Soil Carbon for the Modern Landscape (Part 2)

Soil Carbon

Since the dawn of agriculture some 12,000 years ago, humans have caused deforestation with land clearings and crop tillage releasing excess carbon dioxide. Using deep ice core analysis and techniques, scientists have detected spikes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane that correspond to agricultural expansion thousands of years ago.

Fast forward thousands of years, and homes, public parks, and golf courses grow more acres of turf grass than farmers devote to corn and wheat. There are in fact 40.5 million acres of turf grass in the U.S. While each family may have only a small lawn, they all have a big impact when you add them up. How you choose to manage your lawn and garden can make all the difference.

What you choose NOT to do makes a difference

Tilling, moving and digging in the soil results in several detrimental things. First, it stirs up the soil and exposes it to the air, which oxidizes the carbon in the exposed soil. Second, tillage dices up and destroys the hyphae of mycorrhizal fungi, one of the microbes responsible for plant health and increased exudation of liquid carbon. Hyphae are the delicate network of strands that grow through the soil and carry water and nutrients back to the plant roots.

Studies show increases in fungal biomass at all sites where tillage is eliminated. Tilling also ruins the complex soil aggregates that have been built up of microbial exudates that protect important chemical transformations like nitrogen fixing and carbon stabilization. Tilling destroys the pore spaces in the soil that holding air and water, which enable microbial vitality and deep root growth.

Building Soil Carbon

The advantage of building organic matter in your soil is not limited to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Increasing soil carbon also helps to build soil aggregates, which in turn act as sponges that enable the soil to better hold water. Consequently, this water can act as a reserve for plant roots in times when precipitation is low. These aggregates also function as a ready sink to soak up excess water in times when it is high. This capacity to retain water also reduces the risk of soil erosion.

Using the soil food web to restore organic matter to soils and stabilize it is not only beneficial to gardeners. It is also vital to our future. We have lost too much carbon from the soil and sent it into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

Even if we were to stop burning fossil fuels today, the greenhouse gasses already released will continue to raise global temperatures for many years into the future.

We cannot safely store atmospheric carbon in the world’s oceans. CO2 dissolves in water and forms carbonic acid. We have been seeing the effects of a gradually increasing amount of CO2 in our oceans for decades. Oceanic pH has been falling and the acidification has been killing off sea life, including coral reefs.

We have a chance to restore the balance one lawn and garden at a time. Interested? Call Heidelberg Farms today at (603) 501-9919 to schedule your free organic lawn care consultation this spring. Let’s get started.

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