Grow a Climate Change Resilient Garden


Gardening Techniques to Curb and Adapt to Global Warming

      
by BC Farms & Food  -  Permalink
March 11, 2020

As a gardener, you have many ways to build climate change resilience. Using ecological and regenerative gardening techniques, you can help your garden withstand unexpected weather extremes and bounce back from hardship. You can even help slow climate change by reducing garden carbon emissions.

Garlic plants grow in a climate change garden.

Regenerative gardening works with nature to build the health of the soil and the local ecosystem. This includes reducing carbon inputs, learning to store carbon in the soil, building habitat, and incorporating plant diversity—all of which can make a difference to global warming.

Store Carbon in Your Garden Soil

It turns out that common gardening habits, such as tilling or clearing your garden beds for winter, actually disrupt the actions of vital soil microorganisms and the soil’s ability to store carbon. Carbon emissions contribute to global warming.

In healthy soil, plants pull in carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, and exchange some of their carbon with fungi and other microbes in the ground. These microorganisms, in turn, send out proteins, carbon and other substances which stick to soil particles and create loose, fertile humus. Plants in healthy soil get about 90 percent of nutrients they need through this carbon exchange with soil microbes.

The goal is to build humus. Humus contains the needed nutrients for natural fertility in your garden. Humus also sequesters carbon in the soil, as long as it interacts with growing plants.

8 Ways to Build a Resilient Climate Change Garden

 

A shovel amid mulch and grass. Grow a Climate Change Resilient Garden.

Digging and tilling disrupt underground networks of microbes needed to store carbon in the soil.

1. Minimize Tilling

Digging, plowing, and rototilling break up underground fungal networks, and expose the soil to air, releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide. These emissions contribute to global warming. To preserve these underground networks of microbes, disturb the soil as little as possible and practice no-till gardening:

• On an existing garden bed, no-till means gently loosening only the top few inches of soil with a fork or by hand without turning the soil. Leave in place the rotting roots of previously cut crops from last season, unless they block the place where you want to plant.

• When preparing a new garden area, clear off rocks, cut down the weeds, and cover the ground with a 10-cm (4-inch) layer of well-rotted organic matter,  such as compost and manure. On top of this, add a 5-cm (2-inch) layer of mulch, such as grass clippings or straw. This blocks out the light, suppressing weed growth, while providing a nutrient-rich planting medium. To plant, gently open up areas in the mulch to transplant seedlings.

 

A cover crop of clover grows amid straw mulch. Grow a Climate Change Garden

Planting a cover crop protects the soil, provides nutrients, and helps prevent compaction.

2. Keep Something Growing / Don’t Leave Bare Soil

Cleared garden beds deprive soil microbes of their food supply and reduce carbon sequestration. To build the soil, keep the ground covered year-round:

• Grow perennials – The long roots of year-round plants help build healthy soil and keep carbon in the ground. Perennials tolerate climate extremes better than annuals. Perennial plants include many kinds of herbs, flowers, fruit trees, berries, and vegetables such as asparagus and artichokes.

• Grow winter vegetables – As the climate warms, many “annuals” are becoming reliable cold-tolerant winter garden crops. Kale, hardy salad greens, and chard are just a few of the vegetables that frequently overwinter.

• Plant flowers that grow in winter – Perennial flowers and shrubs help maintain soil integrity with their roots. Flowers that bloom in winter also help bees!

• Plant a cover crop – Cover crops such as buckwheat, crimson clover, and millet protect the soil, add nutrients, and prevent compaction. For no-till gardening, choose cover crops that die back naturally in winter frost or finish their growing cycles before spring planting, so that you don’t need to turn them under.

• Mulch around your plants – Organic mulches such as grass clippings, straw, or leaf mold decompose slowly over the season, adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil. Mulching also suppresses weeds and helps prevent soil erosion.

Did you know that weeds also make excellent mulch? Weeds take hold in bare soil and bring to it the very nutrients and minerals it lacks. As such, they make a rich amendment for your garden, targeted to exactly what your soil needs. Cut weeds regularly (before they flower) and leave them on the ground where they fall around your plants.

 

Stacks of hay, grass clippings and coffee grounds for use as natural soil amendments.

Natural amendments like straw, grass clippings and coffee grounds can add organic matter and nutrients to the garden.

3. Avoid Synthetic Fertilizers

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers come from fossil fuels. During manufacture and transport, they produce CO2 emissions, and once in your soil, they emit nitrous oxide. Fertilizers also cause nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into waterways, promoting the growth of toxic algae which harms marine creatures.

In the garden, long-term use of nitrogen fertilizer actually reduces fertility and carbon storage in the soil, causing your plants to become less disease resistant.

Instead of using commercial fertilizers, work to build the natural health of your soil through ecological practices. Increase the organic matter in your garden with compost and natural amendments, such as aged manure, coffee grounds, and eggshells, spread on top of the soil and covered with mulch. Although compost doesn’t store carbon, it provides organic matter for soil fungi, bacteria and other microbes that do.

 

A bee on an early spring kale flower. Avoid pesticides to protect bees.

Pesticides pose a danger to bees, birds and other wildlife in the garden.

4. Don’t Use Pesticides

Insecticides, herbicides and fungicides pose dangers to soil biology and the environment. Recent studies have implicated pesticides in the decline of bees, birds and other wildlife important to growing food crops.

When nature is in balance, pesticides are not needed. Beneficial insects, birds, and microorganisms naturally interact with plants and protect them against pests and diseases.

By following organic and ecological methods, and including plant diversity and native plants in your garden, you can keep pests and disease outbreaks in check.

Also, when it comes to climate change, the production, transport and application of pesticides cause significant carbon emissions. In the food chain, pesticides are harmful to humans as well. Just a few more reasons to avoid pesticides altogether.

 

Flowers, beets and chard grow side by side in this diverse cool-weather garden.

Growing a diversity of plants builds resistance and draws beneficial insects to the garden.

5. Use Plant Diversity to Build Resilience

Plant diversity is the key to sustainability—to ensure good harvests, and to withstand diseases, pests, and weather extremes brought on by changing climate. Diversity is protective.

A garden with many species and varieties of plants has a greater chance of resisting stresses and disease. This is because different varieties are adapted to survive under different conditions.

For example, if drought or disease attacks one variety of tomatoes in your garden, a different tomato variety may easily survive those conditions. By planting many kinds of tomatoes, even if some fail, you’ve ensured that you’ll have a tomato crop that year.

Adding many kinds of crops, flowers, and plant varieties to your garden also attracts a wide range of beneficial insects and pollinators. So, for example, if you’re experiencing a decline in local honey bees, bumblebees and other beneficials may help with pollination.

To add diversity to your climate change garden:

• Plant a polyculture of many different crops and species.

• Plant edibles, herbs and flowers in the same beds. Flowers and herbs act as companion plants, and attract beneficial insects and bees.

• Plant several varieties of each crop. Old time heritage and heirloom varieties offer unique qualities like superior taste, or resilience under varied conditions.

• Rotate your crops to prevent disease and soil depletion caused by planting over and over in the same spot. Different crops add or take away different nutrients from soil.

 

A hand reaches out to a pink Nooktka rose, just one of the native plants that brings benefits to the garden. Grow a Climate Change Resilient Garden

Native plants and the wildlife they support bring many benefits to the garden, including natural pest management, enhanced pollination, and soil fertility.

6. Include Native Plants

More than anything, native plants support the bees and beneficial wildlife you need to help your climate change garden thrive.

Native plants are wildflowers, trees and shrubs that have grown in the region for hundreds of years. Over that time, they’ve developed a symbiotic relationship with local insects, birds, soil organisms, frogs and other beneficial wildlife. When this native plant habitat is present, all of the benefits of generations of beneficial co-existence are available to your garden.

You can bring natural habitat into the garden by setting aside buffer areas of woodlands, meadows, ponds or native plant hedgerows. If you have only a small garden plot, include wildflowers as borders, or intersperse them amid your crops. The native plants and wildlife in these buffers interact with the garden to enhance soil fertility, increase pollination, and provide natural pest management. They also protect against the spread of invasive plants (which are spurred on by the changing climate).

 

A low wall of rocks provides a microclimate to capture heat for zucchini plants. Microclimates protect the garden against Climate Change related weather extremes.

Microclimates take advantage of natural and constructed features to protect plants from cold, wind, rain and drought. Here, a rock wall stores heat to warm zucchini plants.

7. Create Microclimates

Use microclimates to protect your garden from climate-related weather extremes. Microclimates are protective areas that shield your plants from heat, drought, wind, rain and cold. They also allow you to extend the growing season.

You can build microclimates throughout your garden by taking advantage of natural features like shade trees, rocks, ponds and slopes. Mulch, raised beds and barriers such as cold frames and hoop houses can also mitigate plant exposure.

One positive effect of climate change is that it may allow us to grow a wider range of crops than before. As climate change warms the northern latitudes, we’re seeing Mediterranean and subtropical plants like olives, lemons and avocados adapting to our region. With a little help from microclimates, we can encourage and expand on the range of crops that will grow here.

 

The flowering seed head of a leek. Saving seeds helps adapt the garden to climate change.

Seed saving helps adapt your garden to changing climate conditions. When you save seed from plants that have withstood heat, cold, or other hardships, you preserve their ability to resist those same conditions in the future.

8. Save Seeds

When you save seeds, you’re selecting the best traits of your healthiest plants and preserving them for the coming season. This means you’ll have seeds to plant that are adapted to the exact growing conditions in your garden.

To start saving seeds, choose open-pollinated plants (also called heirlooms, heritage, or open source). Seeds from patented hybrid plants cannot be saved because they will not reproduce true.

Grow out your plants until they flower and set seed.

Lettuce, peas, beans, tomatoes, and grains, which require little or no isolation, are easy vegetables for seed saving. Some edibles, such as broccoli, need isolation because they can cross-pollinate with other plants from the same family.

A helpful guide to seed saving, Saving Seeds: A Home Gardener’s Guide to Preserving Plant Diversity by Dan Jason, outlines the basics on how to save seeds, and which plants require isolation.

There are many reasons to save seeds in our climate-changing world. Saving seeds ensures your food security. When local stores have shortages (as they may have increasingly, when droughts and other events cause interrupted supplies), you will have seeds to plant, and garden vegetables on hand to fill your plate.

Seed saving from open-pollinated heirlooms also acts as insurance against widespread crop failures. Our current agricultural system depends on a handful of monocrops to feed us all. If new diseases threaten these few crops, the heirloom varieties we’ve preserved can offer genetic resistance to keep food production viable.

Saving seeds is like saving life itself, and may be the most positive, transformative act a person can do!

 

More about climate change gardening:

10 Tips for Year-Round Vegetable Gardens10 Tips for Year-Round Vegetable Gardens

School Gardens: Preparing Kids for Climate Change.School Gardens: Preparing Kids for Climate Change
How Oregano Can Help Fight Global WarmingHow Oregano Can Help Fight Global Warming
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