PEAT -- parts of the peat moss story are seldom heard

This sustainable natural resource, considered ‘essential’ by the Canadian government as so many industries got closed by COVID-19 rules–
keeps seedling and cutting producers in business and is the perfect seed-starting medium that is hard to replace.

There are over 114,000,000 hectares of peat resources exist in Canada.
Some 32,000 hectares (60,000 acres) are being harvested, and 9,000 are post harvest (and over 50% of those hectares are or have been ‘reclaimed’ to a natural state post harvest).

An estimated 20 Million Tons of peat are formed per year naturally in Canada, and 1.38 million tons are harvested annually. So the harvest could be 10 times increased and not reduce peat acreage in Canada.
This is a never-ending natural resource.

Only 30 to 45 days a year is the conditions right to harvest–so the families that have made a living from peat for generations have less than a couple months to secure their yearly livlihoods. Any ‘peat shortages’ are due to regulations, rainfall and lack of labor.

85 % of Canadian peat acreage is virgin, never been touched.
Nations such as Finland, Ireland, Denmark and limited other places on earth produce peat from naturally ocurirng bogs. Especially in Scandinavian countries peat has been used to heat homes in times past.

Peanut hulls, rice hulls, pine fines, coir…there are things that can be good media besides peat for young plants…but modern greenhouse plant production for the masses certainly not the same if not for peat in the potting mix.


Fun fact- it takes Sphagnum moss 1000 years to make 1 meter of peat.

I think at one time they used peat moss as a heating fuel like coal.

I think by accident while making whisky the odor of the burning peat drying the barley made a fine Scotch :sunglasses:


I’m interested to learn more about this topic, because I was under the impression that peat moss is not a renewable resource. I looked quickly and came across these sources:

The Truth About Peat — In Defense of Plants ← this one actually links out to .edu resources
The truth about peat moss

Based on these sources I am not sure I would classify peat/peat moss/sphagnum moss as renewable. Even if it was sustainably harvested with appropriate oversight it seems like the act of harvesting it would permanently change the ecosystem it came from.

I may be missing some context here, and if so, I’d be happy to do more research on the topic.


Yes peat is interesting. It stores over 40% of the earths soil carbon, but only covers a few percent of the earths surface.

I think the fact is that ‘worldwide’ it is NOT a renewable resource…because of the rate at which idiot countries remove it. Canada i think is a responsible country which in their case it seems to be renewable. Its a cash crop for Canada though…

Dont read anything about fires in peat bogs in Indonesia - they release about 3 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The Soviet Union burned peat for a very long time to make electric… releasing who knows how much CO2.

Peat has a very good role in our ecosystem… and a very bad role when humans decide to burn it.


Peat megafires are an increasing problem.


Yes, stories condemning peat are plentiful…notice I mentioned the other side is seldom heard?


Does that imply hurry up and mine/harvest it before more fires start?

The ‘root simple’ quote above suggests 270 million acres are being harvested.
The fact is something over one tenth of one percent is indeed being harvested…and over 85% is totally virgin and could be harvested by future generations. Hundreds of millions of acres of sphagnum are replacing more than is being harvested by a factor of more than 10 in Canada.

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I’ve heard the environmental claims, but I sort of trust the Canadians to take care of the bogs.


It’s such a great soil amendment and potting soil that it seems
just burning it is not smart.
(But if you lived in cold lands and had no coal or logs, you’d definitely need to burn something to keep from freezing…reindeer ‘chips’ aren’t that plentiful).


Blubber used to serve that purpose too prior to over harvesting many species. Now heating oil is an option, and wind up where it blows hard can power geothermal heat pumps too. I just bought a bale of peat for my potting mixes last night at HD. I’m planning to sterilize it in batches in the microwave this year based on some other threads I’ve read recently.


I guess burning peat is the lesser of evils…that was around the time when harvesting whales and seals and elephant seals for oil and fur was a good idea.

So i am pro peat for potting…as long as it provides plants and trees that negate the effects of our carbon emissions… which is a kind of strange cycle.

As far as coal is concerned… coal pretty much comes from peat… And as a planet we have burned a whole lotta coal…like a whole lot.

So peat could be a form of a savior if we use it wisely and create more plants and trees…

At some point in Earth’s lifetime we will have to make a decision whether we want to breathe or burn carbon.

So for now… yes lets use peat wisely. Let it help us grow things… that help us breathe and feed us.


Like @ampersand I am of the opinion that generally this is not a sustainable resource. Could you argue against that?.. with sources cited. Canada isn’t the only producer, sphagnum is SLOW growing, and other waste products work as alternatives (e.g. Coco coir)


It would be really nice if humans didnt treat yard leaves and grass clippings as waste.

Imagine if you will a household that puts their leaves and grass clippings on the curb and pays for it to be taken to the landfill… then that same household pays for bags of compost from a box store that is made from leaves and grass clippings.

Is coco-coir earth friendly- im not sure the amount of carbon that needs to be used to get it from South America etc. to my state… im not really sure how much carbon it takes to harvest peat to get it to my state.

Im not really sure why i think i need exotic soil amendments… its a pickle for sure.


For container growing and seed starting, peat and coir certainly have their place. For mulching around trees, local compost is great. All tools in the toolbox for different gardening styles.

Also keep in mind - perlite, vermiculite, diatomaceous earth all have to be mined so each component of a mix has its own challenges from an environmental impact standpoint.

Even using pine bark, you are harvesting a resource, however a more renewable one.


A bit tangential, but this is a fascinating article about the use of peat for fuel in the Netherlands when they ran out of trees to burn and how it was the main driver of their thriving economy for centuries. And how its harvest led to 10% of their land area being overtaken by water in a country that puts an insane amount of effort to move in the other direction.


I agree.

However if you lived in a time before now, or a continent in which those things were not available… you could and would grow food from seed in soil.

As far as i know potting soil was invented in the 1960s.

No clue how people lived before then.

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Garden soil and compost.


And, is that because no nurseries propagated plants and had customers buying them before the 1960’s?

I actually don’t remember, for I started using real soil (and burning brush and limbs to sterilize the seed beds) and probably didn’t buy potting/top soil in bags for another 30 years.

I still don’t start many seeds in ‘potting mix’. I do start cuttings and buy small ‘liners’ and put the plugs or bare roots into pots that contain at least some bagged product, usually mixed by adding some unsterilized local or recycled soil. And top dressing Osmocote or some cheaper alternative.

That’d be an interesting story by itself…the first potting soil in bags, eh?

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Garden soil and ashes … as a barefoot boy…sometimes helped out by a little chicken manure.