Just about the same time that everyone is starting to work in their yards, we start getting lots of requests for peat moss, as a soil amendment. Most of the requests come from gardeners who are starting square foot gardens. The recipe in the books call for peat moss, compost and vermiculite. Although the basic premise is sound, we disagree with the soil mix recipe.
Peat moss, is the decomposed remains of sphagnum moss fields. This sounds nice and organic, doesn’t it? There are millions of acres of peat fields in Michigan and Canada. It seems that harvesting this naturally occurring resource would be a good thing but if you look at a few facts, you will see that it isn’t. The trouble arises with the speed at which the fields are able to made peat moss. Due to the weather, sphagnum moss has a very short growing season. It takes a field 20 years to make 1 inch of peat moss. 20 years!!! Talk about slow! The fields are strip mined by cutting it into blocks, then it is bagged and shipped across the country…via semi truck. Peat moss has also been touted as a great way to acidify soil and stop Take-all-patch. The problem with that is when you apply peat moss to the top of your yard, it creates a crust that is darn near impossible to wet once it dries.
Vermiculite is a natural mined mineral that is heated, which causes it to shatter and flake. The largest commercial vermiculite mines exist in Russia, South Africa, China and Brazil. It is shipped to the U.S. then trucked all over the country.
Compost is what it is. It is made all over the country by many companies, using whatever locally available organic matter can be found. Many of these companies are high-tech recycling programs and are paid to take yard waste from municipalities or landscapers. Producing compost, locally, is a very sound way to deal with lots of debris, quickly. Some producers sort the debris into categories like hardwood, leaves only or pine only. This allows them to produce a wider variety of specific products for assorted uses. This also keeps a very valuable commodity out of the local land fills. We love compost!!! Compost, that is made locally, is the best soil amendment you can use in your garden. It provides local jobs and reduces the amount of fuel needed, to get it to market, over imported materials.
What we recommend
We recommend that you find a locally produced, composted landscaping mix for all new gardening beds. These mixes should have at least 1 type of compost (our custom blend has 3!) and top soil to supply minerals that can only be found in decomposed rocks. If you are rebuilding existing beds, just add a well aged compost. Well aged compost (at least 1 year) will not have weed seeds in it. Good composting practices will be hot enough to cook any seeds. If you are offered cheap compost, be very wary. It may look, feel and smell great, but ask, how long it has been “cooking”. We are offered “cheap”, compost all the time. When the answer to the “cooking” time is less than 1 year, we walk away and so should you.