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What Is Peat?

Peat commonly forms in bogs and marshes.
Peat may be used for fertilizing purposes.
Peat may be used for livestock bedding purposes.
Peat may be used for gardening purposes.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2014
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Peat is vegetable matter which has been partially carbonized due to the way in which it decomposes. Over time, peat deposits have the potential to evolve into coal. There are a number of uses for it, although the two primary ones are as a type of fuel and as a fertilizer. Many countries exploit and sell their peat resources, especially Ireland, Scotland, and Finland. In these nations, blocks are readily available as a fuel source, and it is also sold in less compacted form for gardeners.

The process of peat formation is very slow. Moss is one of the primary components, although it may also contain other plant matter such as grasses and shrubs. In addition, peat often contains decomposing material of animal origin. In order for the material to form, conditions must be wet, acidic, and cold. As a result, peat forms most often in bogs and marshes, which are wet with poor drainage, promoting its formation.

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The cold and acidity keep decomposition rates slow. It can take hundreds or thousands of years for a deposit to build up, as layers of new plant material grow on top of layers of decomposing peat. Many cultures associated peat bogs with spirits or gods, and traces of sacrifices can be found in bogs in many parts of the world. Tollund Man, for example, is believed to have been a sacrificial offering to a peat bog. The highly acidic conditions of these bogs have preserved some of these victims remarkably well, allowing archaeologists to learn more about the periods in which they lived.

When peat is harvested, it is cut out of the bog in long strips which are compressed and dried. Harvesting has put bogs all over the world in danger, as it can be collected much more rapidly than it will be replenished, creating a dramatic change in the natural environment of the bog. Once compressed, the peat may be fired as fuel, mixed into gardens to retain moisture and promote nutrient retention, or used to create biodegradable planters for plants. It can also be used to make paper, pad livestock beds, or pack products for shipment.

In some countries with large peat deposits, steps have been taken to keep harvesting sustainable. There are also some concerns about it as a fire risk, since it can smolder for days, even underground, emitting noxious fumes and pollutants all the while. For construction crews, peat can be extremely irritating, because it is easily compressed. This means that it cannot bear any weight, making the bogs useless for any type of construction.

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lighth0se33
Post 4

I think it's awesome that something as ordinary as bog peat can turn into coal. Who would have thought that rotting plant matter could be so useful?

I understand that there are environmental concerns, but this is a natural product of the earth. It seems like it should be safe to use as fuel.

It is unfortunate that it takes so long for peat to form, though. I don't know what is going to be done about this. What happens when we run out of peat? Do we find another natural resource that offers the same benefits?

StarJo
Post 3

Sphagnum peat moss can only help your garden if you mix it in with the soil very well. Otherwise, it could do harm to your plants.

I had a small vegetable garden, and I hated the thought of tilling the soil. So, I got some sphagnum peat and spread it all over the surface around the plants. I didn't dig or mix it in with the dirt at all.

It turns out that dried peat moss will actually keep water away from the soil. It has to be mixed in very well in order to help the dirt retain nutrients and water. My garden dried out and my plants began to shrivel, and it was only then that I came to know this fact about peat.

Perdido
Post 2

@Oceana – It is possible to grow flowers from a garden of peat. I have done it, and when you consider what peat is made of, it is probably even more nutritious than any soil you could find.

I'm sure that if you needed to add some of your own sandy soil to the bed as filler, then your flowers should still grow. The peat will help the soil retain the nutrition.

I have several large containers filled with nothing but peat, and my chrysanthemums and dianthus plants are doing well in them. You don't have to water peat as often as you do regular soil, so gardening with it saves you some time and hassle.

Oceana
Post 1

I have several bags of peat that my grandmother left behind when she passed away, and I've been considering using them to make a flower garden. My grandmother was really into flowers, and I would like to grow a garden in her memory.

The soil in my yard is rather sandy, though. Is it possible to grow a flower garden in a raised bed of nothing but peat, or will I need some actual soil to mix in with it? I have enough peat to fill a good sized raised bed, but I just don't know if it has the power to sustain the flowers on its own.

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