February 24th, 2014
January 27th, 2014
This diagram shows the movement of carbon between land, atmosphere, and oceans in billions of tons of carbon per year. Yellow numbers are natural fluxes and red are human contributions of carbon (both change CO2 in the atmosphere). White numbers indicate stored carbon. Climate change scientists focus on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere (800 Gt) and vegetation (550 Gt). But soil contains more carbon than air and plants combined (2,300 Gt). So, even a minor change in soil carbon could have major implications for the earth\'s atmosphere and climate.
Most gardeners know about the importance of working with nature to increase soil health and thus the success of our gardens. But many gardeners do not appreciate the central role mycorrhizal fungi play for healthy plants and healthy soil.
There is a sort of biological magic that happens between mycorrhizal fungi and plant roots called symbiosis where the plant provides the mycorrhiza with the sugars they need to keep growing, and the fungi provide the plants with more efficient access to soil nutrients. Mycorrhiza develop fungal "roots" that merge with the cell walls of the plant roots and grow into them, creating structures that allow for the transfer of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen from soil to the fungi to the plant.
Plants thrive with this extra access to nutrients, fueling better growth and increasing resistance to drought and disease. Gardens look better and are healthier when mycorrhizal fungi are “symbiosis-ing” with plants and trees. Plus, this increased vigor helps plants remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis.
Photosynthesis is the process that has led to the soil containing more carbon than the atmosphere and plant biomass combined. Of course, this also means poor land use practices (deforestation, excess tilling and chemical fertilization, filling in wetlands, overgrazing, etc) increase greenhouse gases by releasing soil carbon. And correspondingly, smart land use practices can accelerate natural sequestration of atmospheric CO2 in soils. There is growing understanding that policies to protect and restore soil carbon should be top priority for dealing with climate change.
So, gardening, farming and land use that builds healthy soil are a key solution to climate change by storing excess CO2 in soil carbon through photosynthesis. And recent research has discovered that some mycorrhizal fungi increase soil carbon storage by 70%. These climate change-fighting fungi slow the decomposition of organic matter and thus build more quickly net carbon stored in the soil.
What if we fully valued the role healthy soil can play in reducing excess greenhouse gas build up, not to mention in creating resilient ecosystems, feeding us and conserving water resources? What if we started behaving as if healthy soil is as important as clean air and water? What if we understood that the “dirt’ we walk on may be the key to a better future? Then, we may begin designating mycorrhizal fungi and other soil life as endangered species we should protect.
December 28th, 2013
For 30 years Gardener’s Supply Company has been committed to “Improving the World Through Gardening”. But what does that mean and how do we communicate this message most powerfully to both Blue States and Red States?
Last year The Nature Conservancy commissioned a national survey of voters to understand the best ways to communicate about land conservation and protecting nature. Here are three key conclusions from that research (and their connection to gardening):
1. Talk about water first and foremost. Nothing is more important to voters than having abundant and clean water to drink. Americans care deeply about water pollution and The Nature Conservancy believes that “protecting land around rivers, lakes, and streams, will keep pollution from flowing into these waters and prevent it from eventually contaminating our drinking water.”
How does concern over water apply to gardening and Gardener’s Supply? We have promoted ‘waterwise’ gardening and landscaping from day one, promoting organic soil management to retain water, HydroGro hose for drip irrigation, rainbarrels, and now Snip’N’Drip. We lead the US in efficient self-watering container gardening. But there’s more we can do including leading the shift to organic lawn care thus reducing lawn chemicals, a main source of surface water pollution.
2. Talk about improving human health by caring for the land. Americans want clean air and water and healthy environments, and we instinctively view land protection as having benefits for air, water, flora and fauna, and thus our own health. We recognize that nature is a source of our food, provides important medicines, and is essential for recreation.
Gardener’s Supply always promotes good land stewardship and the idea that we can improve the environment and create healthier habitats “one backyard at a time”. What other pastime delivers this benefit in every community, and what other home-based activity can empower “earth stewards” more than gardening? Everyone is interested in better health and gardening can deliver this with nutritious food, outdoor exercise and a healthier “web of life” surrounding our home?
3. Talk about the importance to our kids and grandkids of protecting natural areas. Emphasize the importance of engaging with natural areas as a way of helping children spend more time outdoors. Of 18 conservation-related problems tested in The Nature Conservancy survey, “kids not spending enough time outdoors and in nature” rated as the most serious concern. 82% of American voters (rural Republicans as well as urban Democrats) are concerned about this problem.
The national Farm to School Network reaches over 20 million kids providing access to nature through school gardens and farm field trips plus by linking good health to good food through nutrition and cooking programs. There are nearly 150 schools involved in Vermont and GSC has been a major supporter of this movement both here in Vermont and nationally. There is more we all can do to support more children gardening, no matter the politics of our families or communities.
Personally, I am concerned about climate change, income inequality, decimation of nature by the human economy and other global challenges. But “when the world wearies and ceases to satisfy there is always the garden” is still a truism for me. And gardening can be a bridge uniting all gardeners, regardless of our politics, to work toward a better world in our homes and communities.
For each of these states the spectacular monarch is the official state butterfly or insect. But there is concern this beloved butterfly may be going extinct. In 2013 there was over a 90% decline in this iconic and beautiful migrating butterfly. The alarms went off in gardens all over America last year as we waited to see the flashes of orange alight on our milkweed plants, feed on the nectar and lay their eggs. The monarch caterpillar eats only milkweed plants and gardeners aware of this often grow them as beacons of life and feeding stations for the millions of monarchs summering in North America so the next generation has the energy to fly back to Mexico to over-winter.
My wife Lynette allows hundreds of perennial milkweed plants (common milkweed: Asclepias syriaca) to grow every year and dominate our front garden. This year we waited and waited, but not one of the regal butterflies appeared. We wondered what was going on?
Then we read this article in November and our worst fears were confirmed. The count of monarchs migrating to the forests of central Mexico for the winter was down by 95%. Rather than millions arriving in early November announcing the time to harvest corn the butterflies were late and in never-before-seen small numbers.
The reasons for this abrupt population decline are largely known as they are also causing the decline of honey bees, thousands of species of native bees and other pollinators that provide pollination services for 80% of our food crops and gardens. The reasons include:
• The precipitous loss of native habitat especially in huge areas of the Midwest where crop subsidies motivate farmers to grow only corn and soybeans for hundreds of miles in every direction. About 50% of the monarch eggs are laid in these Midwestern prairie areas but the majority of milkweed habitat there has been converted to corn and soybean crops.
• Urban development, expansion of "monoculture" lawns and landscapes, and mowing of natural habitats that host migratory insects and birds. These land use changes reduce milkweed plants even more.
• Roundup-type herbicides that kill nearly all plants (including milkweed) except "Roundup ready" commercial crops that are genetically modified to survive the herbicide.
• Neonicotinoids, the first new class of insecticides introduced in the last 50 years, are persistent and can concentrate in the soil. Recent research points to these pesticides as harming bees, butterflies and even birds. They were just banded for a two year test period in the European Union.
But there is hope for monarchs. It starts with growing millions of milkweed plants. This vibrant wildflower with many species is native to much of the US. It is not only beautiful, it's essential to the life cycle of Monarch butterflies. They sip the plentiful nectar; lay their eggs under the leaves, and then their fat striped caterpillars gobble the leaves (the only food that can sustain them). No milkweed plants, not monarch butterflies.
Monarch Watch has been committed to monarch conservation, protection and education for over 20 years. They are leading a new campaign called Bring Back the Monarchs that helps home gardeners, schools, and communities plant "way-stations" of milkweed plants for migrating monarchs. Please consider getting involved.