Simple steps for reducing your garden's carbon footprint.
Despite the unpredictable weather, invasive species and disrupted eco-systems of climate change, gardening's popularity continues to grow. Working the soil, growing beautiful flowers and eating food you raised yourself are very satisfying. Try these tips for reducing your garden's carbon footprint, most of which are described in greater detail in the small handbook, The Climate Conscious Gardener:
Compost Your Yard and Food Wastes
Methane is a greenhouse gas. Composting keeps methane-producing wastes out of the landfill. Compost adds nutrients to your soil. Healthier plants better resist pests and diseases. Compost improves soil texture, even helping to break up clay, so roots can extend deeper. And because compost encourages worms, it improves soil permeability and aeration. Learn how to compost here and here. Or sign up for LCAN network member Louisville Compost Co-op's services.
Fertilize Only As Needed, Using Organics
Synthetic fertilizers are made from fossil fuels, so are a big source of greenhouse gasses. Use organic fertilizers if your garden needs more than what your compost offers. Especially if starting a new garden, it's smart to have its soil tested so you'll know how much of which nutrients truly are needed. The Cooperative Extension Service provides testing for minimal charges. Be sure to follow directions on how to take a representative sample.
Consider Raised Beds for Small Gardens
Depending on the size of your garden, raised beds may make sense. If you build them no wider twice the distance you can reach comfortably, you won't cultivate and fertilize paths. Raised beds can provide a place to sit while sowing and tending plants. The soil in raised beds warms earlier in the growing season and is less likely to become soggy in wet weather. You can mound soil or build frames from materials you have or can re-purpose. Or buy sturdy frames from YouthBuild-Louisville.
Use 2" to 4" of Organic Mulch
If you mulch, you won't have to water nearly as often. Your plants will be less stressed during dry spells. Lay up to 4" of organic mulch around plants: leaves (saved from the previous fall), grass clippings, wood chips, pine straw (needles), manure, newspapers or flattened cardboard. Use what's local, if not from your yard.
Most established plants need 1" of rain per week, though young transplants may need more. Use a rain gauge (or tuna or cat-food can) to monitor how much rain your garden receives. (Or query the MSD gauge closest to you.) When you need to water, do so once weekly. Use soaker hoses to limit evaporation, and trickle water slowly and deeply.
Consider No- or Low-Till Gardening
Digging and, worse, double-digging garden beds annually is back-breaking work without a tiller. With or without mechanical help, tilling releases carbon stored in the soil into the atmosphere. Why not save your back and the planet by adopting no-till or low-till techniques? It's one of the best ways to reduce your garden's carbon footprint. Learn more here.
Consider Native and Heirloom Species
Biodiversity will continue to decline if a handful of seed companies limit what we plant. Look for native species of flowers, ferns, shrubs and trees, and heirloom varieties of veggies, fruit, etc. Find lists of suggested species here and, if you're on Facebook, here. Too late to order heirloom seeds for this season? Check your nearest Farmers' Market for native species and heirloom varieties of garden plants.
Tips from Master Gardeners
From raising fruits and vegetables and landscape maintenance to composting to beekeeping and raising chickens -- get excellent local, downloadable gardening advice at no cost from the Jefferson Co. Master Gardener Association. They even offer a 32-page booklet on gardening with children.