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Station 11-16

The Uses of Peat - Yesterday and Today

The moor is not only a fascinating natural area with rare animals and plants, but was and is also a source of important resources: peat was used as fuel for a long time (11), was important for generating energy (12) and is used as a starting material for growing media (13th century). ) used in horticulture. Peat fibers are also used for textile production (14), as granulate in aquaristics (15) or in the wellness area (16).
Heating the Homestead (11)

Bog areas are sparsely wooded and wood is a scarce resource. As a result peat was used as a source of fuel up until the 1960’s. Every household had to cut peat for his own use – hard and heavy work.

"After draining a raised bog, the upper layer of earth known as the ‘heading’ is carried off and a ‘tie’ is cut. A peat knife or slitting iron is used to cut the peat vertically into sections. One person then lifts the peat horizontally using a turf iron and deposits it on top of the tie baulk. From there another person moves it to a wagon where the up to 4kg heavy bricks are taken to drying fields. The bricks are then regularly turned, mostly be women and children, until the wind has significantly reduced the moisture. Two workers can manage 6,000 bricks or 24m³.

(Description for 1915 / 100 Years Klasmann-Deilmann GmbH)

With horse-drawn wagons or carts the dried bricks were then brought home. In the village square in Esterwegen, the bronze statue of a peat cutter holding his tools, a peat knife and turf iron pays tribute to the traditional activity.

Esterweger Torfstecher 4

Peat Energy (12)

Starting in the 20th century, peat was burned in power plants. Additionally peat was turned into charcoal. The advantages of this fuel include a greater heat value and better combustion properties. In Germany, there were two peat power plants. The first operated between 1909 until 1964 in Wiesmoor in Ostfriesland and produced electricity from peat until the power plant was replaced with a more modern gas-fired power plant. The second, in Rühle, which is close to Meppen, started operations in 1925 and continued until it was shut down in 1974. Peat and charcoal made from peat were replaced over the next years by more environmentally friendly fuels with greater fuel efficiency. Today, in Irland and Finnland individual peat power plants still exist.

Peat as a growing medium (13)

In the Emsland entrepreneurs recognized the importance of peat as a growing medium early on. The regional substrate producer and distributor Klasmann-Deilmann has developed into a market leader. With 3.1 million cubic meters of substrate, gardening soil, and compost this company is world class, and as an employer of over 1000 people enriches the region. In 2013, Klasmann-Deilmann celebrates its centenary.

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Tip: For the 100 year birthday of Klasmann-Deilmann GmbH that also has a branch in Esterwegen, the Emsland Moormuseum produced an exhibition chronicling this internationally active company. The special exhibition “From the Heseper Peatworks up to Klasmann-Deilmann GmbH“ runs from June 18 – November 3, 2013.

Peat Fibres and Textile Production (14)

TThe excessively long peat fibres are actually a waste product of peat extraction. However, they can be used as a granulate for filters or, surprisingly, to make textiles. The peat fibres are spun together with wool or silk as it has been impossible to date to produce durable threads. The amount of peat varies between 10-50 percent. Textiles made with peat are temperature regulating. The high acidity of the fibres neutralises perspiration and odour. There are also people who feel that the fibres provide protection from the sun’s rays, that they regulate moods and enhance vitality. In the Moormuseum Elisabethfehn there are examples of clothing made of peat that may be seen.

Peat fibres as granulate in Aquariums (15)

The granulate that is often used in filter units is activated carbon. In the last years, especially in the area of aquariums and pond-care black peat has become more popular as a granulate for filters. Black peat lets pH values and nitrogen concentrations in the water drop, algae growth and fungus are much reduced and all the while aquatic plants grow even better. In addition black peat contains fulvic acid, which protects the mucous membrane of the fish from bacterial illnesses. Humic acids strengthen the immune response of fish.

Peat and wellness applications (16)

Already in the 15th - century healing qualities were ascribed to the moor. Born in 1439 in Switzerland, Paracelsus was a philosopher, doctor, and an academic. He was a trailblazer in the area of modern medicine and held a life-long belief in the healing properties of the bog. But it was only in the 19th century that moor baths became popular. In a great number of European spas, warm mud baths, and mudpacks were used as natural remedies to encourage relaxation. Moor baths are often used as part of a naturopathic approach in the treatment of arthritic symptoms or osteoporosis, rheumatic illnesses, or weakened immunity. Today, moor baths and therapies are an integral part of all spas – even those in the deepest reaches of Bavaria. The community of Bad Kohlgrub in Bavaria offers medicinal mud baths at the highest altitude in Germany.

Additional Links | Information from the Garden Industry Association | Emsland Moormuseum in Geeste-Groß Hesepe | Moor- und Fehnmuseum Elisabethfehn

Additional Articles

Torfersatz im Garten 
Merkblatt des Bayrischen Landesverbandes für Gartenbau und Landespflege e.V.

Wider und Für den Torf in Substraten, Blumenerden und Gartenbeeten 
Artikel von Erich Grantzau zur Torfnutzung, in Teilen veröffentlicht im Branchenmagazin TASPO (41/2010)

Further Reading

Haverkamp, Michael (Hrsg.): Von den Heseper Torfwerken zur Klasmann-Deilmann GmbH: 1913 – 2013. Rasch (2013). ISBN: 978-3899462012

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