Coir or Peat? Which should you use?

If you’re soil is like ours, you need added organic material in your garden to compensate for the high clay content. Organic material is also needed in sandy soil to provide a medium for holding water. Over the years, we have added many materials including peat moss (also known as sphagnum moss) to improve the garden tilth. Peat moss is harvested from bogs and there is much controversy about its sustainability.

My father found an interesting opinion on the subject by Eliot Coleman in his book for small vegetable farmers titled The New Organic Grower. Mr. Coleman explains that the anti-peat movement began in Europe where the population density and long-time use of their peat resources has created the necessity to look for alternatives to preserve the peat bogs. However, in North America, as of 1995, only .02% of peat lands were used for harvesting. Even if peat use has increased 100 fold since the publishing of Mr. Coleman’s book, that is just 2% of all available peat land. He points out that peat is forming faster than we can use it and is therefore, by definition, a renewable resource in North America.

In recent years, I have noticed Coir fiber advertised as a renewable, environmentally friendly alternative to peat moss. You can find it in many garden catalogs. But once again, Mr. Coleman makes a few very good points about coir:

  1. It is transported a great distance at great expense and using large amounts of energy, and
  2. This valuable organic matter is needed in the areas it is produced to maintain soil fertility.

These are excellent points that should remind us to look beyond the “renewable”, “sustainable” marketing propaganda.

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