Bog landscapes and the ugly face of the Anthropocene
Peat extraction and global warming
A peat bog is a sacred place. A keeper of deep memories… it is also a quagmire of damaging commercial harvesting, which continually releases vast amounts of greenhouse gases. Apart from leaving a significant carbon footprint, peat extraction destroys the natural habitat of rare birds, animals, and insects. It takes one thousand years for one meter of peat to form and only one minute to excavate it.
To add to the problem, ‘peat is the most damaging fuel in terms of global warming; even worse than coal. It has a lower calorific value than coal’, warns Kevin O'Sullivan, Environment & Science Editor for The Irish Times.
If this alone is not enough 'the carbon in peat, when spread on a field or garden, quickly turns into carbon dioxide, adding to greenhouse gas levels'. According to Dr Mark Avery – a former director of conservation for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, ‘using peat in gardens releases a million tons of CO2 every year. Removing it from composts and grow-bags would cut those emissions at a stroke and would be the same as taking about 350,000 cars off the road’.
Testing peat in my garden and indoors
The anecdotal tests below suggest that peat may not be the most versatile growing medium. In Fig. 3 you can see pots with broad beans propagated in greenhouse. All four samples were sown on the same day and grown with the south-facing exposure. This is what they look like on 9 October.
- Samples 1 and 2 are potted in a peat-free compost mix. Samples 3 and 4 are potted in a peat-based compost.
- Samples 2 and 4 are enriched with well-rotted manure at a ratio 4:1 (4 parts compost and one part manure). Beans sown in peat-based compost demonstrate stunted development compared to their peat-free siblings.
- Sample 4, which is enriched with manure, lookes less stunted, but still can't compete with peat-free samples 1 and 2. Now let's take a closer look at the soil surface in terms of nutrition-sucking algae buildup in peat-based pots.
The reader is free to make their own conclusions...
The below photos (Fig. 8, Fig. 9) were taken on 5 Oct.
Site: full sun, no-dig bed;
Position: South-West facing;
Timeline: both types of composts were placed there on 10 September;
Amount of precipitation during the experiment: average (rainwater only).
Fig. 8. Black peat-free compost at the right top corner
vs. algae-covered peat-based compost at the bottom.
Peat and public parks (since this post is created for the Limerick People's Park Ecologies project under the 39th EVA International Biennial of Contemporary Art)
In the climate-crisis world, public parks need to serve as both therapeutic and eco-ambassador sanctuaries – a humble role with global impact.
How could it be done?
In a public park setting:
For instance, an information board next to a spring bulb flowerbed could read something like this:
- If you want to support starving bees in early spring by planting spring bulbs, use peat-free compost to minimize the risk of bulb rot, especially in container planting.
- Peat-based soil mix tends to build up nutrition-sucking algae on the soil surface. This is why it is not recommended to use it for indoor seed propagation.
- Peat extraction damages fragile peat bog ecosystems and releases vast amounts of carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming. We don’t use peat in this park.
The environmental impact from this humble attempt could be enormous.
In a home garden setting:
It’s simple – stop buying peat-based products. Even though attempts have been made to retire dozens of Irish bogs from energy production, peat briquettes remain readily available and peat-based compost is still the cheapest and the most popular on the market. It’s your will as a consumer that shapes the market. If you stop buying peat, they will stop draining peat bogs. Simply by asking your garden center if they stock peat-free compost, you create a market signal. Never underestimate the power of individual action. As a humble Swedish teenager has already proved “No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference”.
I wanted to finish this post with the photo of the neighbour's peacock feather that I found on one of my trial no-dig beds (Fig 9). The feather is sandwiched between the two testing patches - peat-free compost vs. peat-based compost as a metaphor of the polarization in our society. The algae-covered right-hand side represents climate change deniers while the left-hand side healthy soil – is climate scientists, environmental activists, and all conscious adults facing the unvarnished truths of the climate crisis. We all are soils...
Vi Brazh for PARKLIFE Collab (SOIL) - interdisciplinary project of the LSAD Fine Art students, in collaboration with the 39th EVA International Biennial of Contemporary Art and Limerick City Gallery of Art. All information in this blog is based on my research as part of Year 4 course in Fine Art- Painting, LSAD-TUS.