With spring, in Vancouver, just around the corner it seemed like a good time to start some seeds inside. For that I needed potting mix. These mixes contain soil as nutrients, perlite, that allows for more oxygen around the roots, sand, for drainage, and peat moss to retain water. I was hoping I could find a mix without the latter as peat moss is unsustainably harvested from bogs in Canada’s north. Unfortunately, Canadian Tire didn’t have any, and I’ve never really had luck at any other gardening stores. The more sustainable alternative to retain moisture is coconut coir, the by-product of coconut husk. It is no secret that harvesting peat from bogs is bad practice, yet no major brands have changed to replacing peat with coir in their mixes. This has left the consumer who wants to make sustainable choices asking, do I really want to buy soil, perlite, sand, and coir separately and make my own mix? If you don’t, I do not blame you as it is more expensive and time consuming. This is the type of situation where I feel conflicted about gardening. I am left thinking that it is ironic that florally diverse bogs must be harvested in order for well-intentioned gardeners to create habitat in their yards. Can we not have the best of both worlds? I think we can. This video shows you how you can make your own mix and avoid the unsustainable choice of the average potting mix. I believe that this issue must be given greater attention, but there is no better way to address it right away than by making sustainable gardening choices this growing season.
You might be asking yourself, what makes bogs so special and worth protecting? Bogs are created over hundreds or even thousands of years as partially decaying vegetation fills in a body of water, such as a lake. Large amounts of carbon are stored in the partially decaying plants below the surface, making bogs very important carbon sinks. The soil that is formed by this partially decayed material is what we refer to as peat. Growing on the surface of these soils are a variety of mosses, including sphagnum moss (as labelled on potting mixes). Due to the highly acidic and nutrient poor soil, plants in bogs have adapted remarkable ways to survive. Look no further than the round-leaved Sundew, a carnivorous plant that cannot survive on the soil’s nutrients alone. For additional nutrients, the plants attract insects by excreting a nectary substance on their leaves, that in the sun, looks like dew, giving them their names. They then break down their prey using special enzymes. Bog species have adapted to very specific ecological conditions, which puts them at risk if bogs are harvested unsustainably.
Is coir a sustainable alternative? With regards to sustainability, I want to make it clear that coconut coir is not a perfect solution as it requires being shipped over long distances from tropical nations where it is processed. Although there is more use of fossil fuels in the shipping of coir than peat, preserving bogs means preserving natural carbon sinks. I think it is also worth mentioning that we cannot simply re-build a bog. Bogs are formed over hundreds to thousands of years. With regards to reclamation of habitat after harvest, here is a quote from “Canadian Peat Harvesting and the Environment” published by the North American Wetlands Conservation Council Committee “there are several options for peat land reclamation. They include the transformation of the site into a new, (but ecologically changed), functioning wetland providing values such as waterfowl habitat; development of an agricultural cropland; or a forestry plantation on-site”(2001). To summarize, new habitat can be created, but not in the form of a bog.
Below is a photo gallery of a variety of bog plants as well as a video on how to make a mix that includes coir. It should be noted that these photos are taken at Camosun bog in Vancouver, with the exception of the first photo in the gallery (taken near Québec City). Although they do not completely portray the flora of bogs in the north where harvesting occurs, many related species are found in both areas.
I'm using my power as a photographer to highlight nature's beauty and the reasons worth protecting our incredible planet