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Garden April 24, 2014 posted by

Green Gardening Tips – Peat Free Compost

Green Gardening Tips – Peat Free Compost

Spring is well and truly here – we had a beautifully sunny Easter weekend and I got my hands dirty in the garden for the first time this year.  As I was digging I had a great idea of starting a new occasional series of green gardening tips and ideas on Moral Fibres, much like my occasional energy saving tips and food waste tips.  Of course, gardening is green by it’s very nature, but some gardening practices are less than planet friendly.    So, now and again I’ll be sharing some easy eco-friendly gardening tips to make your garden or allotment as green as can be.

My first tip is close to my heart.  I’d arguably say it’s the most important green gardening tip, but that’s just me:

peat free compost

Choose peat-free compost.

You may be wondering what the big deal is about peat.  Peat forms from semi-decomposed plant material, in waterlogged oxygen-poor bogs at about a rate of 1mm a year.  Peat bogs are unique habitats, home to all sorts of rare plants, animals and invertebrates that you seldom find outside of peat bogs.  And the other completely amazing thing about peat bogs is that they act as carbon sinks – capturing all the carbon that plants absorb while they grow.

Peat was rarely used in gardening until the mid 20th century.  It has no nutritional benefit to soil, but at this time it was discovered that it holds water, oxygen and nutrients well, making it a good medium for growing plants and vegetables in.  It’s usage reached it’s peak in 1997, when a staggering 99% of the compost sold in the UK contained peat.

To meet demand from gardeners, acres upon acres of peat bogs across the UK have been drained and dug up.  As peat bogs form at such a slow rate, this rate of extraction is completely unsustainable, meaning that peat bogs are now one of the most threatened landscapes in the UK.  This loss of our peat bogs has two main impacts.  Firstly, peat extraction releases carbon into the atmosphere – contributing to climate change.  Apparently the carbon released from peat extraction is equivalent to the carbon emissions of 100,000 households a year.  Secondly, extracting peat destroys the home of the rare flora and fauna associated with the bogs – we’ve lost 94% of the UK’s lowland peat bogs, and now we’re importing peat from the Baltic states, Ireland and Finland, adding to it’s already colossal carbon footprint.

Another indirect impact of the loss of peat-bogs is the increase in flooding.  Peat bogs can hold up to 20 times their weight in water – their sponge like quality means they rapidly absorb any torrential rainfall and slowly release it afterwards.  Remove the peat bogs and you remove this fantastic natural flood defence.

Using peat-free compost sounds like a total no-brainer, right?  You’d think so, but whilst sales of peat-free and reduced peat compost are on the rise, gardeners still account for the highest use of peat in the UK.  And just two months ago Which? Magazine told it’s readers not to bother with peat-free compost varieties.    Yet there plenty of feasible alternatives to peat compost out there.

Where can you buy peat-free compost?  

We used to buy ours from our local Co-Op, but for some inexplicable reason this year they started selling only 80% peat free compost, which is 20% too much peat if you ask me.  The best thing to do is have a look at your local garden centre to see what they have.  Do take care: some compost bags may be labelled as “eco-friendly” but unless it’s specifically labelled as peat free then you might be surprised to know that even these “eco-friendly” bags could contain as much as 70 to 100% peat.  Also, be prepared: although the environmental costs are high, peaty compost is normally the cheapest compost you can buy.  Peat-free compost is normally more expensive as it has to be processed a bit more.

If your local garden centre doesn’t stock any tell them that you’d like them to stock 100%  peat-free compost.  If they won’t order any in then online brands selling 100% peat free soil include Carbon Gold and Earth Cycle.  I’ve also found this article to be incredibly helpful.

Some people say they don’t like using peat-free compost as it doesn’t give them the yield that they’re looking for.  To be honest we’ve noticed no difference in what we grow.

If you don’t want to fork out (pun intended!) for the peat-free compost, then you could try home-made compost, bark, coir, or wood waste.  Alternatively you could buy a bag of high-quality peat-free compost and make it go further by mixing it with some home-made compost or coir.


Images: 1. Carley Jane / 2. Kessner Photography

Garden February 25, 2014 posted by

Grow Your Own Food Cheaply

Grow Your Own Food Cheaply

We’ve just bought some seeds for our garden, and could have easily spent a heap of money.  Instead we bought a few select seeds, and plan on growing the rest on the cheap.

Before you ask what kind of trickery we have up our sleeves, I’ll reveal our plans for growing our own on a budget.  The secret is I found a great infographic on Pinterest (you can follow me here) about growing food from kitchen scraps, such as onion butts, ends of leeks, ends of lettuce, and mushroom stalks, which I plan on giving a go.  This thrifty approach to gardening appeals to me very much!

Find out how you can be super thrifty in the garden too after the jump…

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Garden October 28, 2013 posted by

How to Help the Ladybirds

How to Help the Ladybirds

Over summer I spotted a grand total of three ladybirds, which is three more than my other half or my neighbour saw.  I had started to worry about the ladybirds.  I knew that like the bees they were in decline but I wasn’t sure to what extent, so I did a bit of research.

According to the UK Ladybird Survey our native ladybird species are in trouble because of a non-native newcomer, the Harlequin ladybird.  The Harlequin, a native of Asia, is not the friendliest ladybird on the block – when food is scarce they eat the eggs and larve of other species of ladybirds.  Also going under the the names the Multicoloured Asian Ladybird and the Halloween Ladybird, it was introduced to North America in 1988, where it is now the most widespread ladybird.  Not content with conquering American soil, it has also dominated much of north-western Europe, and has it’s sights firmly set on the UK now – first spotted here in summer 2004.

ladybirds in decline

Not a Harlequin – see here for how to identify them.

The people behind the Ladybird Survey, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, are now asking for your help.  If you’d like to assist the monitoring of the Harlequin ladybird population, as well as their impact on our native ladybirds, then they’ve developed a handy app.   Called iRecord Ladybirds (you can search for it in the iPhone or Android App Store), it allows you to record any ladybirds you’ve spotted quickly and easily.   Using the app you can take a photo and add some information about where you saw it, the number you saw, etc.  There’s even a handy guide to help identify the ladybird in question if like me you struggle to identify the particular species (there are 47 UK native ladybird species after all!).  If you don’t have a smartphone you can send an online record to them instead.

There are other ways to help too.  As ladybirds hibernate over winter you can lay down some small logs in a corner of your garden for them to hibernate in, or if you want to get a bit more creative than that here are some other great ideas.  You can also buy ladybird homes on the internet or in garden centres (I like this one from What You Sow), and even make your own using just a plastic bottle and some corrugated cardboard!

In spring and summer leave patches of nettles growing as ladybirds tend to lay their eggs on nettles, and avoid spraying plants with insecticides.  Ladybirds eat the aphids that feast on plants, and do a much better and safer job at reducing the aphid numbers than chemicals do.

Garden October 25, 2013 posted by

How to Encourage Wild Birds to your Garden

How to Encourage Wild Birds to your Garden

It’s autumn and perhaps you’re thinking about feeding the birds that frequent your garden?  Earlier this year, when Moral Fibres was all shiny and new, I wrote a piece about how to feed wild birds in your garden.  There’s some handy hints in there about what to feed and what not to feed the birds that visit your garden.  I thought I’d add the link here in case it benefits any newer readers wanting to start feeding the birds in autumn and winter.

As an update to that post I thought I’d also share some ideas on the type of products that might help encourage wild birds in to your garden.

If you’ve already got bird feeders then it’s always worthwhile giving your bird feeders and water trays a good clean in warm soapy water, and rinsing and drying well before putting them back out with any food on them.

how to feed the birds in winter

1.  This squirrel-proof fat ball feeder (£2.49) is handy for keeping the squirrels out of your bird feeders.  Grey squirrels aren’t native and have outcompeted our native red squirrels in most of the UK.  They also bully birds at bird feeders meaning our native birds can’t get to the feeders.  This does the job of allowing the birds access to the feeder but blocking access to the squirrels.  Fat balls also often come in little net bags – it’s not ideal to hang the balls out in the net bags as birds can get their feet stuck in them.  Offering them in a feeder is a safer alternative.

2.  If you don’t have squirrels in your garden then this stylish seed feeder* (£8.99) is a nice change from all of the standard bird feeders around.

3.  This fat ball kit* (£3.95) is an easy and economical way to make your own fat balls using kitchen scraps.

4.  This peanut feeder* (£15.49) is not only an ideal way to feed peanuts to the birds, it’s also made from 100% recycled plastics.  Peanuts are a great high energy source of food at this time of year – but always make sure they’re always offered in a feeder or crushed into small pieces and placed on your bird table.  They can pose a choking hazard otherwise.

5. This squirrel proof bird feeder (£7.99) again helps keep squirrels from feasting on your bird seed.

6.  This autumn bird food collection* (£9.99) is a great and affordable way to get started feeding the birds, providing you with everything you need to feed the birds over autumn.

how to help wild birds in winter

1.  This bird house (£35.00) is one of the most stylish bird houses out there.

2.  These roosting pockets* (£2.85 each) make good places for small birds to hide from predators or bad weather.

3.  A bird table (£39.99) is a great way to feed the birds, and this one would look lovely in any garden.

4.  A bird bath (£11.99) gives birds a place to have a little wash and have a drink.  Just make sure it’s not too deep.

5.  Hanging a wool pot (£11.50) in your garden is a great way to help birds feather their nest with cosy wool.

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