Some of my garden beds wobble – truly! If I put the fork into them and jiggle it back and forwards, the surrounding growing medium wobbles like a jelly. I say ‘growing medium’ because there’s not a lot of what we would generally regard as ‘soil’ there. There’s certainly none of that sticky black stuff that clings to the sides of a carrot as you draw it out of the ground. My ‘growing medium’ is more a mass of crumbs made up of tiny fragments of twig, bark, leaf, the friable remains of composted plant material, aged animal manure, seaweed, straw, pine needle, egg shell, threads of cotton, wisps of wool, and filaments of hair. If I squeeze it all together in a tight fist, it takes on a shape for a moment, then gently collapses. It’s like the crumbs of a pastry mix just before you add that final drop of water or lemon juice that turns it into a lovely, soft, malleable ball of dough.
In fact, I often think of my garden beds in baking terms. As I add barrow loads of this and that to them, it really does feel as if I’m following a recipe for cake batter, especially when I mix it all together with the fork. And I just know that whatever vegetable I plant in the garden, it’s going to enjoy eating what there.
Today, while I was reading Roots of Civilisation – Plans that Changed the World, by John Newton, I began to think of my garden beds in another light – as helpful storehouses of carbon. ‘Organic fertilizers,’ according to Newton, ‘mulch, compost, manure and other organic waste materials’, build up the soil and are not only 15-20% more efficient at retaining water than convention chemical fertilizers, but are also far greater sequesters of carbon. The organic system stores up to 981 kilograms per hectare as opposed to 293 kilograms per hectare in the conventional system. And, as we all now know, the more carbon in the soil, the less there is in the atmosphere to contribute to global warming.
Where do these statistics come from? They come from a 23 year old study by the Rodale Institute which you can read about here: http://rodaleinstitute.org/our-work/farming-systems-trial/ So, without my even realising it, the roadside garden has been helping fight global warming since its instigation five years ago. Now that’s something to celebrate!