Buying plants

Once you’ve stopped buying peat products then the next step is to stop buying plants that have been grown in peat. It’s a bit trickier – plenty of commercial nurseries still use peat-based growing mediums, and plants don’t often show that information on the label. You’ll have to ask your local nurseries and garden centres what they use, and be prepared to explain why you would prefer to buy peat-free plants.

Here in the UK there are nurseries that have moved to become peat-free, and it’s likely to be increasingly common. Check out the list of suppliers at the back of the book for some ideas.

Hen Solo and new plants

Whenever you’re buying plants it’s handy to be able to spot the healthy ones, so that you don’t waste your money. Check the foliage to make sure there are no signs of pests or disease. The plant’s roots should fill the pot nicely so that the rootball holds together; if the compost is very loose the plant could have been recently repotted (which is not a problem) or neglected. A pot-bound plant, with roots curling round and round the pot, may have suffered a check to growth and not be a good choice.

Weeds and moss growing on the soil surface indicate that the plant has been on the shelf for a while. Again, it may not be a problem for long-lived plants, but it’s not ideal for anything short-lived. And consider whether you want to buy a plant which is currently flowering or fruiting, or one that looks healthy and has plenty of buds and will flower and fruit for you once you get it home.

Think twice about rescuing a plant that is sad-looking. Neglect can sometimes be overcome, but you don’t want to import pest and disease problems.

Once you bring your new plant home, make sure it has enough food and water, and is repotted if necessary, or planted out quickly. The same is true for plants that came via mail order – they’ve had a long trip and need some time to recuperate!

Growing mushrooms

Mushroom kits for growing common button mushrooms contain a layer of spawn and one of ‘casing’ – a mushroom compost usually made from composted animal manure and peat. The fungi grow through the casing, and the mushrooms appear on the surface. I am not aware of any peat-free kits on the market at the present time for this type of mushroom, but it is possible to buy spawn and to mix your own casing compost. It would definitely be worth experimenting with coir as a peat replacement here, and these mushrooms can also be grown on ‘neglected lawns’, although under outdoor conditions fruiting is more erratic.

Mushroom growing

There are plenty of other ways to grow mushrooms that don’t involve any peat. Oyster mushrooms grow on decaying cellulose (wood, essentially) and can be grown on mushroom logs, old books or even toilet rolls! I have seen kits on sale in the US with used coffee grounds as the growing medium – a great way to make use of a waste product.

Shiitake mushrooms also colonize logs (you can buy spawn to inoculate your own fresh logs, or ready-made mushroom logs), as do Hericium. The number of edible mushroom species available for home cultivation is steadily increasing, so do check out suppliers in your country to see what’s on offer.

Growing mushrooms in straw or sawdust is also an option for some species, including the Love Mushroom (Pleurotus Salmoneo), which is a lovely pink colour! And King Stropharia mushrooms can be encouraged to grow in woody mulches, adding to the weed suppressing effect and giving you another crop from your space.