Gardening in a Changing Climate
We have just had the hottest January on record, and the heat looks set to continue. I think all but the hardened sceptics agree that climate change is a reality. And it’s here!
So, is there anything we can do to help moderate the impacts of climate change, both on the planet and on our homes and families? The simple answer is Yes!
Climate change, put simply, is the heating up of the earth because of increased levels of carbon in the atmosphere. This increased carbon is due, in some measure, to the burning of fossil fuels and the cutting down of trees.
So, what we need to do is try and reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The cheapest and easiest way to remove carbon from the atmosphere is to grow green plants!
Now, I know not everyone has a huge parcel of land in which they can plant a few hundred trees. However, despite what you may have read, trees only remove some of the carbon from the atmosphere. The best way to remove high levels of carbon quickly is to increase the amount of organic matter in your soil, as organic matter is largely made up of carbon.
When you increase the organic matter in your soil you not only remove carbon from the air and into the soil, but you also improve the composition of the soil. This means that plants grow better, the soil stays cooler and retains any water that it receives. And, ultimately, you don’t have to water your garden as frequently.
This won’t just help your garden. It will also help the earth cope better with periods of intense rainfall, which are forecast for many parts of Australia as the climate changes. As long as the soil can absorb the rainfall, and the better it can absorb and keep the water where it’s needed, the less run-off and soil erosion will happen.
So, how do you increase the amount of organic matter in your soil?
The easiest way is to add compost, preferably your own, but any compost will help. Compost is just organic matter such as leaves, grass cuttings, vegetable peelings and such. You can start a compost heap easily without much in the way of materials.
I think people have come to believe composting is difficult, smelly and attracts rats or mice. However, a good compost heap is easy. It stops organic matter (i.e. carbon) from going to landfill and gives you great organic matter for your garden.
Still worried about the smell and rats? Why not try a compost tube? Not enough space? Why not investigate Bokachi bins or setting up a neighbourhood compost bin? Ask me if you want some tips on this.
The next way to increase the soil’s organic matter is by adding manure. If you were worried about the smell of compost, you will love this tip! Again, manure doesn’t have to smell bad. Just buy the stuff that has already been aged! Even better, cover your manure with sugar cane mulch, pea straw, straw, lucerne or any other mulches. You won’t smell the manure and you will have done your garden and the planet a huge service! In addition to increasing the organic matter in your soil you will have fed the worms and microbes, which help keep your soil healthy!
Using ‘Hard’ Mulches
One thing that a lot of people do to try and reduce the amount of work they have to do in the garden is to put large amounts of crushed stone, pavers, brick, or concrete paths around. Sadly this is promoted a lot by some lifestyle programs. While this initially does reduce the work, there is a lot of work involved with blow-vacs to remove leaves etc to keep it looking nice! And these add more fossil fuels into the atmosphere!
Also, pavers, bricks and concrete absorb a lot of the heat from the sun. Therefore they keep your garden hotter during the day in summer. They also continue to release this heat after the sun sets. This means that you have to spend a lot more money on fans and air-conditioners to cool your place down. You can keep your garden (and therefore your home) a lot cooler by surrounding your garden beds with grass or organic mulch.
Finally, to help plants keep cool as the hot spells increase, look at creating shade and wind protection. Whether this comes from trees and taller plants, or from creating man-made structures is up to you. You can make these protective barriers from simple shade-cloth or you can use them to create works of art that are features in their own right. This way you improve your garden while protecting your plants, fruit and vegetables.
Another trick is to pick any fruit as soon as it ripens. This is so that the fruit doesn’t keep draining water from the plant. Also try planting your fruit and vegetable plants closer together so that create a microclimate and don’t need to be watered so often.
By undertaking any or all of the actions listed above, you can not only reduce your impact on the planet, but you will have gone some way to having a beautiful, productive and useful garden.
Happy gardening 🙂
Rohanne, your Personal Gardening Expert