HARRISBURG, Pa. — As you get your garden ready this year, there is a type of soil additive that may be doing more harm than good: peat.
Naturally found in bogs, peat has some large environmental benefits. In fact, peatlands store twice as much carbon as all of the world’s forests. However, once that peat is harvested to use elsewhere, all of that carbon gets released.
Jil Strang, owner of Dig My Earth Compost Facility in Dauphin County, says that peat is a slow growing medium and will not replenish itself quickly.
“So as we’re utilizing that resource and consuming that resource, it’s taking longer and longer to regenerate,” she said. “It also releases the carbon back into the environment. So all of the benefits of having peat in place in its natural environment are lost when we harvest it to try and move it to another area.”
According to the UN, carbon dioxide emissions from drained and burned peatlands equate to 10% of all annual fossil fuel emissions.
If you typically reach for peat-based products, there are alternatives that you can use.
“We prefer leaf compost obviously because we can make it and we are recycling leaves from townships to make the leaf compost,” Strang told FOX43. “It does not hurt the environment to utilize it. So the benefits mirror peat on a large scale without the detriment to the environment.”
This isn’t just an initiative that Jil Strang is starting, but part of an industry shift.
A company based outside of Pittsburgh called PittMoss is helping with that shift by developing and selling peat-free potting mix nationwide. They were even featured on season 6 of Shark Tank.
PittMoss has created peat-free potting mixes from organic, recycled paper that is locally sourced. This creates an environmentally-friendly product that is still high performing for gardeners.
If you’re looking to make your own soil additive, Strang says composting is a great place to start at home. She also recommends testing your soil to make sure you know what you’re starting with and what it might need to perform the best.
There has been talk internationally to ban peat products. The United Kingdom is set to ban the sale of bagged peat compost by the end of 2024.
There are no current bans on peat based products in the United States; however, it’s something that Strang thinks should happen soon.
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