Sphagnum MossWe aim to produce a profitable and environmentally friendly alternative to cutting peat for use as a growing medium for plants. Throughout Europe the main growing medium available from former bogs is cut the peat. However this results in emissions of up to 200kg of CO2 per cubic metre of white peat - equivalent using nearly 90 litres of petrol. Producers of substrates for horticulture and agriculture are in need of alternatives to reduce their carbon footprint.
What is it?
Sphagnum moss is found on peat bogs. When given an abundance of water, it can grow into a thick green carpet, as it can outcompete many other plants. Historically it would have been a major part of the plant life of Northern European bogs.
When dead moss gathers at the bottom of this layer, it does not decompose. This is because it is saturated with water, and an acidic environment is created by the moss. Over time the moss forms a thicker and thicker layer of dead plant material, known as peat moss.
What can it be used for?
If correctly dried and processed it can be used as a growing medium or potting material in the horticultural and agricultural industries. This offers an alternative for the large amount of cut peat currently used as a growing medium by these industries.
It can also be used to help control pollution. Certain grades of it can be used as filter to treat wastewater or as biodegradable adsorbent for a wide range of hydrocarbons. These include petrol, engine oil, diesel, tars, inks, fatty acid, toluene, and acetone.
Living fragments of Sphagnum can be used to enhance peatland restoration. In some countries, adsorbent moss is still in use in sanitary towels.
Above - Freshly harvested sphagnum.
Why do you want to grow Sphagnum?
The upper layer of partially decomposed peat, known as "white peat," is cut and sold for use e.g. as a growing medium. Harvesting the peat requires the bog to be drained. Then the surface layer is repeatedly cut away, dried out, and sold.
As it dries the peat in the bogs goes through a process called oxidisation. This leads to its stored carbon becoming carbon dioxide and being released into the atmosphere. Oxidized peat releases stored nutrients as well, causing environmental damage in rivers and lakes if these enter the water system. These nutrients can cause eutrophication. The cutting of peat also prevents the land supporting any meaningful form of biodiversity. This is because it results in bare earth rather than the variety of plant and insect species that can be found in a healthy bog. The reduction of the peat body is accompanied by loss of water storage capacity, which can lead to flooding as the water has nowhere to go but into the rivers.
If peat cutting is to be phased out for horticultural purposes, then we need a replacement product for those plants that require a peat like growing medium. Dried sphagnum moss offers the obvious answer.
What has been done so far?
Trials have been carried out in several locations to determine the feasibility of Sphagnum-based substrates. However tests have only been carried out in limited locations, and the possibility of farming on wet land is not well known in the farming community. There are also barriers due agricultural and nature protection laws, and a lack of appropriate subsidy.
What are you doing within CANAPE?
We are constructing a demonstration sphagnum farm at Barver Moor in Germany. As of January 2020, a first 1ha polder with an attached reservoir is under construction, and it will be seeded with sphagnum during the spring and summer of 2020. The designs for our sphagnum farm are available here.
Information about how to grow, market and sell sphagnum is will be produced by the project and made available on this website.
Below - Picture 1. Construction of the sphagnum farm at Barver Moor, December 2019.A polder has been built, and the ground levelled to make a surface for growing sphagnum. Irrigation trenches run through the field, to allow the water level to be carefully controlled at approximately 5cm below the surface.
Picture 2. Spreading of sphagnum in the Spring of 2020.