Growing peat free

The Forum’s recent response to the Scottish Governments consultation on the banning of the sale of peat highlighted a few key issues:

Many groups know the environmental impacts of peat use as a growing substrate and its pros and cons. However, many of us still associate peat with soil and are unaware of how it differs from the soil, its specific role in the horticultural industry and the enormous environmental impact of its continued extraction.

In some growing settings, the essential role of soil is integrated with an organised composting system. Growers use ‘homemade’ compost for much of their growing production and restrict the purchase of sterilised ‘weed-free’ growing substrate [peat or peat-free seed compost] for specific seeds. In other settings, bagged compost, peat or otherwise, is still widely used. In our experience across Scotland, peat use is mixed, and those still using peat mainly do so because of a lack of knowledge and confidence about the soil, decent peat-free alternatives and affordability. Switching to peat free may not resonate if addressing climate change is not seen as being in our control.

So, what can we do about it at a community level? Well, lots! For those of us growing local, irrespective of scale, we can protect and rebuild our soils, compost as much garden waste as possible, and try growing and sharing techniques for growing peat free with others.

If you’d like to know more about peat, read Garden Organics For Peat’s Sake campaign; for more about Soil, see our Grow pages, and if you’d like to start, upscale or shout about your peat-free growing to others, please get in touch with us!


Top Crops

Rob Davidson is a community and market garden with years of experience growing in a Scottish climate.

Things I have considered in compiling this list include what tastes nice, what grows well (in my experience), what grows easy, what makes people go “WOW!” and what people are likely to want to take home to make into something delicious…

We have to start with tatties, the finest of foods, an absorber of flavours and a staple of all food staples. In terms of deliciousness and early seasonal success, I have to advocate the rare and special Sharp’s Express prone to a bit of scab but otherwise seemingly disease resistant. They need a good watch when cooking though, so they don’t turn to fluff. My absolute top potato recommendation for a novice gardener is Pink Firr Apple. These beauties tick all the boxes on my approval list. They’re very disease resistant, give a high yield, taste delicious and are a perfect salad potato to rival any salad potato from wee bags at the supermarket.

Next up, the pea. There are a lot of pea varieties out there. A very easy-to-grow pea that without doubt succeeds in Scotland is Kelvedon Wonder. It’s not rare or fanciful, but it works, it yields well, and it’s delicious when eaten raw and straight from the plant or even after being frozen for a few months and eaten with fish and chips. Some things are classic for a reason. I’d like to add a variety called Ezeta’s Krombek Blauschocker, just for the name alone.

Tomatoes If you’re brand new to growing tomatoes and have very little space try a bush cherry variety like Tumbling Tom – you can keep it on your kitchen window sill, and with the minimum of fuss, it will supply you with fresh cherry tomatoes for months.

Lettuce is an easy choice. Red Salad Bowl and Green Salad Bowl are two varieties that deliver on the requirements of this list. The plants last a long time, and you can take leaves from them as required. So they work well in small spaces. Not just clever names either; one is red, and one is green, so these simple leaves can make a pretty salad bowl.

Cabbage is a requirement in our house, and we love it in coleslaw and with roasts. It’s my observation that red-leaved brassicas (cabbage family) seem to be left alone by bugs and beasts, so I’m starting there. Drumhead is an ok variety for an easy start.

Kale is a must for an easy start for a novice gardener. Along with all other brassicas, if you get it off to a solid start it should grow well. Once established, kale plants can provide fresh leaves for months and grow right through winter. The most delicious and easiest is Nero de Toscano (Tuscan black). I’d also suggest trying one of the red ones like Scarlet.

Rob Davidson’s Bio

“I’m a self-proclaimed market gardener, having worked in various locations growing fruit and vegetables for companies and projects in the Lothians and Fife. I’ve had no particular training, but I grew my first lettuce aged four, I’ve planted 1500 raspberry plants in frost during Twixtmas, and I’ve bagged more mixed salad than is humane. I’ve endured it all; the only thing that triggers trauma is the memory of picking gooseberries, aged 11, for cash. I still bear the scars of that – both mental and physical. Currently working on two projects with beautiful views of the Forth, I consider myself a jammy sod. Those projects are Grow West Fife and Lauriston Community Farm. Two great examples of how to get stuff done, operating on different scales, and both are thriving with feeding their local communities at their heart. I’m a physical giant, but metaphorically I’m standing on the shoulders of the giant characters who set these things in action and for whom I am massively grateful.”

Let us know what you are growing more of and where.

Nuture your soil

If you have ever had the pleasure, and let’s face it, the privilege of working with soil, you will no doubt know just how good it can feel. But, whilst words can rarely describe the feeling of increased well being when taking care and making a connection to this vital life source, it is time to put words and actions to the link between healthy soils and our fight against climate change.  Soil is the next frontier; a healthy soil holds and captures carbon, stores and delivers water when and where required and is home to billions of bacteria and microbes central to our existence. It’s mind blowing to be honest. Yet now, the very substance that sustains us, needs us. Taking a regenerative approach, to rebuilding our soils and associated ecosystems is gaining ground but urgent action, at ALL levels is required. It’s our turn in our gardens, allotments and shared greenspaces to nourish, replenish and yes, quite simply worship the ground beneath our feet.  So, if you have a little bit of soil to work and nurture you can make a difference. Here’s How

‘Nuture your Soil’ is part of our post COP26 series GetGrowingGreener supporting you to take positive action, locally.


Water, water…..not so much water

We’ve had a prolonged dryspell across much of the Highlands and Central belt recently. How are you coping in your setting as we can begin to safely, sow together? These dry springs are becoming a more frequent and one we need to be prepared for. Too much water, too little water- when starting out it can require some effort to have water where you want it and when you want it but this is infrastructure that requires a little thought and planning. Whatever the weather anything that is not ‘mains water’ makes good sense both environmentally and for the purse.

One thing you need to bear in mind with water collection systems is the risk of the legionella bacteria- a water borne virus that can occur in standing water reaching temperatures of 20C or more. Guidance states – ideally siting the water receptacle out of the sun, the need for annual cleaning of your water receptacle, use of a watering can for emptying the container rather than something that creates spray/water droplets.

If you have access to mains water and you are a registered charity with an annual income of less than £300,000 you may be entitled to water rates exemption. You need to apply annually before the 31st march.

Send us your water solutions- photos, top tips and questions to share with others to