Peat moss is bad. This simple statement rocked my gardening world because I use so much peat or peat moss as an amendment to the sandy soil that underpins my entire yard. The great thing about a sandy lot is that drainage is not a problem, but on the other hand there is absolutely no water retention in the soil if not adulterated.
Many bales of peat moss, mined or sourced from Canadian sphagnum moss, have been used over the past couple of planting seasons. It’s almost second nature to mix one part peat moss with one part compost and one part yard soil. The results have been great.
But, peat moss is bad. Why? It’s unsustainable as currently sourced. Peat bogs form slowly–adding layers of approximately 1mm per year. Given that a peat bog is not really a healthy ecosystem until it reaches depths up to sixteen inches there is very little about mining peat that is sustainable.
Peat bogs are sponges for water. Anyone who has lived in an area that has flooded in recent memory understands that having wetlands and bogs is essential to flood prevention.
Furthermore, peat ecosystems are huge carbon sinks. Destroying a peat bog can release carbon back into the atmosphere as it dries out.
Okay, if peat is bad what is the alternative? Coir. Coir is a fiber leftover from processing coconuts. Normally, it is a waste product that might be used in fiber projects like rope or mat making. Or, it is burned as a fuel. However, it is also a great alternative to peat moss.
Coir is often sold in compressed bricks:
Mixed with water the brick will break apart and expand. I have seen claims of unbelievable expansion like 10 times. Sorry, the most I have seen with the coir I have sourced is three to four times. In a bucket of water it is easy to see the water retention capability of coir:
Not the most appetizing picture for anyone going the humanure route. Mixed with some compost and yard soil there is little if any difference from the amended soil I would make with peat. Score.
Granted, not all is rosy with coir. It is usually sourced from southeast Asian countries like Vietnam or Indonesia. So, there is a carbon footprint with the shipping. Sources closer to home–coconuts in Iowa?–would be great, but there is a tradeoff with everything.