Have you noticed a change in our climate in Madison? Has the summer been hotter or wetter than you remember 10 years ago? Have you noticed a change in the hardiness zone? Have you changed when you plant your garden and the plants you choose for your garden? Has the time you decide to harvest various crops from your garden changed in the past 10 years?
For most, the answer to these questions is yes. Glob al warming is now affecting even backyard gardens. Yet, those backyard gardens and lawns can make a contribution to reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Recent studies have indicated that gardens, urban parks, golf courses, urban green spaces and forested areas may help to capture CO2 and store the carbon.
What is a climate friendly garden? Any garden that acts to store more heat-trapping gases (CO2) than it generates is climate friendly. There are five steps that can be taken to have a climate friendly garden.
1. Minimize carbon use for your garden. One easy change is to not use gasoline powered tools when working in your garden. Small gasoline engines add CO2 to the atmosphere. Instead use electric powered lawnmowers, tillers and other tools. Better yet use manual tools that help get the gardener in shape along with the garden. Go organic in the garden rather than using synthetic fertilizers. Synthetic fertilizers can be a source of nitrous oxide which also acts to trap greenhouse gases. Finely, eliminate using the “cides” pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. Recent studies have indicated that using herbicides in the garden actually generates carbon emissions and is the most widely used by most gardeners.
2. Cover garden soil. Previous articles (see Winter rye in Madison 10/27/10) have explained the benefit of cover crops in the average Madison garden. Bare soil is vulnerable to both soil erosion and weeds and it’s also likely to have carbon loss. Cover crops help create healthy and productive soil and reduce the need to use synthetic fertilizers. Cover crops can include: grasses, cereal grains and legumes. Cover crops are never harvested but turned into the soil in the spring. Sometimes winter cover crops are called the soil’s “winter blanket” and this is an accurate description. Cover crops suppress weeds, and create a barrier against rain and wind with the result of reducing erosion. In the spring cover crops add nutrients to the soil and help store carbon in the soil.
3. Plant trees and shrubs. Due to their size, being woody and long living trees and shrubs store a tremendous amount of carbon and of course use carbon as part of their growing process. A recent study found that in urban areas across the country trees stored almost 23 million tons of carbon every year. A single tree can store between 10 to 24 pounds of carbon every year.
4. Compost your garden. The EPA estimates that yard trimmings and food waste are responsible for nearly one-fourth of urban solid waste. Both of these can be used to make a rich and soil building compost for the garden. Bacteria, fungi and other processes breakdown the waste converting it into a nutrient rich addition to your garden soil. Other articles on composting have appeared at this site on August 12th, August 18th and September 3rd.
5. Nurture your lawn. There is recent evidence that turf grass can trap and store large amounts of carbon. However, using synthetic fertilizers and gasoline powered lawnmowers and trimmers can cancel out the carbon your lawn can store. By using organic fertilizer, good watering practices and electric or manual lawn tools your lawn can become a carbon storing machine. Also, unless you plan to use lawn trimmings in the compost bin, leave them on the lawn. The carbon from grass clippings can be stored in the soil after they decompose.
The practices described in this article are great both for organic gardening and to contribute, in whatever small way, to a reduction in the amount of CO2 and nitrous oxide released into the atmosphere.
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