Why I will never Use peat free compost

Hello everyone....

First post and rather a drastic statement I suppose. This has not been arrived at overnight.

Several years ago when council run composting sites started to spring up and the lobby for peat free compost was underway I read an article about  the effect of hebicides within the composting process in the USA.

Green waste which is composted in huge piles, usually within sheds at elevated temperatures could be made available for use within several weeks by these super composting sites. It didn't and still does not seem right that nature takes several months to effectively break down compost for gardeners, but this process does it in days.

 One problem they were experiencing in the process, was that gardeners green waste, lawn clippings etc that had been treated with weed and feed during the growing season was having an adverse affect on germination of seedlings grown in this compost. The other problem was that when the compost was used as a mulch it appeared to stunt the growth  of established plants.

I bet anyone who reads this can associate with what I am saying!

It was discovered that the active ingrediant Clopyralid used in garden herbisides, while killing the lawn weeds, was found to be active for several years in the municipal compost. That is several years in your soil, for the clopyralid to break down to an acceptable level, where seed germination and stunted growth from mulching stopped being affected.

This problem replicated itself in the UK, as many gardeners started to use reduced peat compost.

At the time my concern was how this compost was being tested and what was classed as an acceptable quality standard. I obtained a quality manual from one of the North West sites, which informed the quality manager to plant several Tomato seedlings in a batch of compost that had completed the composting process. If they germinated then the compost was acceptable. However, no one had carried out any tests on the fruit produced from these seeds. Today several universities in Europe have carried out tests on fruit grown in this type of compost, and passed it fit for consumption??

All this seems fine, however all the results depend upon where the compost sample was taken from within the pile and testing showed that there were variances throught the mix. There was also another problem, that of heavy metals within compost. Heavy mentals when absorbed can be fatal in the long term.Today batch samples are sent off to labs for testing.

I have contacted over the years the soil association, the RHS, and most recently my MP, to try to obtain some form of certainty that this type of municipal compost is safe, both to use and to eat the resulting fruit.

A letter from,'The Secretary for Rural affairs', outlines the chemicals regulations directorate for the controls of pesticides. Saying that studies carried out would have been carried out to determin the safety of the products. It also states that composted waste must achieve BSI   PAS100 before it can be used as a growing aid.

Now all this is well and good, however at Harrogate show this year the RHS person I spoke to, asking,'If all the problems relating to composted waste had,'Gone Away?' he told me.'Far from it' growers were up in arms because they couldn't get consistent germination from reduced peat products. You can immagine the problem trying to deliver several thousand Pansy plants to Tesco when only 30% had germinated! 

I have also been imformed that a new study has shown that the ammount of peat in the world today was not declining as we have been lead to believe.

If you have lasted this long reading this post I am amazed!!!



  • oops only a bit to go now.

    With several deaths in Scotland from Legionnares disease attributed to amateur gardeners using compost, it makes me wonder about the overall safety on reduced peat and no peat compost.

    There's lots more but that should get a discussion started.

    I for one will be going back to bulk loam adn searching for peat to mix my own in future. At least I know what's in it and how safe it is.

  • waterbuttswaterbutts Posts: 1,221

    Hello Blisters. We all have to work out our own way of getting through life and nobody has the answer to it all, I'm sure you would agree.

    Firstly, I haven't read about the Scottish Legionnaire's disease cases caused by home made compost. I am surprised to hear about it because Legionnaire's disease is carried through the air in vapourlike water droplets.Unless their compost was wringing wet, I don't see how they could have caught Legionnaire's disease off it. More likely, I think, would be some sort of problem from an allergic reaction, such as one commonly called Farmer's Lung, or extrinsic allergic alveolitis, a condition caused by inhaling Aspergillus moulds that are present in mouldy grass, hay and straw. This condition causes breathlessness but is not lethal of itself, I don't think.

    Secondly, when one buys a product one should always bear in mind the old warning "Caveat Emptor", let the buyer beware. Substandard compost is just as possible as dodgy driveways or non-beef horseburgers. I make my own compost and have always done so and am still alive to promote the benefits of so doing. And the weed seeds that spring up on the heap and get turned in show that there is nothing toxic in it.

    Thirdly, whose new study has shown that the quantity of peat in the world is not declining? Someone with a vested interest in so saying, I am sure. Peat used to be cut for a short season of the year,by one or two people in a family who used hand tools and nothing more, not even a horse to heft it home. They used to cut peat here in Derbyshire that way. Children would do a bit after a four or five mile walk home from school and carry a few dried lumps home with them from the moor to keep the home fires burning. In Ireland, families had Turbary rights or the right to extract peat for their own use. The Irish peat industry bought up these rights for a pittance and moved in with machinery that could be compared to a combined harvester. Now the peat can be cut twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Once, a couple of people with a couple of spades could dig out a small trench and then leave the birds and the insects to enjoy the peace and quiet of the moors. That has all gone. The peat diggings are now deserts, ploughed up and squished to death.

    I haven't bought anything containing peat, other than the odd plant pot with a plant in it from a garden centre, for years. That's my take on it.

  • Sadly, Blisters seems to be right about the Legionaires disease:

    Dr Martin Donaghy, HPS medical director, said: "Following the identification of five cases of an unusual form of legionnaires' disease in Lothian and Tayside, Health Protection Scotland is co-ordinating an incident management team to investigate this issue."It is believed that the four cases from NHS Lothian and the one case from NHS Tayside have arisen from the Legionella longbeachae strain found in compost and potting materials. This is an uncommon but recognised international phenomenon." 

    But I'm with you, Waterbutts, in believing the answer for me personally, at least, is making and using my own compost.  Not only because of the environmental issue of Peat usage which I remain convinced about, but because Peaty compost is horrible if it dries out and the peatfree compost I have tried this year was pretty much garbage in both meanings of the word image


  • waterbuttswaterbutts Posts: 1,221

    Aren't bacteria wonderful? Thank you for the info Macavity, it is fascinating. I just love the way those little critters can mutate each time we think we've got 'em.

    Apparently, the other name for the Longbeach strain of Legionella is Pontiac Fever, a phenomenon that I always thought occurred in the 1950s and was linked to the marketing of the latest model.

  • nice one waterbutts!

    I wont buy compost with peat in it - I learnt this at the knee of Geoff Hamilton, metaphorically speaking, and I just loved the  way he said 'coir' compost!!

  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 11,891

    When you have over an acre of garden and a lot of compost, how do you sterilise it? I would really like to know.

  •  Irrespective of using peat products or not, the green waste composting situation remains, with an industry constructed without fully understanding the implications of green waste composting, and while members may make their own mixes for growing there are millions of people who don't. There are also millions of pensioners that used to mix their own compost but because of their age have had to rely on garden centre composts. Is it fair that they don't know what they are buying, or what the mix consists of, because that in fact is what is happening

     Again it is only by chance that we don't have cattle waste in the mix as they do in other countries. Farmers use for 'Picloram' to kill thistles etc on rape seed or areas not intended for crops. When ingested by cattle the Picloram is still present in the waste. This has the same effect as Clopyralids in compost. When this stuff is sprayed onto fields it is invariably washed into the water course and ends up in streams and rivers. But no one mentions what effect this has on wildlife, fish stocks  etc.

    Water butts. If you consider compost  dodgey I am sure you will agree that the composted mix from green waste sites should be controlled properly. If this information is all new to you, you should consider that I have been passed from pillar to post trying to get to the bottom of the question,'Is composted waste safe to use?' for a few years now.

    Ask yourself why this has not been reported in the general gardening community, and why have the concerns not been headline reading in gardening magasines.








  • waterbuttswaterbutts Posts: 1,221

    I can imagine that local authorities are under pressure to increase their recycling percentage and will do anything that makes it look as if they are, including making cheapo compost. They are all short of cash and probably have little spare money to monitor the quality or ingredients in the product they sell.

    Commercial companies are always looking for the biggest profit for the least amount of effort. As I said, caveat emptor.

    How to sterilise compost? Well, don't do what my old dad once did. He put it on my mum's baking trays and gave it 20 minutes at gas mark 4. The pong of cooked worms is with me stillimage

  • I may be mistaken but when making your own mixes most formulae call for compost. So are you happy using compost that contains council composted waste, given what goes into it?

    If not which do you use and why?


  • waterbuttswaterbutts Posts: 1,221

    I make my own compost from kitchen waste, garden waste, old newspapers and so on. I have never used anybody else's mix. I use my own mix because it's free and I know what has gone into it.

  • Blisters ...

    I'm reading this article in a bit of a hurry, will digest it all later in slower time but one of your observations quite leapt out from the page!

    With several deaths in Scotland from Legionnares disease attributed to amateur gardeners using compost, it makes me wonder about the overall safety on reduced peat and no peat compost.


    Please note - while there have been 6 cases in Scotland associated with compost - there have been NO DEATHS!!!



  • SwissSueSwissSue Posts: 1,447

    An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing. " - Murphy's Law

  • fidgetbonesfidgetbones Posts: 11,092

    I have this horrible vision of gardeners in protective clothing, surgical gloves and masks for potting up a few geraniums.

    I read that 4% of extracted peat is used for horticultural purposes. The Irish burn 95% in power stations. Me using a couple of sacks of peat a year is going to make no difference whatsover. Coir was considered a suitable substitute, but the cost of importing it (compost miles?) seemed to have stopped it being used. The recycled rubbish is just too much rubbish. I don't want to stand and sieve a sack of compost to remove plastic, bits of china, and the odd nail before using it.

     I'm going back to the peat based stuff.

    It's not a mess, it's a nature reserve.
  • waterbuttswaterbutts Posts: 1,221

    The Daily Mail article says that the means of transmission of the new strain of Legionella isn't certain but that it may be airborne or via hand to mouth contact. 

    I wonder how many of the affected Scottish patients are smokers and perhaps ingested and/or inhaled the bacteria with their cigarettes. Their respiratory tracts would already be compromised to some extent by their tobacco smoking habit and maybe make them more vulnerable than non-smokers.

  • fidgetbonesfidgetbones Posts: 11,092

    Certainly someone with COPD caused by smoking is more vulnerable to other lung infections.

    It's not a mess, it's a nature reserve.
  • Waterbutts, how do you use your garden compost? Do you use it for seeds, cuttings, potting etc, or just on the garden? And if you do use in pots, etc, what do you mix it with?  I am an avid compost maker, even gathering my neighbours' garden waste, and  never seem to have enough for the garden, but would love to use it for all of my potting/growing needs, and import manure for the garden. There seems to be so much conflicting advice on this use of home-made compost.

    Not getting into the debate. All compost seems to be crap these days, (other than that made at home, carefully, with the right 'crap' of all kinds!) no consistency from bag to bag and very variable results, sometimes smelly and mouldy, even from trusted brands.

    I also would dearly like advice on sterilizing compost for greenhouse use.

    Did see this link yesterday, though


    Looks interesting, going to do more reading and checking, but is giving ideas fro my own mix.

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