Elizabeth Bekolay has been gardening for decades. She’s enjoyed bogs for even longer, but for years she didn’t realize how intertwined they are with home gardening.
“I didn’t connect those ecosystems to peat moss for a very long time, and I didn’t connect all potting soils to peat moss for a long time either,” said Bekolay, who is a Saskatoon-based nature-educator and author.
It’s nearly impossible to find store-bought garden soil that doesn’t contain peat moss, she said. Peat moss has been marketed as a key material to help people grow plants.
But Bekolay discovered that the product had environmental consequences. She learned this while researching a book set in the boreal forest that focused on the ecology of sphagnum bogs, also known as bogs.
What’s wrong with peat?
“Peatlands globally sequester more than twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined. They are a powerhouse when it comes to nature-based climate solutions,” Bekolay said.
Peat moss forms from layers of decaying matter and takes thousands of years to grow. Companies that process peat moss for sale must drain and clear-cut tracts of peatland so they can reach the moss and take it away for harvest.
Bekolay is part of a increasing movement people in Saskatchewan who want companies not to disturb peatlands.
“It’s a no-brainer. If we’re trying to mitigate climate change and consider climate sinks and protect them, then protecting peatlands is number one.”
What to use instead of peat moss
Bekolay said it can be as simple as looking outside for alternatives. People can use dirt on their property, sterilizing it in an oven (on a pan at 180 to 200 F for half an hour) to prevent pests or weeds.
She said this soil can be enriched with compost or crushed leaves. Bekolay experimented vermicompost (food composted using worms) and coco-coir (a waste product from coconut processing) for its seed starter mix.
Some people say coir is unsustainable because it comes from so far away, she said, but she thinks it’s still a better alternative.
“If you look at the whole [supply] chain, it’s a lot less detrimental than draining a whole wetland in an area where you have to build roads.”
Other Eco-friendly Gardening Tips
Vanessa Young agrees that ditching peat moss is a good step forward, and said this, along with other small changes, can help people become more eco-friendly gardeners.
“People ask me, why is it important to garden sustainably? I ask you, why would you bother to garden any other way? »
Young directs the University of Saskatchewan’s community education program gardening and is also a horticultural therapist.
Young said gardening alone is already a step towards a more sustainable life.
“Gardening changes your food miles into food steps. It changes the packaging, it changes the transport routes, it changes the quality of food, it changes your activity level. It changes the likelihood that you will eat vegetables. It changes your conversations,” she said. mentioned.
Becoming more sustainable can save people money and time in the long run, she said, adding that it’s about gardening smarter, not harder.
Mulch almost like magic
One of the main concerns is water conservation, especially during dry seasons. Rain barrels can be used to collect water in the yard, and Young said mulch can help balance moisture for plants.
“It’s not magic. It’s the closest thing to magic,” she said.
Mulch is applied in a layer on top of the soil around the plants. Mulch can also provide weed control, moisture control and retention (it helps retain water and prevents evaporation), and habitat for beneficial insects.
“The mulch also keeps the soil from splashing onto the plants, which sounds cosmetic but [the soil] is actually a vector for many plant diseases.”
Reuse what is possible, save seeds, abandon pesticides
Young said people should consider reusing the items, so using the same trays, pots and same soil year after year.
“[Gardeners] can reuse their potting soil year after year…for up to five years,” she said.
She said people can go online to learn how to save their own seeds for next year, and she encouraged people to stop using pesticides and be proactive about prevention. She said “problems” that arise in the garden are often symptoms of a larger problem, and one pesticide for one pest won’t solve that problem.
She encouraged people to change their perspective on their gardens, seeing them as ecosystems and not as production machines.
“If there’s a way to fix something or prevent something that doesn’t involve buying products, that’s what we’ll recommend.”
She said there are free resources available online for new gardeners, including on the Gardening on the USask websitewhich offers free advice and workshops.