In the last 200 years, the United States’ tallgrass prairies have diminished by 97% — only 3% remain after decades of unsustainable agricultural practices. The result is an alarming release of soil carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change by way of greenhouse carbon dioxide, and turning once-fertile soils into deteriorated dirt. The implications are equally alarming, as we cannot feed an expanding global population if the soil is degraded.
Enter soil carbon sequestration. This very scientific phrase is the result of years of research into climate change, sustainability, and agriculture. Soil carbon sequestration is simply the means by which valuable carbon is returned to the soil, enriching it while increasing its resilience to drought and floods. The top priorities in achieving soil carbon sequestration are restoring degraded and eroded land, and decreasing deforestation and the farming of peat lands.
One way to help return this valuable carbon to the soil is by including wood fines in soil mix products. Just as plants and trees take in carbon from the atmosphere while they are growing, we help recreate that process in the soil when we use soil mixes that include wood fines as a main ingredient. We return carbon via the wood source back to the soil where it can do the most good in feeding, housing, and attracting beneficial soil microbes – which ultimately benefit plant growth and health.
Now, what can we do as home gardeners to make sure this valuable carbon stays in the soil where it’s needed?
- Avoid tilling. Tilling turns over the soil, bringing carbon to the surface and exposing it to the air. It then turns into carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change. Even in small backyard gardens, a commitment to no-till practices help keep soil carbon where it belongs.
- Use cover crops. If you have a vegetable garden and parts of it remain unplanted for various reasons, that exposed, unplanted soil is more susceptible to erosion and carbon loss. Better to use cover crops like buckwheat, cereal rye, or clover.
- Start a compost pile. All the wood and plant material that is removed from your garden through clean-ups and pruning is great for the compost pile — once it breaks down into compost, it’s returned to the garden.
- Plant lots of different things. Diversity in your plant material increases the soil’s organic matter, so mix it up with trees, shrubs, perennials, and edibles!
- Commit to organic gardening. Use of synthetic fertilizers not only shuts down soil production of nitrogen, but of carbon storage as well.