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composting

Garden, Home and Garden

Why Should You Use Peat Free Compost?

green gardening tips

Today let’s chat about why you should use peat-free compost in your garden.

As I was digging in my garden the other day, 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 its very nature, but some gardening practices are less than planet-friendly.  So, now and again I’ll be sharing some easy eco-friendly green gardening tips to make your garden or allotment as green as can be.

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

Choose peat-free compost.

What’s the Big Deal About Peat?

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 the soil.  However, at this time it was discovered that peat holds water, oxygen, and nutrients well, making it a good medium for growing plants and vegetables.  Its usage reached its peak in 1997 when a staggering 99% of the compost sold in the UK contained peat.

At What Cost?

To meet demand from gardeners, acres upon acres of peat bogs across the UK have been drained and dug up to make compost.  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 its 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 its readers not to bother with peat-free compost varieties.  Yet there are plenty of feasible alternatives to peat compost out there.

Where Can You Buy Peat-Free Compost?  

compost without peat

We used to buy ours from our local Co-Op.  However, for some inexplicable reason this year they started selling only 80% peat-free compost.  That’s 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”.  However, unless it’s specifically labelled as peat-free then you might be surprised to know that even these “eco-friendly” compost 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.

Does Peat-Free Compost Work?

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.

Is There An Alternative to Peat-Free?

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

Look out for more green gardening tips here!  And any green gardening tips you want to share?  Do so in the comments below!

Garden, Home and Garden

How to Make Compost For Beginners

Let’s talk about how to make compost today. Why not try making your own peat-free compost.  It’s really easy – here’s everything you could ever want to know to get started!

Did you know that we Brits throw an estimated 4.5 million tonnes of food and drink in the bin each year?  A staggering amount, I’m sure you’ll agree. This is a huge problem as when food is sent to landfill, as it decomposes without any oxygen, it releases a greenhouse gas called methane. Methane produces 21 times as much warming to our atmosphere as carbon dioxide, driving climate change at a much faster rate. It’s therefore vitally important to avoid sending food to landfill as much as possible.

Undoubtedly the best way to reduce food waste is to plan your food shopping carefully and freezing leftovers. However, composting also has a vital role in reducing the amount of food sent to landfill.  

how to make compost

Composting kitchen waste isn’t hard to do and, contrary to popular opinion, isn’t a smelly job if done correctly.  So I thought I’d show you how to make compost at home, odour-free!

And if you don’t have a garden, check out this guide on how to compost in a flat.

Start in the Kitchen 

It can be hard knowing where to start, but I think the easiest place is to start in the kitchen. Gathering the supplies you need, and getting your indoor setup together gives you good momentum for moving on to the next stage.

First of all, you need a lidded kitchen caddy to hold your kitchen waste. I have one like this* that I sit on my countertop. However, if you have a tiny kitchen then you can even get a caddy that hooks onto the wall or inside a cupboard*.  

Next, think about whether you would prefer to use your caddy. Some people like to line their caddy with a compostable bag*. It does add additional cost, but it does mean you don’t have to wash your caddy every time you empty it.

A low-impact and low-cost alternative is to make your own bags out of old newspapers. Sounds complicated? It’s really not! Here’s a 30-second video showing you how to do it.

Other people eschew the bag and go bagless. If you don’t mind washing your caddy every time you empty it then go for it!

What Can Go In Your Kitchen Caddy?

You can place all sorts of kitchen scraps and waste in your kitchen caddy for home composting:

  • fruit and vegetable peelings (citrus skins don’t compost well)
  • fruit and vegetable scraps,
  • salad leaves
  • tea leaves and bags – not PLA based teabags or teabags made from polypropylene. Confused? Check out my guide to plastic-free teabags to see if your preferred tea brand is compostable or not
  • coffee grounds and filter papers,
  • crushed eggshells
  • nutshells
  • hair and pet fur

Onions should be added sparingly, as worms are not keen on onions.

What Shouldn’t Go In Your Caddy

Conversely, if you are composting at home then there are a few things that you don’t want to put in your caddy. Avoid the following items helps stop odour problems and rodents:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs (crushed eggshells are ok)
  • Poultry scraps
  • Dairy products
  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils

It’s also not a good idea to put some products labelled as compostable in your caddy, such as compostable cups. Read here for why you can’t compost compostable cups at home.

garden composter compost bin

Next, Consider Your Garden Setup

Now you’ve got your kitchen set up, it’s time to think about your garden.  

The Compost Bin

A garden composter is invaluable.  You can make your own, like the one pictured above. Here’s a guide on how to make your own compost bin from pallets.

Alternatively, you can buy a compost bin. We have a standard plastic one*, which we find is good for trapping heat and helping our food waste break down quickly.  However, there are many different types of bins available, such as the Hotbin*, which can create organic compost 32 times quicker than a standard bin. Or the Green Johanna*, which also speeds up the composting processes.

Where to Site Your Compost Bin

Once you’ve picked your bin, you need to consider where to put it. The best place to site your compost bin is in a sunny spot on bare soil.  The sun increases the temperature in your bin, making your waste break down faster. Meanwhile, bare soil allows for worms to enter your bin, which is essential for composting.

If you don’t have any bare soil and need to place your bin on slabs or tarmac then don’t worry. Just make sure you place a layer of paper and twigs at the bottom of the bin before you start emptying your waste into the composter.  This helps creatures such as worms to be able to colonise your composter.

How to Make Compost

Now you’re all set up you can start composting your kitchen waste.  Here’s how to make compost.

Compost Your Food Waste

how to compost food waste

For most of the year, you probably won’t have to empty the caddy every day – just when it gets full.  In our household (of three) we find we empty our caddy into the composter every two to three days, and our kitchen is odour-free.  If you live by yourself you may want to empty it before it gets full to avoid odours, as you will likely be generating less waste.

In summer, fruit flies can be a problem, so I empty the caddy every day. See here for more tips on how to get rid of fruit flies naturally if you find that they become a problem.

Don’t Forget Your Garden Waste

When making compost, it’s vital to add a mix of different materials to your bin. Things you can add include:

  • flowers
  • spent plants from your garden
  • nettles
  • rhubarb leaves
  • grass cuttings
  • fallen leaves
  • twigs
  • garden trimmings
  • hay and straw

I would avoid composting the following garden items:

  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants as diseases or insects might spread
  • Invasive plant species
  • Anything from the garden treated with pesticides as it may kill vital organisms

And Don’t Forget The Other Items You Can Compost

When making compost, I would aim for a balance between green waste – this is your kitchen scraps as well as your grass clippings and weeds – and brown waste. This brown waste includes dried leaves and twigs from your garden, however, it should also include:

  • cardboard (torn up)
  • egg boxes (torn up)
  • scrunched up paper
  • toilet roll tubes (torn up)

These types of material are slower to rot, add carbon (essential for providing energy for the worms and other creatures in your composter) and create air pockets.  These pockets provide vital oxygen to your compost and help stop your composter from smelling.  It’s particularly important to do this if you’ve added grass cuttings to help promote the flow of oxygen.

Composting No-Nos

As well as the items already listed, there are a few more composting no no’s:

real compost

How Long Does It Take to Make Compost?

In your composter, your kitchen and garden waste can take anywhere between 3 and 12 months to produce garden-ready compost.

The good news is your compost will be fantastically nutrient-rich. It will be great in borders, vegetable, and flower beds, for potting plants in, and for feeding shrubs and trees.  Your compost may have twiggy bits in it – you can sieve these out if you are particularly pernickety about your compost!

How you’ve found this guide on how to make compost useful!  If you have any other questions on how to compost then do feel free to ask in the comments below!