 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon, more than twice that of the UK’s forests*, as well as being very important habitats for biodiversity.

    We are a major manufacturer of peat-free compost and a leading restorer of damaged peatlands, including the NNR site in Cumbria. Professor Jane Barker, our co-founder, said : “Up until now, the scientific understanding underpinning individual gardeners’ responsibility to climate change gardening has not been well communicated. We demonstrate how you can easily make a difference in your own garden by ditching the use of peat and switching to peat-free compost.

    “The importance of peat and peatlands to our climate and the planet have also not been made clear or accessible for our gardeners, whilst trees have taken centre stage and are much easier to relate to. However, peat is hugely significant to our climate’s future.”

    The timeline of a bog illustrated in the RHS Chelsea exhibit shows the thousands of years peat represents. Peat grows at only 1mm per year and this is contrasted to the bags of peat compost it would yield and the short season of growth that peat might give gardeners.

    Whilst the Government has set targets for peatland restoration and is currently consulting on a peat ‘ban’, in amateur gardening there remains a significant resistance to switching to peat-free and it is predicted even more peat could be used in the future. Of the 5.44 million cubic metres of growing media used in 2020, 79% was used by amateur gardeners. Two-thirds of peat sold in the UK is from Europe, meaning we are effectively exporting our carbon footprint. Voluntary targets set for peat sellers have had little impact and the new target of ending peat sales by 2024 is being questioned for being too slow and not enough.


    This is our latest initiative with the Eden Project to promote the sustainability benefits of peat-free gardening. Dalefoot’s Wool Compost for Potting is endorsed by the world-renowned environmental charity and social enterprise, and we have plans to work together on other future initiatives.


    Dalefoot are supporting six show gardens and exhibits at RHS Chelsea with our peat-free compost
    – The New Blue Peter Garden: Discover Soil by Juliet Sargeant; Brewin Dolphin Garden by Paul Hervey-Brookes; The Mothers for Mothers – This Too Shall Pass Garden by Pollyanna Wilkinson; The Wild Kitchen Garden by Ann Treneman; RHS Queen’s Jubilee Photographic Exhibit by Dave Green, and the Animal and Plant Health Agency - Don’t Risk It! exhibit.

    Two of our peat-free composts have also been shortlisted in the RHS Chelsea Sustainable Garden Product of the Year 2022 – Wool Compost for Potting and Wool Compost Double Strength.


    Find us at Stand GPA 105 in the Discovery Zone of the Great Pavilion and at Stand AR 545 for Dalefoot Composts

    Bolton Fell Moss is a lowland raised bog damaged through commercial extraction of peat but has since begun a journey of restoration thanks to an ongoing project by Natural England. Extraction ended in 2013 but left a vast expanse of dry, bare peat where limited wildlife could survive. Restoration work has raised the water levels; bog vegetation was then introduced but it will take time for the sphagnum mosses to cover the bare peat and for other bog plants to return. It could take up to 30 years for the bog to fully recover.
    * IUCN

  • The world’s most famous flower show RHS Chelsea is back and we’re marking the event with an exciting competition, on our social media channels, with the chance to win some great goodies.


    We’re exhibiting at the event itself in a joint display with the Eden Project highlighting the environmental importance of our peatlands and why we should all be using peat-free compost in our gardens. We will also be supporting some of the amazing show gardens with our compost, and two of our products have been shortlisted for RHS Chelsea Sustainable Garden Product of the Year 2022.


    We’ve teamed up with the Eden Project to offer these great prizes for three lucky Twitter, Facebook and Instagram followers (one winner on each channel).

    • Peat-free Wool Compost – you’re going to need the best sustainable compost to grow plants in, so we are giving each lucky winner 10 bags of Wool Compost worth over £130 including delivery. Did you know our Wool Compost is endorsed by The Eden Project! ….
    • A pair of adult tickets (value of £65) to the Eden Project for each winner.

    To enter:
    Twitter competition- For a chance to win, retweet (RT) our post, follow & tell us your favourite wildlife gardening tip (with a photo from your own garden if possible).
    Facebook competition- Entrants must explain how they help wildlife when they garden. Photos of entrants’ gardens welcomed. Then why not like our Facebook page, share the post and tag as many friends as you can!
    Instagram competition- Entrants must explain their favourite wildlife gardening tip – again photos welcomed – and tag a friend.


    All three competitions close Sunday 29 May 2022 at 23:59 and winners will be informed by Wednesday 1 June. Full terms and conditions below.

    Terms & Conditions
    By entering Dalefoot’s Twitter, Facebook or Instagram competitions you agree to be bound by the following:
    Twitter – the prize as described above. Entrants must share the post, follow and tell us their favourite wildlife gardening. Photos welcomed.


    Facebook – the prize as described above. Entrants must explain how they help wildlife when they garden. Photos of entrants’ gardens welcomed. Then why not like our Facebook page, share the post and tag as many friends as you can!


    Instagram – the prize as described above. Entrants must explain their favourite wildlife gardening tip – again photos welcomed – and tag a friend.


    Dalefoot Composts will choose its favourite responses from the entries. A winner will be selected from each channel (three winners in total). The prizes will be sent to the winners by 1 July.


    The prizes are non-transferrable and cannot be refunded for any money.


    Open to all UK mainland residents aged 18 and over, excluding families, agents or anyone professionally connected with the giveaway for Dalefoot Composts, Heltondale, Cumbria CA10 2QL and the Eden Project.

    Closing date for entries in all three competitions is Sunday 29 May at 23:59

    Only one entry per person on each channel.

    The winners will be informed by Wednesday 1 June and will need to respond by 8 June 2022, or a new winner will be chosen.

    Dalefoot may publish the winners’ details and the winning entries on its social media channels or website. If Dalefoot does not publish the winners’ details on social media, those details may be obtained by emailing info@dalefootcomposts.co.uk within eight weeks of the draw date.

    Personal data will be processed and shared with third parties only for the administration of the prize, and for promotional purposes as listed above.

    By participating in these competitions, entrants confirm they have read, understood and agree to be bound by these terms and conditions.

    These competitions are in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or the RHS.

    Dalefoot reserves the right to cancel, suspend or modify these competitions or these official rules. No responsibility can be taken for entries which are lost, delayed, corrupted, damaged, misdirected or incomplete or which cannot be delivered for any technical, delivery or other reason.

    Entry is taken as acceptance of these terms and conditions. Entry is free and no purchase is necessary. Automated entries will not be accepted.

    Eden Project tickets: Each ticket permits one adult to visit the Eden Project for one day, on a day of their choice, provided the Eden Project is open to the public on this day. The winner must give at least 48 hours' notice ahead of their intended visit date to book. There will be no physical entrance ticket - the winner will be required to email Eden to confirm a visit date. Further details will be provided at the time of contacting the winner.

  • Caption: Steph visiting Dalefoot
    Caption: Lay & soak the cardboard - overlap to avoid weeds
    Caption: Add top quality compost
    Caption: Do the 'No Dig Dance'
    Caption: No Dig Dancing

    We are delighted to present this first installment from gardener, cook and writer Steph Hafferty. An expert in all things ‘no dig’, she generously shares her knowledge and expertise with us for Dalefoot’s May blog and even spoils us with a recipe!

     

    Healthy soil is crucial for a healthy planet, and growing using no dig gardening methods is a key way that we can help to create and maintain a vibrant soil ecosystem. Soil is the largest sequester of carbon on the planet. Digging releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, so one of the simplest ways we can all help to reduce climate change is to stop digging.

    No dig is not a new idea. It has been used by growers across the globe for centuries, as an effective way of growing abundant food in harmony with nature. Techniques vary from place to place. In hot dry climates a deep mulch of plant matter is often used to help prevent loss of moisture, but here in the UK that can create a habitat for slugs, snails and woodlice: not ideal next to your veg crops. In the UK composted mulches, which do not create this habitat, are mostly used.

    What does “no dig gardening” involve? Of course at times some digging is necessary, to plant a tree or remove rubble, for example. No dig gardening means growing with as little soil disturbance as possible, so that the soil structure remains intact and soil life can thrive. Every year, I spread a little compost (about 1cm) on the surface of the beds. This mulch feeds the soil life which in turn feeds the plants. That’s all that is needed: just an annual compost mulch.

    No dig also reduces weeds because you’re not bringing up annual weed seeds by digging. It doesn’t mean no weeds, you still need to hoe and trowel out any weeds that blow on and germinate, but there are significantly fewer. It’s important too to ensure that weeds don’t try to sneak in from grassy paths and edges. I have creeping buttercups here in my garden which keep trying to colonise the veg beds by stealth so I regularly weed the edges.

    Keeping the structure of the soil intact allows fungi, worms and other soil life to create tiny tunnels in the soil, which creates a superb soil structure, increases drainage and oxygenates the soil. Mycorrhizae networks remain intact, connecting all of the plants in a symbiotic relationship which aids plant and soil health. Digging breaks up and destroys this balance in the soil. Stopping digging enables the soil to recover and thrive.

    The compost mulch also creates a habitat for a huge number of creatures, including black beetles which are predators of slugs, and a foraging area for birds, hedgehogs and other wildlife.

    There is a misconception that no dig gardening requires a lot of compost every year. Thankfully that’s not the case, as it just wouldn’t be affordable for most gardeners if so. Annually, it does not use any more compost than digging methods (digging in itself doesn’t make a soil fertile, the opposite in fact because it is breaking up the structure and killing soil life). The annual mulch of compost works for all of the plants I grow, from parsnips to courgettes to aubergines. Because the soil structure is thriving and remains unharmed, the nutrients are more readily available to the plants, which also means that you can grow many more plants in each bed. Using intercropping and multisowing techniques (both also ancient methods) I regularly grow five or six different veg crops per bed each year.

    The compost can be any composted matter: homemade, well rotted manure, well rotted wood chip, leaf mould, shop bought compost. I love making compost. It’s such a treat to use delicious crumbly fertile compost made from kitchen scraps and garden clippings.

    In March 2021 I moved from my garden of twenty years in Somerset, to just under half an acre on a hillside in West Wales. The land was mostly weedy grass with areas of flower borders and established trees. Wanting to start making beds as quickly as possible, and of course having no home-made compost because I had just moved house, I ordered in a delivery of Dalefoot veg compost (the one in the green bag) and started to make my new no dig garden on the weedy grass.

     

    Making No Dig beds

    To make the beds, I cut the lawn on a low setting and rakeds the clippings, adding those to the compost heap.

    Next, I covered the area with card, making sure it overlapped to discourage weeds from sneaking through, and watered it well.

    I decided to make the bed 1.2 metres wide, and covered that area with compost, raking it to level it.

    To gently firm the compost, I did the “No Dig Dance”! This is a gentle dance on the bed to make sure all of the compost is firm.

    Once the bed is finished, it is ready for sowing and planting right away. Any deep rooting plants will grow through the cardboard into the soil beneath.

    These beds were made with 5cm of compost (after the dance!) on top of the card, on top of the weedy lawn. During 2021 I harvested so many things, including carrots, parsnips, squash, sweetcorn, cabbages, kale and leeks.

    After cropping all winter, I am now planting it out again. It’s amazing to think this was weedy grass not very long ago. In August 2021 the polytunnel was put up here and I mulched it in exactly the same way.

    There are other ways to make no dig beds using different amounts of compost and also no compost. Follow my You Tube channel and social media to discover how I am using different methods to make beds here in my half acre homestead.

     

    Quick fridge pickles

    These tasty pickles are an ideal accompaniment to all kinds of summery dishes and can be made using whatever you have in the garden (or buy from the shop). In late summer, sliced chillieschilies add a delicious kick to the pickles.

    I find it a lot easier to use cup measures for this recipe, rather than weighing everything out. If you don’t have US cup measures, just use a tea cup.

    3 cups of finely sliced vegetables: Florence fennel, spring onion, radish, cucumber, summer squash, courgette, carrot

    1 cup light vinegar: cider, white wine or even champagne vinegar if you’re feeling fancy

    1 cup water

    3 tbsp sea salt

    4 tbsp seasonal herbs (optional): dill, parsley, thyme, coriander, chopped garlic, herb seeds (fennel, coriander, dill)

    3 tbsp sugar (or other sweetener eg agave) - optional (I usually skip this part but I do like tart food)

    Clean glass preserving jar/s with lids

    Layer the veg in the jars with the herbs (if using).

    In a pan, gently heat the vinegar, water, salt and sugar (if using) and simmer until everything has dissolved.

    Carefully pour over the vegetables and place the lids loosely on top.

    When the pickles have cooled, screw the lid on tightly. The pickles are now ready to eat.

    Keep in the fridge for up to a week.

    (nb: this is not a long term preserving recipe)

     

    Stephanie Hafferty is an experienced no dig gardener, homesteader, speaker, garden and food writer, and author of award winning No Dig Organic Home and Garden (with Charles Dowding) and The Creative Kitchen: seasonal plant based recipes using ingredients you can grow on an allotment. She is currently working on a new gardening book and creating a no dig homestead on half an acre in West Wales. She shares this journey on her blog, Instagram and You Tube:

    Website and blog : www.NoDigHome.com

    Instagram: www.instagram.com/stephaniehafferty/

    You Tube Channel: www.youtube.com/c/StephanieHaffertyNoDigHomesteading

  • Caption: Becky Searle - Sow Much More
    Caption: Bolton Fell Moss, a functioning bog restored to glory.
    Caption: Bigger pools, offer habitat at Bolton Fell Moss, to increase biodiversity.
    Caption: After restoration, Bolton Fell Moss, showing typical bogland plants.

    Kicking off for ‘Peat-free April’, is soil scientist, gardener and podcaster, Becky Searle (Sow Much More). Becky explains why our peatlands are vitally important and why we should all switch to peat-free.

     

    Peat sales to gardeners in England and Wales are due to be banned by 2024. High-profile gardeners such as Monty Don have spoken out against the use of Peat in horticulture and initiatives like the Peat Free April movement have gained staggering momentum. For many years we have been told about peat’s importance in the horticultural industry, but only now are we beginning to shout about its importance in the natural world. Many people know that extracting peat isn’t good for the environment, but not as many know why.

    WHAT IS PEAT?

    Peat is a rich, dark type of soil that is made mostly of plant matter that has been decomposed under waterlogged conditions. It is incredibly rich in carbon but very low in nutrients. It has excellent water-retentive properties and a nice crumbly texture making it an apparently desirable commodity for gardeners.

    Peat is formed under a unique set of circumstances. When soil is waterlogged, it becomes anaerobic, meaning that it doesn’t contain oxygen. Organisms such as earthworms cannot survive these conditions and therefore are not present to help with the decomposition process, meaning that it decomposes very slowly. A large part of what makes up peat is decomposed moss. Mosses are non-vascular plants. This means that they do not contain a vascular system, like a lot of other plants to transport water up a stem. For this reason, moss grows very slowly, and very low. As a result of these things, peat is created very slowly, in very acidic, nutrient deficient conditions.

    The problem for peat is that it comes out of the ground very easily and requires very little in the way of processing. It is clean and rich in organic matter, making it very easy to bag up and sell. Some large horticultural companies own vast swathes of peat bogs, which they drain and extract, simply scraping it out of the ground with diggers.

    Around 3 million cubic meters of peat is sold for horticultural use every year just in the UK, with around two thirds of that being sold to amateur gardeners and the rest being used in nurseries, commercial farms and gardens and for growing button mushrooms. Peat builds up at a rate of about 1mm per year meaning that the rate of extraction far exceeds the rate at which it is created. To make matters worse, peat extraction isn’t the only thing threatening peat bogs. Many lowland peat bogs in the UK have been drained to produce fertile lands for arable farming. Upland peat bogs such as those on Dartmoor have had drainage ditches dug into them so that they are suitable for rearing livestock.

    WHY IS PEAT SO IMPORTANT?

    Peat really is a wonderful resource for us and our environment. Peat is an incredibly unique and diverse habitat, playing home to many specialist species that cannot exist elsewhere. It is also a powerful water filter and a huge carbon sink. Once we are aware of all the amazing natural services that peat provides, we are sure to see it as more valuable in the ground, than in our gardens.

    FLOOD PREVENTION

    In recent years we have seen more and more towns that are in the shadow of upland peat bogs getting flooded. Peat bogs act like huge sponges, holding enormous amounts of water. They can regulate the amount of water entering rivers and being deposited in flood plains lower down.

    We have seen more and more extreme weather events in the last 10-20 years as a result of climate change. In the UK this often presents itself as very high rainfall. When coupled with the draining and depletion of peatlands, the result is catastrophic flooding, which has a very real impact on those living in these areas.

    WATER PURIFICATION

    Peatland may be a relatively rare thing, but just here in the UK it is estimated that around 70% of our water is filtered through peat bogs. As water moves through healthy peat bogs it is cleaned. The peat is incredibly good at removing impurities, acting as a giant filter. The water that comes out of healthy peat bogs needs very little in the way of treatment before it can be used for human consumption. Unfortunately, peat bogs that are exploited do exact the opposite. They deposit bits of peat into the water, which then needs to be filtered out by water companies, at the expense of the taxpayer, along with the other pollutants no longer being filtered out by the peat.

    BIODIVERSITY

    Biodiversity is a word used to refer to the number of species and individual organisms in a particular area. When we look at biodiversity, we are often looking at specific areas, like our gardens or nature reserves. Peat bogs are wonderfully biodiverse environments, supporting a whole host of life. Because of the specific environmental conditions in peat bogs, there are many species of plant, insect and animals that rely on these areas. They have formed specific niches within these environments and cannot easily adjust to life elsewhere.

    Because of this, peatlands also play a huge role in supporting global biodiversity. You may wonder why this is important. Many campaigns use flagship species such as Polar Bears, Tigers and more locally, Otters to signify the importance of biodiversity. It seems a terrible shame that future generations may exist in a world where these species do not exist. However, there is a lot more to biodiversity than just the “when it’s gone it’s gone” problem.

    Ecosystems and the earth as a whole, (as the first name suggests) are systems. In her book “Thinking in Systems” Donnella Meadows describes a system as “a set of things, people, cells, molecules or whatever interconnected in such a way, that they produce their own pattern of behaviour over time”. Each of the species and organisms within a system contribute towards how the system can behave and regulate itself, both on a local and global scale. The more biodiversity we have the more likely that our ecosystems and therefore our planet will be in balance. This means that they will be more resilient to disturbances and natural disasters, and able to adapt to change. The more we degrade the system by losing these species, the less resilient it becomes. We can already see this with climate change and the loss of our natural carbon sinks such as woodlands and peat bogs making the earth less resilient to the change in our fossil fuel use.

    CLIMATE CHANGE

    Although peatlands only cover around 3% of the earth’s surface they are estimated to hold twice as much carbon as all the world’s trees. They also lock in many other greenhouse gases. When peat is drained and no longer waterlogged, the carbon rich organic matter starts to oxidise and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It goes without saying then, that peat extraction is utterly disastrous for our CO2 emissions. Not only does its extraction actively add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, but it also removes its future capability to drawn down carbon dioxide.

    We gardeners are generally quite conscientious. There are numerous schemes to plant more trees, often getting gardeners involved to grow more too. This is all very well, but if we continue to use peat in our gardens, we can’t possibly hope to offset our carbon footprint.

    As gardeners, the single most powerful thing that we can do is to try and build organic matter in our soils. Organic matter locks in carbon, providing that it is left undisturbed. On top of this, as plants photosynthesise, converting atmospheric carbon into carbohydrates, they pump down up to 40% of this into the soil, feeding the soil organisms. In exchange, the organisms living in the soil release nutrients to our plants, living in a symbiotic relationship with our plants. When we leave our soils as undisturbed as possible and simply add organic matter, we will facilitate this reciprocal relationship and build healthy soil that stores carbon. Our plants will thrive on the naturally available nutrients and continue to draw down and store more carbon.

    Peatlands have been doing this for many thousands – and in some case many millions of years, with peat being the precursor to coal formation, which is almost pure carbon.

    ALTERNATIVES

    Peat is now being banned in horticulture so we must move to find alternatives. Over the last few years several alternatives have become more popular, such as coir. Coir is a fantastic resource made from the discarded husks of coconuts. Unfortunately, here in the UK we live a long way from the nearest coconut trees and therefore this resource needs to be shipped so that we can use it. Not only does this come with its own carbon footprint, but it is also problematic because it is removing this valuable resource for use from local farmers.

    Luckily, compost has always been easy to make ourselves. A lot of home gardeners already do a brilliant job of making their own composts, turning waste products into garden gold. If we need to buy more compost there are brilliant peat free composts available on the market, including Dalefoot’s organic compost.

    When choosing a compost consider where the original material has come from. Peat is a very unsustainable product that we extract and use at a much faster rate than it can rebuild. Furthermore, destroying peat bogs for our own use seems wholly unwise given the host of incredible natural services that peat can do for us when left in its natural environment.

    Following the Peat Free April movement on social media for more information on why peat is such an incredible resource, and what we can do to preserve it.

    ..............................................................

    Becky is an ecologist and kitchen gardener passionate about growing her own food at home in a sustainable, organic way. Visit her website here.

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Barker and Bland is a limited company registered in England and Wales. Registered office: Dalefoot Farm, Heltondale, Nr Penrith, Cumbria, CA10 2QL. Registered number: 8312959

This project is supported by the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) for which Defra is the Managing Authority, part funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas.

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