Regeneration 101

I’m about to tell you about a miraculous process you can “boost” without a whole lot of effort. AND the activity I’m suggesting has the potential to pull massive amounts of CO2 out of the sky! Removing CO2 from our atmosphere is, of course, one of the four pillars of mitigation I talked about in my Basics of Climate Change post. What is this wonderful Earth-aiding activity I’m speaking of?

That would be the care and feeding, one could even say regeneration, of our soils. Any soil you have around your living space. And what and how do you feed your hungry “plot”?

You feed it table scraps! Yes, any bits of food you don’t eat or that goes bad… you can bury. It doesn’t have to be buried particularly deep either. If you can dig a hole 2 foot by 2 foot, a foot and a half deep, toss your food scraps in it, then throw the dirt back over them, you can compost.

Most people think of composting as something serious gardeners do in a big bin in a big back yard, and for an actual vegetable plot that the gardeners spend a lot of time tending. But this is not the only way to compost. And, truthfully, the planet gave up resources growing all that food we buy in grocery stores, and yet she doesn’t get to reclaim the bits of it that we don’t want. Instead, they’re picked up by trucks and transported to the ‘landfill’ where they’re buried with all the other junk we throw away. But in the landfill, food scraps don’t break down properly. That’s because there’s no oxygen involved in the decomposition process- the scraps are buried too deeply, and with poor quality soil that doesn’t allow oxygen exchange. This “anaerobic” (without oxygen) process emits the most potent of all greenhouse gases, methane. Methane holds at least 30 times more heat in our atmosphere than CO2.

But when you bury scraps in the soil surrounding your home, they break down “aerobically” (with oxygen). This process does produce CO2, but given the choice between creating CO2 vs creating methane, CO2 wins hands down. It’s simply unavoidable.

However, in putting those scraps into your soil, you’re feeding the critters that live in that dirt! They are legion: there’s macrofauna (bigger creatures like centipedes, mites, and those vital earthworms), mesofauna (medium-sized, like nematodes and mites), and microfauna (microscopic organisms like bacteria, fungi, algae, and protozoa). In terms of soil health, the microorganisms are particularly important. They perform vital jobs in our environment, including decomposition of organic material, which is the process that makes nutrients available to plants. If these critters couldn’t carry out this duty, we’d be drowning in dead animals and plants, and new life would be unable to grow. They’re the unsung heroes of the planet!

Other vital jobs soil microorganisms do include making nitrogen- a critical plant nutrient- available to plants, and, amazingly, miraculously, and mysteriously, allowing plants to communicate, to fight off disease, and to attract the kinds of bacteria they particularly benefit from. These processes remain one of the big areas of scientific study; we just don’t understand this mystical-seeming underground connection. But strings of fungi interlace with each other, and with plant roots, forming vast webs of mutual benefit under the soil surface. Your food scraps are their fuel.

So how does feeding all of this soil life mitigate climate change? Well, when this life can flourish because it’s well-fed, it multiplies, and every new critter incorporates carbon into its body structure. Likewise, each plant that is enabled to grow because of healthy soils pulls carbon from the air and uses it to grow bigger and stronger.

And who knows? After feeding your soil for awhile, you might be tempted to place some vegetables in it. Or some beautiful flowers that can feed pollinators and make life more enjoyable. Every plant you grow pulls carbon out of the air. And can be buried to make more compost after its season.

Regenerating soils is thought to be one of the best climate change fighters available to us: a mitigation strategy with massive potential. There’s tons of soil we can feed our food scraps to. Tons of soil to plant in.

And it’s so do-able. I really hope you’ll give it a go!

2 thoughts on “Regeneration 101”

  1. I am a passionate and prolific composter! The benefits to my garden, my food, my environment are tremendous. I use 2 different composters and place my lawn clipping between the rows in the garden and as surface mulch where it can break down and feed the soil. I am the happy recipient of my neighbours clippings too – the get paid in basil and tomatoes from my oh so organic garden.

    • I am so glad to hear that Freddi! I wish everyone knew how much compost makes a garden, and helps our planet- in terms of lower greenhouse gas emissions- too. I bet you’re looking forward to gardening season just as much as I am 🙂

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