Stretch Your Peat Supply

Stretch Your Peat Supply

Faced with the most dramatic peat shortage in decades, growers have been scrambling to secure their growing media supplies for the coming spring season. Despite paying higher prices, they’ve had to get their orders locked in or risk being locked out.

On Sept. 23, the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association, whose members represent 95 percent of North American peat production, announced harvests in the East were projected to be 70 to 85 percent short due to prolonged heavy rains making the bogs unharvestable. The hardest hit areas were New Brunswick and Quebec, which account for two thirds of all of Canada’s peat production. While Western Canadian provinces fared better, the West only accounts for a third of the total supply.

As we went to press, North America’s leading peat suppliers were working with customers to make sure they get their orders in. Customers who buy prepared mixes were given priority over those who buy raw peat to mix their own. When asked if alternative components would be blended into mixes to help stretch the peat supply, Chuck Buffington, who directs sales for the Flowers Pro division of Syngenta, which owns Fafard, says the mixes will stay true to what growers expect.

“We’re not going to play with formulas to save peat. We want growers to get the same formula they are used to receiving,” he says. “We do have alternative mixes with less peat and good performance on the growing end. We’ll offer alternatives to growers to help reduce peat requirements they might have. Any time you change growing media components, you get different results. We don’t take it lightly. Before we offer a new formulation, it’s tested.”

Growers can expect to pay more for media with a higher peat content, Buffington adds. “It will depend on the product. The more peat that’s used, the greater the increase will be,” Buffington says. “If you do the math, if our harvest is significantly less, we’ve got a lot of fixed costs to spread over a smaller volume, which increases our costs of production significantly.”

What if you are a grower who mixes your media and can’t place an order for straight peat moss? Substrates expert Bill Fonteno of North Carolina State University says growers are best off purchasing a mix that’s close to what they used before. “If you work with the large growing media companies and describe what you put in your mix, you can get a mix that performs in a similar fashion,” he says. “You’re better off partnering with a company on a prepared mix than trying substitutions on your own.”

Fonteno also cautions that professional grower grade and retail grade peat is not the same. “There are differences in water uptake, air, pH and nutrition,” he says. “It may look the same but it’s not the same and the results can be very different.”

Working With Wood

Wood has been getting a lot of attention as a growing media component. The nursery side of the industry is more accustomed to using bark as a growing medium than greenhouse growers. “With bark, you have to be careful because nursery and greenhouse production requirements just aren’t the same,” Fonteno says. “The particle sizes are bigger for nursery production – ¾ inch to ½ inch. Greenhouse production needs finer bark for more moisture.”

Bark also is more widely used in the South than the North because Northern growers have greater access to peat. While the classic greenhouse mix is 60 percent peat, 20 percent perlite and 20 percent vermiculite, a bark-based mix could be 35 to 40 percent bark and only 20 percent peat. “Getting growers in the North to use 40 percent bark is a big switch,” he says.

Growers who are storing bark supplies need to monitor it. “Any pile of bark can develop pH and EC issues while being stored,” Fonteno says. “The pH can drop and soluble salts increase, which can be problematic. It can become more variable. Growers should check piles at least two weeks prior to using them to be safe.”

The latest trend has been grinding and milling whole trees as a substrate. “The good news is the wood is not sawdust and doesn’t break down quickly,” Fonteno says. “If you use it as 25 to 40 percent of the total, you generally do not have problems with pH and nitrogen draw down.”

Glenn Fain at Auburn University in Alabama has been working with growers on using whole pine trees ground at the thinning stage, when the trees are 12 to 14 years old. “We use the entire tree, needles, cones, squirrel’s nest and use a hammer mill to grind it into a finer product,” Fain says. “Our focus, when we were approached by the industry, was to find a product that’s locally available. The majority of the cost is freight, getting it to the grower. But on the down side, if you choose a substance that is widely available, commercial companies are less interested in investing in production.”

The growers have found they can use the ground wood as 20 to 30 percent of their growing medium and not see a difference in the plants they are producing, but if at least half the media was wood, they would have to adjust their practices and manage nutrition differently, Fain says.

Additional experiments have been with the byproduct of cedar, which is processed into a fine material to extract oil for the fragrance industry. “The cedar company could produce 500 to 600 cubic yards a week, but once you move it a long ways, the freight becomes expensive,” Fain says. “The limiting factor is access.”

Anthony Witcher of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service’s Southern Horticultural Laboratory in Poplarville, Miss., has been evaluating wood substrates to see if they cause phytotoxicity in plants. “Initial results indicate that substrate physical properties, not phytotoxic compounds, contribute to reduced seedling development in whole pine tree substrates compared with a peat substrate,” he says. “In previous research, it has been shown that reduced nitrogen availability has led to reduced plant growth during production in wood-based substrates compared with peat-based substrates.”

But growers can use 25 to 30 percent wood fiber with minimal adjustments to current production practices, such as irrigation and fertilizer input, he says. “This is assuming the wood fiber is processed through a hammer mill to an adequate particle size and will depend on the hammer mill being used,” Witcher says. “It would be up to the individual grower to try higher proportions of wood fiber, but we have obtained acceptable plant growth in substrates composed of up to 100 percent whole pine tree.”

The ideal nitrogen form ratio to use will depend on factors such as irrigation water quality, substrate amendments and the crop being grown. “Analyze pH before and during production on a small batch prior to committing an entire crop to the new mix,” Witcher says. “Wood has an inherently greater pH than peat moss and may not require lime to increase the pH depending on the ratio of peat to wood in the mix. A starter fertilizer or slightly higher fertilizer concentration should be used to minimize nitrogen immobilization, especially in short-term crops. Incorporating wood fiber may eliminate the need for perlite in the mix, because air space usually increases with the proportion of wood fiber.”

Growing Interest & Demand

Brian Jackson of North Carolina State University, who has been researching wood substrates since 2005 at Virginia Tech, says grower interest is high in response to the peat shortage. “The number of phone calls I have received from growers, mix manufacturers and other individuals who have access to wood resources, wastes and trees has more than doubled in the past month [September] compared to average months,” he says.

They want to know:

• Who is making it?

• Can they make their own?

• What are the main problems?

• What are the costs and equipment associated with these new mixes?

• What percentage wood can be used as a supplement in mixes?

“I think as a result of the recent interest in wood-based mixes for greenhouse crops, it will be one of the main materials investigated for use to stretch peat and provide growers with the mixes they need for next spring,” Jackson says. “Addressing this problem this fall is going to be critical for our industry. If all peat companies are facing the decreased supplies like has been reported, we will need to react quickly to work on solutions before the growing season begins.”

Just as there has been a shortage of peat, wood supplies have been under pressure in some markets, too, because the federal government has been providing incentives for using wood wastes as energy sources. “The horticulture industry was unintentionally affected, since much of the bark and mulch traditionally used for horticulture is now being diverted as a source of biomass for energy purposes,” Witcher says.

Comfortable With Coir

Coir (coconut fiber or coco peat) is a media component growers have been gaining more experience with. Although it doesn’t cost less than peat, it can supplement the supply. Fonteno says growers could substitute up to half the peat component with coir to make up the soil volume.

“If the mix is 60 percent peat and you substitute up to half the peat with coir, there isn’t so much of a problem,” he explains. “If you use all coir instead of peat, the media will dry out and wet up differently. Twenty-five percent coir is a nice addition, but coir is more expensive and has handling issues in the brick form.”

Coir is a byproduct of manufacturing coconut oil. Coco fiber also is used to make rugs, doormats and ropes. Growers who use coir need to monitor salt levels because the husks are soaked in saltwater. Not all suppliers process coir the same way.

Based in Canada, with production in South America, Densu Coir soaks and washes the fiber many times to squeeze most of the salt out. “Ours arrives ready to use instead of a brick form,” Densu Coir’s Jake Kabutey says. “The cost of shipment is higher but growers can use it immediately when it arrives.”

Growers should note coir products have increased potassium, reducing that need in fertilizer. The physical properties and structure also influence porosity and water retention. Mixing 10 to 15 percent coir into a growing mix enhances wettability while a mix of 25 to 30 percent coir offers good porosity, Kabutey says. “If the mix is too dusty, it will be too wet. We develop our mix particles for 20 to 28 percent porosity, which is ideal for plants.”

Hap Hollibaugh, a specialty grower who owns Cactus Jungle in Berkely, Calif., uses coir and composted rice hulls for the organics in his mix. “To buffer, we add humic acid and grape seed pomice as needed,” he says. “Coir is a great long-lasting replacement and the rice hulls are local.”

Richard Salas of New Summerfield, Texas, says he conducted extensive trials with a Mexican coir source. “Trials were done using 100 percent coir. Callas and garden mums were done on a very large scale and I was very impressed with the outcome,” he says. “Erwinia was virtually nonexistent in the callas. Mums needed some pH adjusting (coir is 7.0) through the crop cycle, but overall, things went smoothly. I know another grower who blended coir and peat (40/60) for a geranium trial and results were very good.”

Leave a Reply

More From Media...
Mike McGroarty, owner of Mike’s Backyard Nursery

July 29, 2015

Backyard Success: Mike McGroarty Educates Aspiring Growers

Mike’s Backyard Nursery sits on a long, narrow, 5-acre property located in Perry, Ohio. There, customers can find a variety of flowering shrubs available, all in 2-quart pots, and all for sale for $5.97 each. Owner Mike McGroarty, a lifelong resident of Perry, says the town has a lot of plant nurseries, including 100 wholesale growers within a 10-mile radius of his house. That doesn’t discourage McGroarty, because he knows that while there are a lot of nurseries in his area, no one else is doing what he is doing. McGroarty has learned about plants — and marketing them to his audience — through decades of experience. He has never hesitated to pass along his knowledge to other growers looking to start their own backyard operations, and has created an entire program to educate aspiring growers. McGroarty Likes To Practice What He Preaches McGroarty’s operation serves as the laboratory for […]

Read More

July 29, 2015

2015 Spring Crops Report: Rain Soaks Spring Sales

Rain, rain and more rain. That was the story this spring for the large majority of growers across the U.S. And where it wasn’t too wet, it was too dry. Drought conditions cut sales in the West and Southwest. But it wasn’t all bad. Eighty-nine percent of respondents to Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Spring Crops Survey declared the season a success, despite its challenges. They said beautiful weather in April and excited consumers who were ready to spend got the season going early, but then cool temps and rainy weekends throughout May and June caused confusion over when and how much to plant. Of the 189 respondents to Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Spring Recap Survey, 53 percent identified themselves as grower-retailers, 34 percent were wholesale growers and 13 percent said they were young plant growers. Most responses came from the Midwest (27 percent), Northeast (18 percent) and Southeast (16 percent), but also […]

Read More

July 29, 2015

Dümmen Orange Continues To Strengthen Standards With MPS Certification

MPS recognized Dümmen Orange during an unofficial ceremony at Cultivate’15 for its continued dedication to ensuring sustainability in the floriculture industry. Through its deep understanding of environmental impact and the importance of sustainable operations, Dümmen Orange has implemented production best practices within its facilities to meet or exceed MPS standards on environmental and agricultural practices, as well as social responsibility. “Nowadays, consumers are not only interested in the visible and tangible characteristics of the products they buy, they also are concerned with how products are made,” says Carl Kroon, General Manager of the Dümmen Orange farm Las Mercedes in El Salvador. “Dümmen Orange is deeply rooted in our commitment to our people, our values and our planet. The MPS certification helps us to make it visible to our customers that our production methods respect our workers and the environment.” Setting A High Standard Dümmen Orange has taken a wide range […]

Read More
Latest Stories

December 2, 2014

Grow-Tech Announces BioStrate, Its Newest Hydroponic Gr…

Grow-Tech LLC recently announced the release of BioStrate Felt, a biobased textile specifically engineered for the growing of hydroponic microgreens and baby salad greens.

Read More

November 18, 2014

7 New Media And Light Products For Greenhouse Productio…

New media and light products cover a broad sweep of growing conditions.

Read More
Oakland Nursery plantings in Columbus_featured

November 17, 2014

Oakland Nursery Simplifies Streetscape Plantings And Ma…

The outdoor decorative containers that Oakland Nursery plants and maintains in downtown Columbus, Ohio, enhance the look of the city’s buildings and streets and hinder vandalism.

Read More

October 27, 2014

Peat Moss May Be In Short Supply This Year

Adverse weather conditions in Canada have played havoc with the peat moss harvest.

Read More

September 24, 2014

Canadian Harvest Of Peat Moss Is Below Average For 2014

The harvest season has been challenging, according to the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association (CSPMA), with lower-than-expected harvest of peat moss across most production regions in Canada, due primarily to adverse weather conditions across the country.

Read More

July 23, 2014

Liming Requirements And pH Modification For Pine Wood C…

In the last of a four-article series highlighting the production and use of pine wood chips as aggregates in greenhouse substrates, the researchers found growers do not need to adjust their production practices when 20 percent pine wood chips are used as a perlite replacement.

Read More

May 14, 2014

How Pine Wood Chips In Substrates Affect Plant Growth R…

This is the second article of the four article series highlighting the production and use of pine wood chips as aggregates in greenhouse substrates.

Read More

April 3, 2014

The Processing And Properties Of Pine Wood Chips

In the first of a four article series highlighting the use of pine wood chips as alternative aggregates to perlite in greenhouse substrates, researchers from North Carolina State University discuss the processing and physical properties of pine wood chips.

Read More

April 3, 2014

Water And Media Are The Foundations Of Your Business: T…

Electrical conductivity (EC) and pH, as well as water alkalinity, have the biggest effects on nutrient availability. Learn how to keep track of them through three common methods for better monitoring in the greenhouse.

Read More
PlugEase from Acme Group

March 3, 2014

Acme Group Introduces PlugEase, A Line Of Recyclable Ag…

The Acme Group recently announced its new line of recyclable Agrifabrics and plant plug substrate, PlugEase. The products make recycling affordable for greenhouse growers, farmers and horticulturalists.

Read More
Emerald Coast Growers

February 26, 2014

Emerald Coast Growers Constructs New Soil Facility

Emerald Coast Growers has constructed a new, consolidated soil mixing facility to increase efficiency and allow for easier custom blending by crop.

Read More
Combination pH and EC meter. Photo courtesy of Hanna Instruments

February 5, 2014

Test Media pH And EC With The 2:1 Technique, Pour-Throu…

Avoid a buildup of soluble salts and create an environment most conducive to nutrient uptake with these three common media testing methods.

Read More
Fertiss Growing Medium from Oasis Grower Solutions

November 18, 2013

Three New Options For Growing Media

From special blends to mycorrhizae, here are some new options for growth media.

Read More

November 14, 2013

Growing Media: To Mix Or Not To Mix

Thinking about making your own growing mixes to lower costs? There are many things to consider before taking the plunge.

Read More
Berger Logo

November 1, 2013

Berger Acquires Beaver & Lafaille Peat Moss

Berger, a producer of growing mixes, has acquired Beaver Peat Moss & Lafaille Peat Moss, consolidating a long-standing relationship between the companies. The transaction is effective on November 1, 2013. Under the agreement, Serge Lafaille, Beaver & Lafaille Peat Moss’ president, will join Berger’s sales team in order to ensure an easy transition for his current customers. “I am proud to join Berger’s team; we have the same business and growing philosophy, as well as a relentless commitment to being close to our customers in order to offer them what they truly need,” Lafaille says. Berger and Beaver & Lafaille Peat Moss have been partners since 1986. “For Berger, this transaction is a natural evolution of the strong relationship we’ve created with Beaver & Lafaille Peat Moss throughout the past 27 years,” says Berger CEO Claudin Berger. Located in St-Modeste, Quebec, Berger provides growing media and peat moss to professional […]

Read More

August 19, 2013

Students Evaluate Bio Char In Soil

Horticulture students from Olds College in Alberta, Canada, are investigating the viability of using bio char as a soil additive for greenhouse-grown crops. The group includes Emily Stanley, Michael Templeton and Heather Hood. Olds has a very good horticulture program, and I graduated from the greenhouse program there in 1996. Because of my involvement in the program, the group approached me to be a mentor for the study. In this role, I had conference calls with the group every two weeks to discuss the status of the project and offer any insight from a professional grower’s perspective. Bio char is a product derived from a special burning process of organic matter with limited amounts of oxygen. This holds the carbon in the organic matter. When the process is finished, you have a bio char product that can be used as a soil amendment. The students conducted trials on tomatoes and […]

Read More

June 6, 2013

Pro-Mix Is Now On Social Media

Premier Tech Horticulture, which is among the North American leaders of peat moss-based growing media production and distribution, has recently announced the launch of its social media strategy, including the unveiling of its Pro-Mix Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages for professional and amateur gardeners. Known as a customer-focused and market-driven company, Premier Tech Horticulture strongly believes that today, people are expecting constant interactive communication with brands. As a result, interacting and communicating with external audiences through both new and traditional media remain important elements. Now, with Pro-Mix, this dialogue will also take place online, via new social media platforms that are easy to access for everybody. “These Pro-Mix social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, blogs, wikis, YouTube, etc.) present us with unique opportunities to listen to our customers and stakeholders, but also to share with people our 20 years of experience, knowledge and expertise,” says Chantal Duchesneau, marketing and […]

Read More

June 5, 2013

Webinar: Coir Chunk Media – A Good Choice For Lon…

Growing media manufacturers are looking for new components that can be added to their growing media to improve physical properties and address common problems that the grower and/or end user face. One such problem the homeowner experiences with peat-based growing medium in hanging baskets and long term-planters is that they are hard to re-wet with water after they have dried out. Join Horticulture Specialist Troy Buechel on Tuesday, June 11 at 2 p.m. Eastern, 11 a.m. Pacific for this informative webinar to learn how Premier Tech Horticulture is addressing this issue with a new growing medium called PRO-MIX HP-CC. This product contains a unique coir chunk that does not require a wetting agent to wet and helps to hold water while maintaining good air porosity. Find out how this unique product and ingredients can help reduce long-term wetting challenges for you and your customers. Also did you know that a chunk […]

Read More