Harvesting Compost at the Bog of Allen

Nuala Maddigan

Peatlands are one of Ireland’s last wildernesses offering sanctuary to some of Ireland’s most threatened species but sadly they are being destroyed through the extraction of peat moss compost used by many gardeners unaware of the consequences to Irish peatland habitat. Based at the Bog of Allen Nature Centre in Kildare one area of my work is the maintenance of the peat free wildlife gardens. To showcase that any garden can bloom without peat moss, composting is a fundamental part of the wildlife gardens at the centre.   

There are many different types of compost system to choose from. As the wildlife gardens are much larger than a typical urban garden, recycled plastic holding units were chosen to manage the large volume of clippings generated annually. There was a cost associated with purchasing this type of system, if preferred you could use wooden pallets. This type of compost system would also suit community groups responsible for the management of local amenity spaces or indeed larger gardens located in rural areas. 

The compost system in the wildlife gardens is well established and as spring is around the corner the first job on my agenda in the gardens is to prepare the peat free vegetable growing beds. The raised beds need to be replenished with fresh compost that will offer valuable nutrients for the growing season ahead, so equipped with gloves, a shovel and wheelbarrow I begin. As I open the front of the compost area and peel back the black plastic cover that has protected the compost pile from becoming saturated with water over the winter months I still recognise plant material at the surface but moving this to the side the fresh compost becomes visible. This compost pile was created in the summer of 2018 and during this time I have just let nature takes it course and today I am reaping the benefits. The compost is rich brown with an earthy smell and although not as uniform as a bag of compost you might buy in a garden centre I can always sieve the compost if I need a more even texture, but today that’s not required.

Each shovel full is placed into the wheelbarrow and once full I am ready to move the compost to the growing beds. As I pick up the wheelbarrow it reminds me about the time spent when first deciding where to place the compost area in the gardens and how today I consider that as time well spent. The area at the front of the heap is open providing access to both harvest the compost and easily turn the wheelbarrow making the annual compost harvest a much smoother job than if the access to the heap was narrow with limited space. The volume of compost I have to move will take time but I know that over the coming months not only will the growing vegetables benefit I have also done one small and easy step to help conserve a sample of peatlands for biodiversity and people – I have chosen peat free.   

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