Have you all read the All New Square Foot Gardening 2nd Edition book on p.96 (section “Only a Little”) that gives a full explanation on why SFGers don’t have to be concerned with peat moss being a nonrenewable source? It’s a common sense approach to the use of our natural resources and how not to panic or sound the alarm.
For instance, we used to get a lot of letters from the UK saying that peat moss is unsustainable. After we tracked down all of those stories saying Britain had used up and burned all of their peat, we discovered that it was “peat” (an older cousin of peat moss) and not peat moss that had all been burned on the British island. “Peat” takes many years to replace. Soon after when I traveled to Canada, the Canadians said, “Heavens no, we’ve not run out. We have more peat moss than the world could use in 100 years! Besides that, we’re making more naturally than we’ll ever be able to harvest and sell!” In their minds, there is no shortage. It’s a business in Canada and in plentiful supply.
To add to that: The SFG method only uses peat moss once. Mel’s Mix is 1/3 peat moss that will last up to 10 years. Since we’re only adding 6″ deep of Mel’s Mix in every 4×4 box, that’s not very much peat moss. Remember, SFG takes only 20% of the space of a conventional row garden, so we’re automatically using 1/5th of the amount you’d use in a row garden.
The peat moss in our SFG beds lasts for well over 10 years. Our feeling is that there’s not only not a shortage, but we’re using so LITTLE that we’re being kind to the Earth’s supply of this naturally occurring material that’s available from different sources all over the world. The SFG method does not deplete peat moss and it’s not in danger of running out. Peat moss is something that could and should be used because of its good qualities. I hope that would take away your feeling of endangering the Earth’s supply when you use it in Mel’s Mix.
Let me explain our position another way and in more detail. First of all the average single row garden takes 700 Square Feet and the routine every spring is to add a whole bunch of things to the soil like peat moss (and compost and fertilizer and anything else you can get that will improve the soil). This is all AFTER you check the ph (a pain to do) and add more things to correct the ph because it’s your natural soil and never in balance.
With SFG we don’t have to do all that stuff or know all those things. Our soil is perfect to start with. Let’s look at the numbers (that are rounded for easy math). Single row gardens: 700 SqFt x 1inch deep of peat moss = approx 70 cubic feet of peat moss used every year.
SFGs only take 20% of the space of a single row garden. So instead of 700 SqFt of garden space, we only need 140 SqFt. The very first year, we add 1/3rd peat moss x 6inches deep = 20 cubic feet of peat moss. Did you follow all that math? Another big difference is we use the Mel’s Mix only the first year, and it will last for ten years! How can we do that? Well, if you read the All New SFG book, every time you replant each Square Foot, you add a handful of homemade compost (a renewable and free source). At the end of ten years, you start all over again.
So in summary, a traditional single-row garden has used 70 cubic feet x 10 years = 700 cubic feet while the SFG has used only 20 cubic feet in those same 10 years to grow the same amount of harvest. That’s a 35:1 difference.
Another Perspective: If you had a car (an old gas guzzler) that only got 10mph, I’d say to take that thing off the road because gasoline is a nonrenewable material. Although we’re not in danger of using gas all up yet, the experts say we have well over 100 years supply-even at our present rate. So if I come along and invent a new car that gets 350mph, would you tell me that that’s not a good thing and I should stop using that car because gas is nonrenewable? I say, if you can get 350 miles out of every gallon, we’d probably have 1,000 years supply left. Does any of that make sense?
The testing of other substitutes and alternatives to peat moss should continue. The most common alternative we’ve found, coconut coir, hasn’t proven as inexpensive as peat moss nor does it have the same water holding capacities, nor is it as available or as easy to use. In addition, we found some of the coir, perhaps because of its location, was too salty and would kill your plants. SFG is always looking for substitutions, but nothing yet has been found that can compare to peat moss. When something comes along that is cheaper and equal in capabilities, the market will take over immediately and that will become the thing to use. Our position is for those that say “Oh, we’re running out. The sky is falling. We have to stop immediately.” we direct to our car gasoline illustration. If we can improve the efficiency so much that it’s not going to run out, then let’s not panic but keep looking for better, renewable, and readily available resources. Renewable anything is good because it was probably made from a waste product. That means we can clean up the environment quicker and easier.
I continually search all of the garden suppliers and manufacturers for new ideas. At every trade show I talk with the coir people. SFG has tested choir and is starting to substitute choir for a portion of the peat moss in our experimental mixes. It takes a while to test all of these things. (Plants don’t grow overnight you know). In addition, we do offer coir to anyone who wants it on our website store: http://www.squarefootgardening.com/garden-accessories/mels-mix-soil/coconut-peat-coir/.
We appreciate our readers’ concerns and questions regarding these matters and bring a common-sense attitude and solution to the problems in our world. Happy Gardening!