Carbon Sequestration

carbonIt’s that time of year again! As the weather warms, those of you who love to garden will feel the familiar tug of the outdoors, and the longing grows to put your hands in the dirt and breathe in its musty, earthy fragrance. Sigh. I know I can’t wait – I’m itching to get started on projects I’ve been dreaming up all winter!

We have spoken of many environmental topics as they relate to farming, gardening, and our food. One of them, was sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, and keeping carbon in the ground. We have written about biochar, and how its made (and how amazing it is in your garden), and how carbon in the atmosphere is contributing to the warming of our planet. Well, one of the most efficient carbon sequestering machines, are plants, but they can’t do it alone.  They need the community of microorganisms that live in the soil to help them. Most of these organisms live within the top three inches of soil and they help convert nitrogen from a gas, to something the plant can use, and in return the plant converts carbon from a gas, to something the microorganisms can use – and in using it, they sequester it to the soil. It’s pretty cool.

To help your garden do its bit, here is a question: to roto-till or not to roto-till? This is a contentious issue, but tilling does disrupt the environment and habitat of these organisms, because rototilling churns the top three inches of soil, where they live.  Roto-tilling also accelerates soil erosion and it compacts the soil. I’m not saying you should never roto-till, if you are breaking ground for the first time, or doing it intermittently to achieve a goal, it’s okay, the organisms will re-establish themselves eventually, it is just not a healthy practice to repeat too often.

Another way you can help is to put leafy plants (and as much diversity as possible) on every available surface. Reduce paving, stones, plant living path ways with ground cover and mosses, put plants up vertical surfaces too. Plants naturally add organic matter to the soil, they establish roots which die off and new roots go, they drop leaves and petals – although it is our instinct to pick them up, actually, we should just leave them where they are and add mulch over the top.

Finally, we think it is all up to us, we, who live on land, but did you know that kelp buries far more atmospheric carbon than anything on land? It’s an algae community and a habitat for many sea creatures. Sea urchins looove kelp. A bit too much, because when left to their own devices these spikey invertebrates turn lush kelp forests into sea urchin deserts.  And that’s where our furry friends the sea otters come in.

Sea otters looove sea urchins.  A hungry sea otter crew can dispatch a million pounds of sea urchins in a few months so the fast-growing, carbon-capturing kelp forest can reappear in short order.  Once again, nature proves that everything is connected to everything else . . . just in case we humans aren’t convinced yet.

By Pamela Denholm

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