Did spring arrive a month early in Eugene this year? While it’s tough not to enjoy good, mild gardening weather in February, it makes me uneasy to see virtually all types of daffodils in bloom at the same time. Shouldn’t it be cooler? And wetter? This smells like climate change to me. What can we do about it, if anything? Can we as individuals make a difference?
In December, 2018 Anne Lovejoy posted to her blog at LogHousePlants.com a piece titled “Rise Up and Draw Down: How Gardeners can mitigate Climate Change.” Much of what Lovejoy proposes in the article won’t be new to readers, especially if you garden organically. But Lovejoy does make the very good point that more than 90 million Americans are gardeners. That should give us, collectively, the power to create significant change, “yard by yard, town by town, state by state.”
Some things are easy. If you haven’t already reduced or eliminated inessential lawn area, sworn off gas powered tools and fossil-fuel based fertilizers and pesticides and taken steps to reduce water use, you can do so now. Most of us can plant more shrubs and trees, which sequester much more carbon that herbaceous plants and turf.
According to Lovejoy, Americans spend more than $3 billion a year on those synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which, she points out, damage soil life and degrade our soil. Instead, we can use our collective purchasing power to make things better. We can search out organically raised vegetable and flower starts, and buy organic fertilizers. Eat organic — from our own gardens and from organic farmers, too. If we can afford it, we can invest in good quality tools that last beyond a lifetime — and look after them.
Soil is one area where we probably underestimate our collective potential to combat climate change. Taking care to create and maintain healthy soil is one of the best ways to store carbon. Applying organic mulches to bare soil between plants or in resting veggie beds Is the best way to improve and maintain soil structure. Use compost, fall leaves. straw or even fir bark — whatever is available.
Homemade compost made from dead leaves and vegetable waste is fine for this purpose, but many urban gardeners lack the room (or are reluctant to make room!) to produce enough compost to keep hard-working garden beds carbon-rich. That’s where cover crops come in. Sowing clover, oat or field peas into overwintering beds can provide a lot of carbon-rich and nutrient rich material for the price of a little seed. On a small scale, I’ve also used leftover, outdated seed of hardy garden crops like peas, arugula and lettuce. I always get enough germination to cover the soil, especially if I let the least obnoxious weeds join the party.
According to soil experts, soil disturbance should be minimized. Just scratch compost and other amendments into the top three inches before planting. Don’t overwork it — a “fine tilth” is really only needed where you are sowing seed. Carbon sequestration can be speeded up in heavy, poor or worn out soils by incorporating organic matter deeply, in a method called double digging. Once you have a healthy, well-drained soil, cut back on tilling and digging, which releases carbon back into the atmosphere.
Rachel Foster lives and gardens in Eugene. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org