How Sustainable Is Your Indoor Garden Soil?

It comes to mind that people are more concerned about how far food in grocery stores travels, and how much energy the most efficient grow lights use, than they are about how sustainable their growing media is. Why worry about deforestation or top soil loss from tilled cropland when you’re potting soil’s primary ingredient is peat harvested by strip mining it?

Did you know that a peat bog is a wetland? The regulations in place that protect wetlands from development or being stripped of plant life like cattails are strictly enforced in many places. The only people protecting peat bogs are peat mining companies. They’re protecting them from being regulated as something that requires protection, because if the Department of Natural Resources was to adopt similar rules for what one can and cannot do in peat covered wetlands… the bottom line would shrivel up and die. In the meantime, these bogs are very important to environmental control on Earth.

Stripping peat exposes groundwater which causes evaporation. Once upon a time no one was much concerned about that, but today as water availability becomes a precious and endangered thing? And as indoor gardening in urban areas grows in popularity, so will the demand for potting mix full of sphagnum peat.

In other words, the more people growing herbs, lettuce and patio tomatoes in their windowsills using traditional potting methods – the faster peat bogs that supply potting mix manufacturers will be stripping every one they can get their hands on. Doing so releases millions and millions of tons of stored or sequestered carbon back into the air.

Then what?

It takes 1000 years for nature to create a peat bog. Ten centuries. It only takes 100 years for a chunk of cropland sitting idle to become a maturing forest. So, in truth, growing food indoors using peat-based potting mix is ten times more destructive to Earth than clear cutting forests.

It’s not just groundwater preservation that is being lost to peat mining. Peat absorbs greenhouse gases like CO2 – it is a carbon sequester that helps to purify the air in our atmosphere.

If you’re going to use potting mix to grow food indoors, be a good Earth citizen and use a sustainable product. Coir-based potting mixes are far better choices to reduce the effects of humanity on the very environment that supports it as a life form. Yes, they’re more expensive to buy if it’s a high quality product, but how much is tomorrow worth to you? If cost is the issue, then consider making it yourself, because you’re paying for things like advertising in addition to what’s in the bag. Most plants adore coir blend media, which has a more plant friendly pH level too.

It’s long past time to say, “So long, Peat.” Unless you enjoy weather that’s hotter than Hades, or Arctic in frigid extremes. Don’t forget that groundwater is a natural mechanism that helps to moderate the temperature here on the surface.

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Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine

Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.