Regenerative agriculture is growing in popularity all over the world! We can borrow regenerative principles and apply them in our own gardens to enrich soil, reverse climate change and grow healthier food.
Regenerative agriculture is one of those things that when you read up about it you think, this makes so much sense! I got excited about a film I watched on the topic this week "Kiss the Ground". It explains how Regenerative methods help reverse climate change by building soil health. To quote the film, "Soil might save us. If we get the soil right we can solve a lot of issues: healthy soil means healthy food, healthy bodies, healthy water and a healthy planet".
What is Regenerative Agriculture and how does it help with climate change?
The aim is to put nutrients back into our soil and therefore into our bodies (through the food we grow in it). The soil subsequently helps to absorb carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. Plants turn carbon dioxide into fuel and the excess carbon goes down into the soil. Regenerative gardening allows the soil to literally pull carbon from the atmosphere into the ground. By using regenerative practices, farmers can remove CO2 from the atmosphere at a rate of about one ton of CO2 for every acre. A study from Rodale Institute says the benefits to the environment are enormous concluding that we could sequester more than 100 percent of annual CO2 emissions worldwide if we start growing food this way. And we need to do it now, with only about 60 years of topsoil remaining at current practices, nothing less will do.
8 ways to make your garden Regenerative at home:
1. Ditch the chemicals - if you don't want it in your body, don't put it in your garden. Our soil has been depleted through the use of chemicals and salt based fertilisers. Regenerative gardening aims to reverse these negative effects and relies on the natural ecosystem to keep pests and diseases under control.
2. Encourage Biodiversity - Encourage biodiversity by using plants which mutually benefit each other through complementary nutrient requirements or production of helpful chemicals or to attract a range of beneficial insects and organisms which keep pests and disease under control. Such systems use companion planting.
3. Minimise soil disturbance - Stop turning your soil over so much and keep the soil covered. Any plant is better than no plant as they protect and build the soil. Practice zero tilling or no-dig gardening. Tilling or turning over the soil reduces its ability to retain water and resist erosion. On top of that, tilling "releases carbon from the soil." You can avoid the need for tilling by using the same soil season to season to retain the soil structure and using a broad fork which loosens the soil without inverting it and keeping the soil structure in place. Decrease soil exposure by pulling up one crop and plant another in one day.
4. Cover cropping - Cover crops are secondary crops that are planted outside of the primary growing season that help to rebuild the soil. Cover crops should be planted the year before you start a vegetable garden. When you are ready to plant your vegetables, the cover crop can be mown down and allowed to dry on the top solid. The residue from the cover crop acts like a layer of organic fertiliser to nourish soil, protect it from erosion and reduce run-off. Some cover crops return nutrients to the soil whilst others help retain water and prevent erosion which both increase the health of the soil for the next growing season.
5. Compost- make it and use it. It's a probiotic regenerative source for your soil. You can pull up your plants that are no longer producing and cover beds in a layer of compost and then a blanket of dry leaves. So whether you use a cover crop, straw, dried leaves or other organic matter, you are protecting the soil and replenishing it before the next round of planting.
6. Plant Perennials - Shifting focus from annual to perennial crops means that living roots are in the soil all the time, reducing compaction and erosion and providing host material and nutrition for soil microbiota.
7. Crop rotation - Plants to be harvested or those in the same plant family, are not grown in the same area in the subsequent season. This minimises the risk of host-specific pests and disease and also of excessive depletion of particular essential nutrients. There are many systems of rotation, some consisting of 4 cycles, one of which is a legume to add nitrogen to the soil.
8. Mulching - Mulches of either organic or non-organic materials are used between the planted crops to inhibit weed growth and retain moisture. They are also used to kill weeds and build soil on ground that has not yet been planted for crops. The materials are usually cardboard, newspaper, woodchips, straw or a combination. These all have the advantage of adding carbon to the soil and encouraging microbial growth.
There is a lot more to Regenerative gardening than buying some seedlings one weekend and planting them in the ground. It's about preparing the soil so that it is enriched and as healthy as it can be before you plant your seedlings. By using some of the principles of Regenerative agriculture in your garden the results for the soil, the plants and your family's health are immense. And a cure for climate change starts with a simple solution right under our feet - Soil!
By Allison Licence
Allison Licence is a Sydney-based freelance writer and 1 Million Women volunteer who is passionate about the environment and finding ways to live more sustainably.