Peat belongs in Bogs, not Bags

Peat belongs in Bogs, not Bags

By Lynne McCarthy, Master Gardener

 

Peatlands are “the unsung hero of carbon capture1”, formed in waterlogged environments, such as bogs, where remains of plants do not decompose completely.  Partly decomposed plant material, primarily sphagnum moss in Canadian peatlands, accumulates slowly and becomes compacted, forming peat. Peat is not considered a renewable resource because of the length of time it takes to form – a thousand years for a metre of peat.

On drier land where plants can decompose completely, the carbon they contain is returned to the soil or the atmosphere. In a peat bog, the incomplete decomposition of plants means that the carbon they contain stays put in the soggy ground. Peatlands cover only 3% of the earth’s surface yet store more carbon than all of the world’s forests combined. Peatlands store a multiple of the amount of carbon sequestered in the earth’s forests – between three and five times the amount, according to various sources.

Approximately one-third of peatlands are located in North America. Most of those are in Canada with 25% of global peatlands located primarily in boreal, subarctic and arctic regions. In Manitoba, nearly one-third of the land area is occupied by peatlands.

From: Emily Cousins, International Boreal Conservation Campaign (https://www.borealbirds.org/sites/default/files/publications/map-carbon-peat.png). Used with permission.

Development in peatlands, such as draining for harvesting, mining, and road construction, or flooding for hydro-electricity, can lead to major releases of carbon from the peatlands. For example, the proposed Ring of Fire mining development in the Hudson Bay lowlands could lead to releasing stored carbon equivalent to the emissions from 1.3 million cars over their lifetime2 or, if just 3% of the area is developed, Canada’s entire climate gains from 2005 to 2021 would be undone3. Ironically, the minerals to be mined in the Ring of Fire are essential in the development of low- and zero-emission vehicles.

Contribution of Peat Extraction Activities to Carbon Emissions
From: Nigel Roulet, Distinguished James McGill Professor of Biogeoscience, Trottier Institute for Science and Public Policy Fellow, McGill University, Montreal QC. (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7564418_Greenhouse_Gas_Emissions_from_Canadian_Peat_Extraction_1990-2000_A_Life-Cycle_Analysis). Used with permission.
What we can use instead of peat

Ideally, peat will be replaceable by alternative products that are simple to use and cost-effective for the consumer. Realistically, few options come without an environmental footprint, whether in its production, transportation, or, in some cases, both.

The following chart summarizes the pros and cons of several peat alternatives:

*In the May 2022 MMGA Newsletter we were introduced to a promising new growing medium made from cattail (Typha) plants.

“De-peating”

Reducing the use of peat, or transitioning to a different growing medium, can be compared to “adapting a favourite dessert recipe to be gluten-free”5, particularly for starting seeds.

Some suggestions:

  • Look for potting mixes where peat is a secondary ingredient, and extend with compost to dilute the peat content.
  • Change the composition of your potting mix gradually over two or three seasons; new types of soilless media will likely have different water retention and compaction properties than familiar products.
  • Sample new products, while still using your traditional mix for most of your seedings.This approach will provide useful information on how the new products behave while avoiding major mishaps.
  • It is no longer recommended to add soil amendments to the planting hole when planting trees and shrubs. Returning the native soil to the hole is now considered best practice. As the backfill used would often have been peat, this is another opportunity to reduce its use. If extra fill is required, compost is a better choice.

Conclusions

Innovation in the development of alternatives to horticultural peat is taking place. These changes are occurring in response to the growing awareness of the negative impact of harvesting peatlands on our climate. A brand-new product that is produced locally is very encouraging.

As gardeners, we can participate in the peat reduction effort by reducing or eliminating the use of peat ourselves. We can also share our knowledge of the downside of peat and peat-based horticultural products with other gardeners.

Notes:

  1. Sabrina Imbler, “Meet Peat, the Unsung Hero of Carbon Capture”, The New York Times, February 22, 2022.
  2. Karen Richardson, Lorna Harris, Meg Southee, and Justina Ray, “Northern Peatlands in Canada”, WCS Canada, 2021.
  3. Tanya Talaga, “Can Hudson Bay and James Bay territory be saved before it’s too late?”, The Globe and Mail April 5, 2024, p A11.
  4. Cleary, Julian, Nigel T. Roulet, and Tim M. Moore, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Canadian Peat Extraction, 1990-2000: A Life Cycle Analysis.” Ambino 34.6 (2005): 456-461.
  5. Margaret Roach, “Why Gardeners Should Stop Using Peat, and What to Use Instead,” The New York Times, February 2, 2022.

2024 Garden Tour – Manitoba Master Gardener Association

1. Angelina’s Garden
In the back, a modest vegetable-box garden provides fresh vegetables over the summer. A brick patio is partly covered by a grape-vine arbor which provides a shady, green, sitting area. The atmosphere is colourful and wild, reminiscent of the gardens that roll down the mountain in her birthplace in Italy.

2. Lisa’s Garden
Shade- tolerant native flowers, ferns, and groundcovers grow under the trees and shrubs in the front garden of this professionally designed landscape. A seating area in the sun is surrounded by prairie grasses and forbs. An espaliered apple tree and grapes grow on a trellis along the fence and raised beds hold the kitchen garden in the back.

3. Karen and Tom’s Garden
The focus for the garden always was to increase the green space either by pushing out or building upwards. A tall pergola is being covered by Kentucky Blue Wysteria which is growing like wildfire. Bulbs and edibles are planted amongst perennials like peonies, lily, iris, and ground cover for a green carpet look.

The National Mini Forest Initiative

The National Mini Forest Initiative

My Journey of Discovery
By Rebecca Last, Master Gardener, ON 
Photo: Courtesy of Canadian Geographic. Canadian Geographic headquarters.

It started with a general email invitation from a local environmental group. ”Admission by donation”, it said. Early on October 18, 2023, four of us gardeners – members of Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton and the Ottawa Horticultural Society, headed downtown to 50 Sussex Drive. Once a lock-master’s station, this building at the confluence of the Rideau and Ottawa Rivers now houses the headquarters of Canadian Geographic, which was host to the Canadian Geographic Mini Forest Summit.

What is a Mini Forest?

The mini forest concept originated with Akira Miyawaki, a Japanese botanist and expert in plant ecology who specialized in seeds and natural forests. Concerned with how little native forest remained in Japan, and mindful of that country’s scarcity of space, he pioneered a way to quickly grow small natural forests, using densely planted communities of native plants. The following schematic from1000 Islands Master Gardeners is modified from Tiny Forest Planting Method, IVN (Institute for Nature Education and Sustainability, Netherlands) , and illustrates the main steps in planting a mini forest. This schematic is available in reader-friendly format here.

Photo: Courtesy of 1000 Islands Master Gardeners, modified from Tiny Forest Planting Method, IVN.
About the Summit

As a former policy wonk and science nerd, I was intrigued by the Summit program of financiers, scientists, and policy experts, several of whom I knew from my working life. However, practical, dirt-under-the-fingernails types seemed to be missing from the agenda. At the morning coffee station, I shared my opinion that gardeners needed to be involved if mini forests were going to get planted. Luckily, the person I chose to speak to was Keith Sears, the volunteer facilitator for the network engagement process.

Cultivating Climate Action

Cultivating Climate Action

By Mathew Scammell

Most of us in Manitoba know that the climate is changing and that humans are responsible[1]. The scientific evidence supporting the claim that the burning of fossil fuels is to blame has only increased in recent decades. We now find ourselves in June of 2024, following the hottest month of May ever recorded by humans[2], which caps a full 12 straight months of record-breaking heat. Many of us are also noticing that historical climate norms are becoming less relevant and less predictable.

What most Manitobans might not know about climate change is that it is considered what can be called a positive feedback system, where more heating causes more heating. A quick example can be the melting of snow or ice in polar regions reducing reflectivity and absorbing more heat from sunlight. This aspect of climate change especially demands attention due to the accelerating nature of the problem – we need to act before the amount of heating becomes catastrophic and out of our control.

Photo: Sustainable South Osborne Community Cooperative (SSOCC) – Community Orchard

So, what does any of this have to do with gardening? In my experience, it is possible to cultivate climate action locally. I’ve been involved with Sustainable South Osborne Community Cooperative (SSOCC) ever since 2016, in large part due to the tangible actions SSOCC has been able to take towards acting on climate change. Incorporated as a community service cooperative, SSOCC is engaged in urban agriculture, focusing on the establishment of perennials but also producing a significant amount of annual vegetables. We are run by a board of directors, have stewards for each of our physical sites, and are always accepting generous offers by volunteers to help out. Operating community gardens at each of the local community centres in South Osborne and a community orchard along Churchill Drive, the organization has really grown its impact over the past 15 years.

Creating a Living Legacy

Creating a Living Legacy

By Elsie Kathler, MG

Photo: Elsie Kathler. Steinbach and Area Garden Club 10th Anniversary Tree, a Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)

Close your eyes and think about what you were doing 15 years ago. Fifteen years ago, the Steinbach and Area Garden Club was celebrating its 10th Anniversary. With the inspiration provided by two Master Gardeners, Karen Loewen and Anne Peters, the garden club chose to celebrate this occasion with the planting of a 10th Anniversary Tree, a Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) in KR Barkman Park.

During this 10th Anniversary, the garden club also committed to planting one tree each year for the next 10 years. Today, these 11 trees are growing beautifully in local parks. Thus began the Steinbach and Area Garden Club’s journey of creating a living legacy by planting trees to enhance our environment.

Fast forward to 2024. The Steinbach and Area Garden Club is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year. Once again on this 25th Anniversary, the garden club will commemorate the occasion by planting trees; this time it will be the planting of a grove of 25 trees at the Mennonite Heritage Village in early September. This 25thAnniversary project was made possible with a Community Tree Grant from Tree Canada that will cover the cost of purchasing the trees and a partnership with Falk Nurseries who will be supplying the trees and assisting with the planting of the trees.

Portrait of Fred Kaita by Lenora Kehler.

The Steinbach and Area Garden Club will be naming this new grove of trees the “Fred Kaita Grove” to honour the memory of Fred Kaita who was the founder of the Steinbach and Area Garden Club and an extraordinary community volunteer. Lenora Kehler, Steinbach and Area Garden Club member and a gifted artist, has created a pencil portrait of Fred Kaita. This portrait will be presented to Fred Kaita’s family during the planting of the last tree and naming ceremony that will be held in September.

If you are interested in creating a living legacy by planting trees in your community, check out Tree Canada’s various programs and grants on their website at treecanada.ca.

Q&A: Tomato Issue

Question: Tomato Issue

Hi there, I am having an issue with all of my tomato seedlings this year (over 50 of multiple varieties) that I have never seen before. Every single plant appears like it will likely die or need to be destroyed. I’ve researched but can’t quite figure out what’s going on. It looks similar to herbicide damage, curly top, or maybe mosaic. I’m hoping someone can help me determine the issue so I know how to proceed.

All of the plants are having issues with leaf curl and small leaves on new growth. Many of them seem to have the main stems basically deforming at the end and then dying off. Some have started sending out another main stem which then dies off as well. I should mention I am also having noticeable issues of stunted growth and leaf curl or drop with the peppers and eggplants I started – flowers, herbs, and squash seem to be okay. If you would like additional or specific pictures or more information, please let me know.

I’m in Winnipeg. I have raised beds with decent drainage, plus the issues started before this weather but may have been exacerbated by the weather. The tomatoes were stunted and had stem and leaf issues while they were seedlings in my house. I assumed it was a nutrient or watering issue. I started watering them less and fertilized them with seaweed fertilizer which I’ve used in the past. I have used this particular bottle on other plants and seedlings without issue. I started hardening them off in May but brought them in overnight and when it was cold or stormy. They still weren’t getting better so I used some organic liquid fertilizer – I followed the directions and only watered them with it once before transplanting them in late May. They have probably been in the ground two weeks now and look no better. Any new growth is deformed.

I initially started my peppers around early March in soil I ordered from a department store. The bag was frozen solid. Bad decision, but I started the seeds in it and they all died off from dampening off or from some fungus (some just drooped and died, and some had a fuzzy growth over them and then died off). The bag possibly had gnat eggs in it as well, as I ended up with fungus gnats. For a second round, I started them in a seed-starting mix and had no issues until I transplanted them into an organic soil. After a while, they weren’t growing as fast as I had expected and the leaves started curling upward – they were never deformed like the tomatoes but just stayed cupping. I started the eggplant and tomato seeds right into the organic soil. They never seemed to grow normally; they grew slowly and on a smaller scale ­but the issues became visible as they “grew.” It seems a few of my peppers are fine and the squash and flowers are fine but, when I think about it, they were probably grown in the second bag of organic soil that I had.

Initially, I thought there may have been some type of fungus or disease that spread in my grow room or maybe the first bag of organic soil was contaminated with herbicide. It’s also definitely possible that I over-fertilized or over-watered or something. What do you think the issue most likely is? Do you think they may bounce back? Would it be safe for me to plant something else in that space or would the space possibly be contaminated?

Reply: Tomato Issue

Several of our Master Gardener members have read all the symptoms that you have sent to us along with studying your excellent photos which certainly show the major issues you are having with your tomatoes.

Beneficial Insects in the Garden

Beneficial Insects in the Garden

By Ian Wise
Entomologist (retired) and Chair of The Prairie Garden Committee

 

For any gardener who wants to have a vibrant, ecologically friendly garden, it is imperative to distinguish the good from the bad in the world of insects. The vast majority of insect species in your garden provide valuable functions as pollinators, decomposers, parasitizers, and predators, to name a few. Treating these beneficial species as an enemy will only make life more difficult for your gardening self.

Here are a few beneficials you might find in your garden.

Photo: Adult Syrphid  – “Syrphid – Toxomerus politus, Laurel Hill Park, Lorton, Virginia” by Judy Gallagher is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Syrphids

A favourite of mine is a family of flies that should be called super flies. These are syrphids, so named because they are in the family Syrphidae. Many species of syrphids are bee or wasp mimics and are called drone flies because of their tendency to hover over flowers. When they alight on a flower, take a good look and see if these bee lookalikes have two or four wings. If it has two then it’s a syrphid. There are many flowering plants that do not attract bees and rely on other insects like these flies for pollination.

Container Gardening

Container Gardening

Tips to get your container garden started
By Kim Sysa, Master Gardener

 

What is container gardening?
Photo: Kim Sysa

Container gardening is growing plants in containers or pots for aesthetic reasons or when you do not have room for raised garden beds or a garden plot.

What do you need to get started?

You need containers, potting mix, plants or seeds, water, and fertilizer.

What are the benefits of container gardens?

You can move your pots to where they get the best light and can thrive. You have more control over your plants, growing them with the right growing medium and right amount of nutrients. There will be fewer weeds. Depending on the height of the pots, you may not need to bend down to garden.

Q&A: Tarnished Plant Bug Infestation

Q&A: Tarnished Plant Bug 

Answered by Ian Wise, Entomologist (retired) and Chair of The Prairie Garden Committee

Question: Infestation of Tarnished Plant Bug
, Lygus lineolaris

I’m hoping someone might have a solution for a tarnished plant bug infestation in my raised vegetable garden. They decimated my tomatoes last year (I grow them mostly in 5-gallon buckets around the edge of the raised bed) and I’m afraid they will be back in full force this year. I think they may have got a good foothold because my baby was born mid-July so I didn’t address the situation early or adequately enough. I cleaned out and trimmed around the garden at the end of the season but am afraid to invest too much in tomatoes if they’ll be back in full force. Maybe there’s something I can grow in abundance this year to convince them to leave? Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

Q&A: Lawn Conversation into Perennial Border

Q&A: Perennial Planting

Question: Lawn Conversion into Perennial Border

I am planning on converting a part of my lawn into a perennial border.  I will be smothering the grass this year and plan to plant the perennials in autumn.  Is it okay to start perennial seeds in May to be planted in the ground in September?  I was planning on using tufted hair grass, echinacea, lupines and veronicastrum.

Any advice would be much appreciated.

Answer:

Our Q&A team members (Debbie, Lisa, Derek and Kiyoko) all congratulate you for your choice for making a difference for biodiversity.

With the exception of the lupines, there should be no issue in starting the plants you mention from seed now so that you may plant them later in the season. You would need to carefully “baby them” in their first weeks to help them become strong. Once they reach a good size, “potting them up” by planting them into larger containers will lessen the vigilant watering required to carry new plants in small containers through the summer.