How Plants will Save the World

plantsBy Pam Denholm

Two weeks ago in our newsletter, we wrote about a conference we attended on Climate change, and we shared some of the key takeaways: we still have time, we need to regenerate, not just sustain, and everybody can help. We said we would share some practical projects in forthcoming newsletters, many of you will already have employed these practices in your home. We encourage you to share the newsletter with a friend or neighbor, or perhaps implement one of these initiatives within your community: school, church, community garden etc.

The area around a plants’ root is a densely populated zone, where roots compete with invading roots sytems of neighboring plants, and other soil-borne organisms, including bacteria and fungi. Root-to-root and root-to-microbe communications are continuous in this biologically active zone. All green plants jumpstart the process by absorbing carbon in the gaseous form of carbon dioxide out of the air, and water out of the ground to make sugars or carbohydrates. Some of the sugars will be used for all sorts of things for its own growth and development, and will be transformed into fats, antioxidants and phyto-chemicals. BUT a lot of the sugars (and amino acis, proteins, organic acids, phenolics etc) will be exuded by the roots into the surrounding soil as a way of ‘hiring help’ from bacteria, fungi, and countless other organisms in the soil community. Plants, are essentially farmers too.

It is through the above processes that as much as half of the carbon the plant draws from the atmosphere, will ultimately be exuded underground and enter the bodies of microbial organisms.   When these organisms die, a further process turns them into complex humic compounds that resist oxidation and endure centuries underground. Essentially, plants in healthy, humic soil pull carbon from the atmosphere and store it underground for centuries. This process of drawing in carbon dioxide as a gas, and pumping that carbon underground as liquid carbon compounds has tied up carbon in the past, and can do so in the future. To enable this process to deal with as much carbon dioxide however, we need to all do our bit, and here’s how you can help:

  • Firstly, nurture the soil in your garden, feed it compost and manure and AVOID chemical fertilizers (particularly nitrogen and phosphorous), because they have a toxic impact on decomposer organisms – we covered composting in the previous two newsletters
  • Use perennial plants and grasses whenever possible. Plants that live longer lives provide better shelter and generally have deeper root systems, which is vital in drawing carbon deeper into the soil.
  • Only use annuals in 10% of your garden for accents, or only use them for emergency cover crops to cover up bare soil (mulches can also be used for this purpose)
  • Use no till methods in your gardens
  • Work towards a biodiverse garden (to be covered in a future newsletter)
  • Add carbonaceous materials to soils, such as biochar (biochar will also be covered in a future newsletter)
  • Choose to support organic and sustainable farming methods whenever possible.

OUR LAWNS CAN BE A PRIMARY TARGET

We all know we should reduce lawn spaces in our gardens. There are more acres under residential garden, than there is under farmland in the U.S. – think for a moment on the ramifications of that statement. We hold our farmers to a high standard, but each of us can have just as big an impact. We do have to concede that lawns are useful spaces for families to enjoy being outside, so, we have attached an infographic of root systems for your information. The most common lawn grass planted today is Kentucky Blue Grass, featured far left. See how short the roots are? It is not a very efficient carbon trapper, and nor is it particularly drought resistant. It is popularly promoted by grass companies who know you will be coming back for seed year after year. Compare it to the Buffalo Grass on the far right, which is easily mowed, very drought resistant, and excellent at carbon trapping. This simple change, can have a big impact!

 

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