Tag Archives: carbon

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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Most people believe we must stop burning fossil fuels to prevent further increases in atmospheric carbon. Many people also believe we need to find ways to remove carbon already in the air if we want to reduce the chance of weather crises and associated human tragedies, economic disruption and social conflicts that they bring.

The Case for Soil Carbon

soil carbonWhere can we put carbon once it is removed from the air? There is only one practical approach, and that is to put it back where it belongs, which is in the soil. Fortunately, this is not an expensive process, although it does take large numbers of people to agree to take part.

The reason carbon should go back into the soil is because the soil is literally alive. It is full of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes and many other creatures. In a teaspoon of healthy soil, in fact, there are more microbes than people on this earth. Yes, we said that—there are more microbes in a teaspoon of healthy soil than people on the earth!

Of course, carbon-based life forms require constant supplies of organic matter to survive. Approximately 58% of this organic matter is carbon, which comes in the form of living organisms, their exudates (simple sugars), and their residues (carbohydrates) like cellulose. These compounds are energy rich, readily accessible to organisms, and rapidly consumed by soil microbes in less than 1 hour.

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How does carbon last in the soil?

If carbon is so rapidly consumed in soil, why does it last for so long? The answer is that plants are constantly renewing the supply of carbon. Since their evolution 3.5 billion years ago, plants have thrived by using their remarkable power to take carbon out of the air and put it into living matter. This process is called photosynthesis and it is the driving force of the soil food web and most all life on earth.

When plants photosynthesize and make carbohydrates, they use some of those compounds for their cells and structure, while they burn the rest for their life energy. However, they exude a significant amount of these compounds as “liquid carbon” into the soil.

Hungry bacteria, fungi, and other soil organisms will quickly show up to devour the tasty carbon-containing root exudates. They soon want more, though, and so the best way to get them is to assist the plant in making more. When a plant is healthy and strong, it can devote more energy to photosynthesis and exude more carbon. Soil organisms aid the plant in many diverse ways to help it thrive and produce more carbon.

Toxic Chemicals

Use of synthetic chemical fertilizers seriously reduces or in many cases even eliminate any soil carbon buildup. The use of synthetic chemicals is destructive to the production of soil carbon. Toxic pesticides are lethal to soil organisms, that are crucial in enhancing plant vitality and photosynthesis.

Erosion by wind and water is a major enemy of soil carbon, so growing plants are your best protection against erosion. Plants not only protect soil carbon but add to it through their power of photosynthesis. Using toxic chemicals kills this entire process.

Want to learn more about soil carbon and the modern landscape? Read our next blog or call Heidelberg Farms at (603) 501-9919. Let’ get you started on an organic lawn care program this spring!


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