Monday, September 9, 2013

Playing in the Peat

I bet you know very few people who have ever been to a peat bog, not once, but twice.  My first visit was spent on a bus many years ago looking out the window, listening to a very ernest young man describe absolutely everything you would ever want to know about peat moss for 90 minutes.   Who knew there was 90 minutes worth of information about that dusty red dry moss that comes in a big plastic cube?  So here I was nine years later learning that one of our first evenings in Quebec at the Garden Writers Association symposium was to be spent at a peat bog.  Oh dear.

Well, let me just say, sometimes you have to forget that first date, and agree to a second.  From time to time, you'll be pleasantly surprised, and I was - in spades.

Our guide gave us the quick and dirty about why the peat industry was working so hard to develop programs to help restore bogs.  They had come under attack because of their ruinous harvesting practices.  As you may know, a peat bog is a living ecosystem.  And it takes one century to make 5-10 cm (2-4") of peat moss.  Definitely something to think about when you're filling your plastic pots with growing mix.  Even with the massive wealth of peat bogs in Canada - 113 million hectares - destroying an ecosystem is indefensible.  So the Quebec Peat Moss Producers Association, Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association together with Laval University began to examine methods to restore these bogs post-harvest.

So here were were on a lovely Sunday evening - (as were all the employees of various competing peat companies and university researchers - pressed into service) - to learn how it all works.

We were divided into 4 groups to visit each of the 4 stations - #1 harvesting; #2 restoration techniques; #3 a natural donor site & #4 restoration results.

Here we are in the harvesting area.   To the right is the vacuum machine that goes up and down the field after the peat has been cut and left to dry for a few days.

Our able guides explaining it all.

#2 After harvesting, the dome shaped field is flattened and berms are built to help retain the water.  Plant fragments are harvested from a near-by donor site and are spread on the field and covered with shredded straw to protect them.

Very shortly you can see the new little bits of growing Sphagnum.

Donna Balzer acting as our perfect hand-peat model.

This is an area that has been restored - jumping ahead to #4.  Restored meaning that the land and plants "will eventually lead back to naturally functioning peat accumulating ecosystems".  (Peatland Ecology Research Group)

It is amazing the variety of plants.

The cotton grass looks so pretty in the early evening light.

And then it was over to #3 the donor site.  As soon as we saw what was growing beneath our feet, I don't think anyone was listening to the scientist - it was all about trying to get a photo in the fast-fading light:

They really do look like they're from another planet:

Definitely not enough light now, so our guides had our full attention.  Over $5MM in research has been spent since 2003 on bog restoration, and another $2MM has been committed through 2018.  Money well spent on this $152MM Canadian business that employees 3000 people directly and indirectly, but ultimately for the health of the planet at large.

And so, our date was just half-done - we were off to restaurant for music and a lovely dinner.  The only downside of the evening was dining with peat-feet.  Fortunately the light was low, the floors were linoleum, and we'd be on the bus before they brought out the brooms to clean up.  A great evening all in all.


Gail said...

Your tour was so much better than a 90 minute bus talk on peat! Very interesting and I am glad there's so work much going into restoration Those pitcher plants are fantastic...

Jennifer said...

Peat is not the most exciting of topics for a 90 minute bus ride, but I could get on board for a tour like this one. It is great to know that something is being done to preserve peat in Canada.
The problem I mentioned has to do with links. I think it is best when you leave a link back to your blog when you comments on other blogs. That way the blogger you visited has an easy way to return your visit. Perviously the link you were leaving with your comment on visits to my blog were a dead end leading nowhere. I would have to Google "Barbaras Garden Chronicles" in order to get to your blog. Whatever you did fixed the problem. Now the link takes me to an ID page and there I can find the link to your blog. So much easier to return your visit!
Can you believe this humidity? I can't wait until the temperature drops again. We are off on vacation next week. Can't wait!!!

Barbarapc said...

Gail - absolutely right there. I was astounded at the work involved.
Jennifer - you would have loved it. Thinking I would have preferred to start at the pitcher plant section, but it would have been difficult to get me to move... I realize that it was all fixed (and I don't know how) after I'd left you the note. Do have a great vacation and thankfully now that it's beautifully clear and fall-like, you'll have a great time.

Helen said...

Barbara, You were definitely paying more attention to the salient details. My camera was on overdrive in each of the four areas. The restored bog was impressive.

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