Yesterday Melcourt's SylvaGrow 100% peat free compost was awarded the accolade of best newcomer in the chemical, fertilisers and composts category at the Glee, the UK's premier show for the horticultural industry.
This is excellent news on so many levels, because it's proof that peat free compost is now being taken seriously in an industry that often fails to consider its environmental impact, or makes excuses for not doing so.
Recently I visited a nursery who have created a new compost and were keen for the people visiting to trial the product. I asked various questions about the product including what the peat content might be, really hoping they were going to say peat free or at least a very low proportion. But, and here's the crux, when I asked what the peat content was, it turned out to be 80%. 80%!!!!! When I expressed shock they were very quick to say that any government guidelines for peat reduction are voluntary, they were not the only ones still using it, plants can't be grown as well in peat free composts and all the usual excuses and were genuinely shocked when I refused, point blank, to take any home with me.
Now we all understand that although peat does eventually replace itself it is an extremely long process of thousands of years and so when used as a fuel it is classified as a fossil fuel. Peat bogs are singularly the best and most efficient carbon sinks we have and although they are still used for energy around the world, the use of peat in horticulture has long been seen as an issue. In 2011 the UK government asked the industry to look at voluntarily reducing peat use so that by 2015 all publicly procured plants were peat free, all amateur composts and growing mediums would be peat free by 2020 and all commercial media to be peat free by 2030. At the time this created serious ripples within the industry and there were a lot of the smaller growing media companies working really hard on creating great peat free alternatives. However, the bigger companies carried on as usual and the one we were dealing with at the time actually just laughed when we brought it up with them and told me in a phone conversation that they would speak to my boss as I was obviously an hormonal woman not able to see reality yes, seriously said those words) and laughed.....
As at the time we were using over 50 tonnes a month of their product, when the nursery made the jump to peat free, they were, to say the least, surprised and shocked and sent us a hugely patronising report on how peat free growing media would never take off as an industry standard. Sadly so far they have been proven correct.
I wonder where we are with this? Again and again I'm told by growers that it's impossible to grow without peat, but as a professional grower myself I have grown trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants in peat free compost (actually in Melcourt SylvaGrow) and although, without a doubt, it was a challenge to begin with because it is a new media and any new growing media take time to get used to, it took a reasonably limited amount of time to get it right and to start to produce plants that were at least as good in standard as anything that had been produced previously with peat. On a personal note, at home, at the allotment, and for the Physic Garden, I have always used peat free compost, including for seed germination, and again I have never seen this as an issue.
But here's my real concern. People see gardening as being green, environmentally friendly and good for the planet, which in the main it is, but it could be more so. Peat reduction would be one way of doing this, instead of every time it raises its ugly head stating that it's only a voluntary reduction in peat, and so not law and so not really taken seriously. I seriously hope that Melcourt winning this award might get people talking about this and realising that peat free growing media is now a real alternative.
Fingers crossed I guess.........