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Peat Bog Restoration - Part 1/3 - Sphagnum Peat Formation

Sphagnum peat moss is one of the most important ingredients for soilless media, however many questions have been raised about it. Where does it come from?  How much is there? How long will it last? The following is the first of a three-part series that discusses Sphagnum peat formation, harvesting and restoration.

Premier Tech Horticulture has developed a restoration program that includes a policy and procedure for the opening and closing of peat bogs. The program allows standardized management principles that are followed at all bog locations. The goal of this environmental management is to ensure the company’s continuance and secure peat moss for future generations.

To better understand the ‘why and how’ of restoration, first let’s look at the Sphagnum plant. There are more than 335 species of Sphagnum around the world with about 16 species found in Canada.  Approximately 5 species are dominant with most bogs limited to about three species. Sphagnum moss is a non-vascular plant (no roots) that grows in acidic water derived from precipitation.

As it grows, it leaves behind dead portions, consisting of the cellulose and hemi-cellulose structure of the moss plant, to accumulate in the water, which we refer to as ‘peat moss’ (Figure 1). The unique structure holds water on the leaves, between leaves and stems and within the cellular structure. Inversely, air is found where water does not occupy.

Sphagnum peat moss

Figure 1. "Sphagnum peat plant"

 

Sphagnum peat bogs are found in boreal regions of the northern and southern hemispheres. The combination of an acidic, low-nutrient watery environment and cool temperatures provide ideal conditions for sphagnum moss to grow. The cool temperatures and the absence of oxygen preserve the fibrous, organic layers of peat moss.  In Canada, peat bogs, as seen in Figure 2, cover approximately 111 million hectares (274 million acres) or about 12% of the total land area.

Peat Bog

Figure 2. "Typical peat bog"

 

In Quebec, peat moss harvesting began in the Bas St-Laurent region around 1933. For many years peat moss was harvested in block-cut sections with hand tools. In 1967, harvesting methods at Premier Tech Horticulture changed to mechanical vacuum-harvesters, which has become the standard in Canada today. This is important to mention since harvest methods have an impact on how peatlands are restored.

Since 1991, the Canadian Sphagnum peat moss industry has funded research with the University of Laval in Quebec to study peat bogs and develop ways to restore peat lands. All producers agree that restoration is essential to maintain this valuable resource for future generations.

Peat Bog Restauration - Part 2/3 - Sphagnum Peat Harvesting

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