Crimson clover is an effective cover crop to protect and improve soils as well as promote beneficial insects.
From SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL:
By Tom Karwin,
We have seen a surge of interest, recently, in soil regeneration as a substantial part of the global response to climate change.
Briefly, soil regeneration (or carbon farming) involves practices that reduce the loss of carbon from the soil and draw atmospheric carbon into the soil. These practices can counteract the disruption of nature’s carbon cycle caused by modern practices such as burning fossil fuels and pursuing “conventional” methods of commercial agriculture and livestock operations.
The greatest positive effects of carbon farming are realized when these practices are applied to hundreds of acres, but home gardeners also can combat climate change by carbon farming on their own patch of land.
Adopting these enlightened practices entitles the gardener to claim the status of Citizen of the Earth. But wait — there’s more. Carbon farming also improves the overall health of the garden, increases the retention of moisture, reduces workloads and avoids the costs of garden chemicals.
The basic idea is to support the vitality of the top few inches of the soil, where most of a plant’s roots find nutrition for the plant and where we have the microbiome, the vast population of beneficial bacteria and fungi that is essential to healthy plants.
As we learn about the importance of the soil microbiome and its fragility, we understand the damage that is done to it by churning the soil, exposing it to harsh sunlight and wind, and dosing it with herbicides, insecticides and synthetic fertilizers.
The first steps in carbon farming at home, therefore, include no tilling, no synthetic chemicals and no bare soil.
• Keeping the soil covered means filling the garden with perennial plants and filling in the gaps with annuals or organic mulch. Between vegetable crops, or when redesigning a garden bed, plant cover crop plants like clover, to be mowed or turned under before setting seed.
• Generally, leave roots in the ground to decompose. After harvesting vegetables, cut the top growth and leave the roots. Mow, cut back or heavily mulch weeds instead of pulling them.
• When planting the garden, emphasize biodiversity, including deep-rooted grasses and nitrogen-fixing species.
• Compost yard waste and kitchen scraps.
Naturally healthy soil needs no chemical treatment to minimize pests and diseases, or to keep plants growing. (Scientists advocate remineralization of the soil by adding rock dust. I’m learning about that idea and will write about it in a future column.)
As consumers, buy food that has been grown with regenerative and organic practices. Find such items at farmers markets and stores that carry organic foods. (All organic foods are non-GMO; foods that are labeled “natural” could be anything.)
As voters and policymakers, advocate against factory animal operations and for well-managed pasture-based livestock operations. Rule out synthetic fertilizers and pesticides on athletic fields and public lands. Support the management of public parks and other properties with practices based on organic methods, integrated pest management and soil regeneration.
Change might be difficult for some, but building healthy soil is definitely worth the effort!
Here’s a timely opportunity to add California native plants in your own soil regeneration project: The Monterey chapter of the California Native Plant Society will have its annual plant sale from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, at MEarth, at Carmel Middle School, 4380 Carmel Valley Road.
Tom Karwin is president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and a Lifetime UC Master Gardener. Visit ongardening.com for more information, and send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Karwin writes about gardening. He is a UC Master Gardener and vice president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum. He gardens in Santa Cruz. Visit his website at ongardening.com. Reach the author at email@example.com .