Simple tips to fight climate change with your garden
Gardeners are very much aware of climate change since the act of gardening draws our attention to it every day.
As Canadians march uneasily towards our 2030 deadline for carbon neutrality, land stewardship is becoming more central to the discussion.
Responsible gardening is a focussed and intimate form of land stewardship — the caretaking of plants, animals and soil. Likewise, responsible farmers also practice land stewardship, though on a much larger scale and with broader connotations.
You are likely to see the term “regenerative agriculture” more frequently at the grocery store. Regenerative agriculture principles, such as minimum-tillage and sophisticated crop rotations, are designed to improve soil health. We think this is a good idea since healthier soils store carbon more efficiently.
Here are some suggestions for regenerative practices in your garden:
Minimum tillage, or “no-till,” in an effort to disturb the soil as little as possible. Some gardeners refer to this as “no-dig gardening.” When they’re left to the efforts of microscopic bacteria and mycorrhizae, soils develop complex structures that store and transport nutrients and water.
When tilled, these beneficial structures are torn apart, leaving nutrients such as carbon to escape into the atmosphere. We recommend controlling weeds by mulching and try to dig only enough to get your plants in the ground.
Cover-cropping and inter-cropping are climate-friendly tactics that improve the fertility of your soil. Growing a cover crop, and/or multiple crops near each other, increases the time that your soil is productive through photosynthesis, converting organic matter and sequestering carbon into the soil for future crops.
Cover crops also help minimize soil erosion, retain water, and minimize weeds and pests. Mark sowed white clover and alyssum in his new orchard with great results including 100 per cent elimination of weeds and dramatic improvement of the soil quality.
Avoid synthetic fertilizers. These — and they include the kind gardeners use — are a massive contributor to climate change. The production of synthetic fertilizers demands a tremendous amount of energy, including natural gas.
The application of nitrogen fertilizer is also known to produce nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. According to the journal Anthropocene Magazine, nitrous oxide emissions have grown 30 per cent in the last four decades, 87 per cent of which was driven by agriculture.
Plant perennials. Consider perennial food crops — such as berries and tree fruits — which are the backbone of permaculture, an aspect of regenerative agriculture that focuses on nurturing productive ecosystems with minimum disturbance.
Perennial plants develop deeper root systems which enhance soil health. And most often they are effective attractants to pollinators.
Compost. Compost makes a great alternative to synthetic fertilizers, and can be produced using waste products from your own home and backyard.
A compost pile or bin will also decompose otherwise landfill-bound materials aerobically, which produces less methane — another dangerous greenhouse gas. One study found that food waste bound for compost produced only 14 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions as that which was bound for landfill.
Soils rich in compost are capable of storing more carbon from the atmosphere, as they contain more active soil life and a healthier soil structure.
Climate change can make us feel overwhelmed — and maybe helpless. But taking direct action in your own garden is one way to make a positive contribution to this major issue of our time, while enjoying the vast benefits of gardening.