Carbon Gardening: Ease Climate Change from Your Own Backyard
As more and more greenhouse gasses are poured into the atmosphere, the Earth’s average temperature is going up by the year. Ice caps are melting, and the sea levels are rising.
The main culprit behind climate change is carbon dioxide (CO2). Burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil releases CO2 into the atmosphere where it traps heat and raises the Earth’s temperature.
But it’s not just burning fossils fuels that’s contributing to the problem. There’s another way that the gas is released and it’s one that not many people would think of–gardening.
Tilling soil, planting, and watering releases CO2 into the air. But some gardening practices can help sequester, or store, carbon in the ground. By using these techniques, even at-home gardeners can play a role in mitigating climate change.
In this article, we’ll explain how CO2 sequestration is possible, what kinds of benefits it can offer, and how to implement it in your own gardening—whether that’s in a backyard box or a 1,000-acre farm.
Grab your shovel and let’s dig in.
What is CO2 Sequestration?
CO2 sequestration is the long-term storage of carbon dioxide in the environment. Sequestration can happen through both natural and human processes.
Trees, for example, sequester carbon by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in their leaves, branches, and trunks. When these trees eventually die and decompose, the stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere.
Similarly, when farmers till their fields or gardeners dig in their yards, they are releasing CO2 that was previously stored in the soil.
The process of photosynthesis also sequesters carbon, as plants use sunlight to convert CO2 into glucose (a sugar molecule), which is then used for energy or stored as cellulose in the plant’s cell walls.
For the at-home gardener, the process can be as easy as adding some compost to your soil. Compost is made up of dead plant matter, which means it contains a lot of carbon.
When you add compost to your soil, that carbon is stored there, rather than released into the atmosphere, and will no longer require the same level of tilling or synthetic fertilization.
What are the Benefits of CO2 Sequestration?
A 2019 study from the National Academy of Sciences suggests that changes in farm practices could sequester up to four percent of U.S. emissions—a number that may not seem tremendous but would have a huge effect.
And if this challenge was taken up by everyday citizens rather than just farmers, that number could rise even higher.
Using C02 sequestration in your home garden can bring about several other benefits, though, including:
- Improved water quality: When rain falls on bare soil, it can wash away nutrients and topsoil. This runoff often contains harmful chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides, which pollute waterways. Cover crops—plants used to cover soil rather than for the purpose of being harvested—help to prevent this by absorbing water and slowing down the flow of runoff.
- Enhanced habitat for wildlife: Creating a diverse environment with native plants helps support populations of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. It can also provide food and shelter for other animals.
- Increased food production: One of the main goals of farming is, of course, to produce food. But by using sustainable practices such as cover crops and composting, farmers can increase their yields while also reducing their reliance on synthetic fertilizers.
And these benefits can be easily implemented in your own backyard garden.
How Can You Increase CO2 Sequestration?
Even if you just have a small herb garden in the backyard, you can do your part to help the cause, no matter how big or small your gardening operation.
The casual gardener has a few easy options for sequestering which likely won’t even increase your workload very much:
- Stop tilling: Every time you till your soil, carbon is released into the atmosphere. If you can, stop tilling altogether or only do it when necessary. When you do need to till, try using a no-till method like sheet composting (also known as lasagna composting)—a simple process of building a compost pile in-place using layers. Check out this article to learn how to do sheet composting in 10 simple steps.
- Use mulch: Mulching with organic materials like bark or straw helps keep carbon in the ground and also suppresses weeds so you don’t have to till as often.
- Plant a cover crop: Cover crops are plants that are grown to protect and improve the quality of the soil. They help prevent erosion, suppress weeds, and add organic matter to the soil when they’re turned under. A cover crop can be something like clover, oats, rye, or vetch. Check out this simple guide for building cover crops in your home garden.
- Compost: As we mentioned before, compost is full of carbon. By adding it to your soil, you’re increasing the amount of carbon that’s sequestered there. You can make your compost at home or buy it from a garden center.
Remember not to use synthetic fertilizers as often, as they can release carbon into the atmosphere as well. If you do use them, try to offset their emissions by sequestering elsewhere in your garden.
Sometimes it can be harder to do some of these things in a community garden, which won’t allow for certain changes. But, if you’re a part of a community garden, there are still some ways you can help out.
- One way is to talk to the other gardeners about using less tilling in the garden. This will release less CO2 into the atmosphere and also help keep the soil healthy by not disturbing its natural structure.
- You can also talk to your fellow gardeners about using mulch in the garden. Mulch is a layer of material (usually organic) that you spread on top of the soil. It helps the soil retain moisture and prevent erosion. It also keeps weeds from growing, which means you won’t have to till as often to get rid of them.
- You can also ask your community garden if they would be interested in starting a composting program. This is a great way to reduce waste and add nutrients back into the soil.
You may get some pushback initially, but remember, you’re not alone in this! There are more and more gardeners getting interested in climate-friendly practices every year.
If you’re operating a farm, you probably already know about CO2 sequestration, but there are always ways to improve. One way is to implement no-till farming practices.
This means minimizing or eliminating the disturbance of soil through tilling, which can release large amounts of stored carbon.
As part of our sustainability pledge at SOMO Village and our commitment to being a One Planter Community, our future plans include the development of a sustainable large-scale farming operation, overseen by an in-house farmer, as a means to turn our community into an agrohood. We’ll be planning crops, integrating our farm with the community and landscapes, and conducting educational and volunteer initiatives that will help people.
If you are just getting started on your tomato garden at the side of the house, or if you are a large-scale farmer with acres of crops, there are ways that you can help sequester carbon and ease climate change. No matter the size of your plot, carbon gardening is something that everyone can do to make a difference.