By David Layland, U. C. Master Gardener of Napa County
Climate change, also called global warming, has been in the news lately because of the devastating wildfires in Northern and Southern California. Climate change refers to the rise in average surface temperatures and is due primarily to the use of fossil fuels which releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air.
The gases trap heat within the atmosphere, which can have a range of effects on the environment including rising sea levels, severe weather events, and droughts that render landscapes more susceptible to wildfires.
There are two ways to mitigate the environmental damage done by fossil fuels. The most common way is to reduce the use of fossil fuels—by driving a hybrid or electric car, for example, or using solar or wind power. The second way, carbon sequestration, involves pulling carbon out of the air and storing it in the ground.
I don't drive a hybrid or electric car but I do have solar power. It provides 90 percent of my electricity at home so I've done something toward lowering emissions.
Carbon sequestration is new to me. In researching what I could do to help pull carbon out of the air, I discovered that I'm already using several carbon-sequestration practices in my garden. To some extent, these practices are what organic gardeners have been doing for a long time.
Make compost: One of the primary differences between organic and conventional gardening can be boiled down to a simple change in perspective: Instead of worrying about feeding the plants, we should worry first about feeding the soil. Take care of the soil and the plants will take care of themselves.
By composting all of our food scraps and garden waste, we aren't just providing valuable nutrients for plants. We are providing food for a huge ecosystem of bacteria, fungi and insects, all of which help to absorb carbon from the environment and keep it locked up in the soil. You can add cardboard and other paper-based waste to your compost, too. High-fiber composting works, and it's another way to lock up some CO2.
Don't dig: Many old-school gardeners may scoff at the idea of no-dig gardening, but there are good reasons to abandon the rototiller and dig only when necessary. No-dig gardening could have a significant impact on preserving soil carbon.
By slowing down the rate of decomposition in the soil, you help increase soil carbon and save yourself some labor. More than 15 years ago I purchased a rototiller because I thought I “needed” one for my garden and vineyard. I used it for a few years, until I realized I didn't need it. It sat under a tarp for a few more years until I found a new home for it.
That was an expensive lesson. Not using a gas-powered rototiller also means you are not using fossil fuels and are not spewing pollutants into the atmosphere. And you're not killing the hard-working earthworms that are improving your soil health.
When you refrain from tilling, you avoid exposing the soil to excess oxygen and sunlight. You can achieve the same thing by mulching, but an even better way is to plant cover crops, or so-called green manures, which can later be hoed in or mowed down. Doing so will add carbon to the soil while helping the root system keep soil in place. Cover crops also provide a habitat for soil life when you don't have edible crops.
Lose the lawn: This recommendation was easy for me. Before my wife and I moved to Napa, we had a lawn that was more than an acre and, of course, we had a riding lawnmower. After four years of mowing this lawn I never wanted to have another one.
The standard lawn requires a considerable amount of costly maintenance, water and chemicals if you want that green carpet to look perfect. There are many environmentally-friendly alternatives to a lawn. In Napa, I opted for decomposed granite. There's no maintenance and the permeable surface allows water to reach the soil. I added a few drought-tolerant plants for color and trees to shade the house. And I'm saving fossil fuels by not using a gas-powered lawnmower.
Grow lots of stuff (except a lawn): To store the maximum carbon, always keep the soil surface covered with growing things such as trees, turf, vegetables, flowers and cover crops. The more variety, the better. Grow plants with deep, extensive root systems and coarse, woody roots; shallow, fine roots decompose too easily. If I had it to do over again, I might not use as much decomposed granite as I did. At the time, I was focused on lawn alternatives, not on carbon sequestration.
So there you have some tools for carbon sequestration at home. Now go out there and do your part to fight climate change.
Workshop: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a workshop on “Rose Pruning” on Saturday, January 13, from 10 a.m. to noon, at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Why do we prune roses? Is winter the only time to do it? What will happen if we don't? Should hybrid teas be pruned differently from floribundas? Join the Master Gardener Rose Team at this popular forum where resident experts will answer your questions about basic rose pruning fundamentals with research-based information. Topics include rose types, how and when to prune, what tools to use and how to care for them, safety and sanitation. No doubt each Master Gardener will have some suggestions for new plantings, too. Online registration (credit card only);Mail-in/Walk-in registration(check only or drop off cash payment).
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.