Recently the city declared both climate and ecological emergencies. Whilst we are aware of how large scale, industrial farming can be detrimental to the environment often gardening and horticulture are seen as “green” and sustainable and sadly often they are not. In light of the crises we face both as a city and a planet we are going to unpack this in a series of posts, and in our skill sharing this year, so that everyone has the opportunity to learn how they can garden in a way that supports both the climate and ecological emergencies.

Our composting bays in the garden in the Bearpit.
Community compost heaps in the Bearpit.

Soil is the foundation of life. And there has been much talk and research into soils and where they are and are not healthy over the last decade. What we know is that urban soils, in parks, allotments and gardens, is generally healthier than our traditional farmlands and this is often down to traditional techniques of gardening and growing, of leaves being left to mulch borders in parks and to traditional mulching techniques on allotments. The first thing many people do when taking on allotments or gardens is create a compost bin and we will be talking more about composting as the year goes on, but composting is really the ultimate circular economy, taking waste and creating compost to put nutrients back into the soil the waste came from. Unfortunately as a city we don’t compost green waste and make it available to gardeners, although the green waste is composted and can be purchased in large quantities of 15 tonnes and more if you can take that quantity!!

Of course healthy soils are important for more than just growing. Soils have their own ecosystem, full of life, and once we appreciate that there are more organisms in a teaspoon of soil than people on the planet, suddenly keeping it well and supporting those organisms becomes a vital part of the way we look after the land we steward. And the best way to do this is to add organic matter on a regular basis, which of course ideally we would make. However, it’s very difficult to make the amount of compost that the garden needs and it’s almost inevitable that we will all need, at points, to buy compost to make up the shortfall.

Our aim at Incredible Edible Bristol is to create spaces that are healthier in the city, but also to ensure that in doing so we are not harming other areas of the planet. Creating healthy soils and buying in compost can be a minefield as the majority of compost contains peat, extracted from rare and important peat bogs that are vital in the fight against the climate emergency as they are important carbon sinks. They also are home to important flora and fauna found nowhere else and mitigate against flooding by holding onto flood water and slowing the flow of it as it goes downhill, meaning drains and culverts are more likely to cope with the quantity of water. They are known to be as environmentally important as rainforests are to the tropics and yet each year more than 7,000 hectares are dug for gardening and horticulture. Many people assume that this has always been the way, but in fact it was only begun on the mid 20th century, and just is not necessary for good growing.

With this in mind we have always used peat free products and whilst it can be more expensive, there are peat free options at the DIY superstores that are fine for mulching and soil improvements and are pretty much the same price as peat composts. We are thrilled to hear that Riverside Garden Centre, our local, independent garden shop in Southville, is now only selling peat free bagged compost and is working with it’s supplier of plants to go peat free and so soon it will be easy in the city to be peat free. In the meantime if you do go to a garden centre or nursery that doesn’t stock peat free, ask them why, and refuse to buy peat.

We are also supporting Peat Free April, a campaign calling for the end of peat extraction for horticulture, which you can follow across the social media channels.

So if you want to look at how you garden in light of the ecological emergency, the first step is to go peat free, and call for peat free growing across the city. Wouldn’t it be amazing if Bristol was the first peat free city in the UK?

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