Master Gardeners: Making a Difference in Climate Change

Author: David Layland | Published: December 29, 2017

Climate change, also called global warming, has been in the news lately because of the devastating wildfires in Northern and Southern California. Climate change refers to the rise in average surface temperatures and is due primarily to the use of fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into the air.

The gases trap heat within the atmosphere, which can have a range of effects on the environment, including rising sea levels, severe weather, and droughts that render landscapes more susceptible to wildfires.

There are two ways to reduce the environmental damage done by fossil fuels. The most common way is to reduce the use of fossil fuels — by driving a hybrid or electric car, for example, or using solar or wind power. The second way, carbon sequestration, involves pulling carbon out of the air and storing it in the ground.

I don’t drive a hybrid or electric car but I do have solar power. It provides 90 percent of my electricity at home so I’ve done something toward lowering emissions.

Carbon sequestration is new to me. In researching what I could do to help pull carbon out of the air, I discovered that I’m already using several carbon-sequestration practices in my garden. To some extent, these practices are what organic gardeners have been doing for a long time.

Make compost: One of the primary differences between organic and conventional gardening can be boiled down to a simple change in perspective: Instead of worrying about feeding the plants, we should worry first about feeding the soil. Take care of the soil and the plants will take care of themselves.

By composting all of our food scraps and garden waste, we aren’t just providing valuable nutrients for plants. We are providing food for a huge ecosystem of bacteria, fungi and insects, all of which help to absorb carbon from the environment and keep it locked up in the soil. You can add cardboard and other paper-based waste to your compost, too. High-fiber composting works, and it’s another way to lock up some CO2.


Meet a Woman Who Keeps 500 Plants in Her Brooklyn Apartment

Author: Dan Nosowitz

The model-turned-sustainable-clothing-activist-turned-sustainable-food-movement-activist has had an eventful career. Oakes currently heads up marketing for Foodstand, whose aim is to “to connect a community of good eaters,” and also runs a website about detoxing from sugar. But leading up to these jobs, she earned an environmental science degree, worked as a model, wrote a book (with another due out this year), and launched a service to connect designers with sustainable fabrics.

For 11 years, Oakes has lived in a 1,200-square-foot converted industrial space in Williamsburg, which is filled with 500 plants, including a living wall, an irrigated vertical garden constructed out of mason jars, and, in a closet garden, edible plants ranging from the familiar (herbs, greens) to the exotic (a pineapple plant, curry leaves—the latter of which she raves about). Although Oakes studied environmental science in school, her love of agriculture goes back further than that. She grew up, she says, on five acres of land in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, alongside chickens, goats, and an orchard

To garden in an apartment is a daunting task; lack of space, soil, and especially sunlight tend to put firm limitations on what you can and can’t grow. “I’m lucky that I have windows on both sides of my house, one south-facing, which gets a lot of light, and one north-facing,” says Oakes. “In the windows is where I have more of the light-necessary plants, like ivy, which I can’t eat, and herbs.”

Her apartment is an attempt to cram a country house into a Brooklyn apartment. None of that is really possible in the city, but Oakes does her best: a vermiculture kit beneath the kitchen sink, a compost bin, LED lighting systems, a sub-irrigation system for certain plants, and plants, plants everywhere. Succulents line the bathroom. An old sled on which her pots and pans are hung also include low-light-tolerant philodendrons.


How Gardening Can Improve Your Health, Fitness, Mood and Nutrition

Author: Dr. Mercola

Modern living tends to sever your connection to the natural world, and many are now starting to recognize just how important a connection with the land is for health and happiness.

Health benefits associated with gardening run the gamut from stress relief to improved mental health, better nutrition and of course, exercise.1 In fact, some suggest a revival of home gardening could improve the health and well-being of entire nations. According to a recent BBC article:2

“Pilot schemes for general practitioners (GPs) to prescribe gardening are under way, while school gardening projects have been set up to give children a peaceful space to relax in.

There are also community garden schemes where patients at GP practices work together to grow food, while studies have shown that exposure to gardens can have a calming effect in dementia.”

Academia, public health and horticulture professionals also recently met at a health and horticulture conference in the U.K., where the discussion revolved around the role of gardening in the treatment of chronic disease.

Gardening Boosts Mental and Emotional Well-Being

Needless to say, fresh air never hurt anyone, and research confirms that spending time in nature can have significant mental and emotional health benefits. Depression is sometimes rooted in a feeling of being disconnected, and reconnecting to nature can help you reconnect to your own self and “life” in general.

A survey3 done by Gardeners’ World magazine in 2013 found that 80 percent of gardeners reported being “happy” and “satisfied” with their lives, compared to 67 percent of non-gardeners.

Dutch research has also shown that gardening is one of the most potent stress relieving activities there are.4 Tests revealed gardeners had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol compared to people who tried to relax by quiet reading.

Researchers have also found that digging in the soil may affect your mental health via exposure to beneficial microorganisms in the soil. As previously reported by CNN Health:5

“In a study conducted in Norway, people who had been diagnosed with depression, persistent low mood or ‘bipolar II disorder’ spent six hours a week growing flowers and vegetables.

After three months, half of the participants had experienced a measurable improvement in their depression symptoms. What’s more, their mood continued to be better three months after the gardening program ended …

Mycobacterium vaccae, a harmless bacteria commonly found in soil … increase the release and metabolism of serotonin in parts of the brain that control cognitive function and mood — much like serotonin-boosting antidepressant drugs do.”


8 Common Plants to Grow for Their Medicinal Benefits (All Great for Indoor Container Gardens)

Author: Jonathon Engels

Just about the same time I started getting into permaculture, I began developing an interest in the power of food as a preventative medicine. Permaculture appealed to me because it seemed obvious that the way we were cultivating our food with an overabundance of chemicals was destructive to the planet and to our own health. When it came to farming, doing what came naturally seemed, well, the natural solution. Letting food be my medicine paralleled this idea: We’ve become so accustomed to doping our bodies to ward off every cold or headache and boost our bodily systems that we’ve left ourselves in the same state as barren ground.

If the soil could be fixed by adding quality organic biomass, reinvigorating an entire ecosystem, then why couldn’t we do the same thing for our bodies, ecosystems in their own right? My wife Emma and I started watching documentaries like Food Matters and Simply Raw, reading books about herbal medicine and fermentation, and learning from people we were meeting through permaculture. We suddenly found ourselves thinking about enzymes, probiotics, gut flora, and antioxidants. We became fast fans of fresh herbs in every meal and including certain beneficial spices and veggies regularly. Undoubtedly, it felt right, and we felt better than ever.

What we found was that some of the most powerfully medicinal foods had been right at our fingertips all along. They were easy to grow, required little space (could work in pots, in fact), and naturally strengthened our immune systems, regulated blood sugar, steadied blood pressure, lubricated joints, prevented inflammation, helped our skin, and generally bettered our well-being. We adopted simple ways to include them in our meals throughout the day, and we started sharing our new dietary practice and home production methods. And, that felt right, too.

1. Garlic

Very common, very potent, and very medicinal—garlic is nothing new on the medicinal scene. It’s even available in pill form these days, but when it’s so easy to grow, that just seems silly. What’s more, raw garlic is where the magic really happens. We’ve always grown our garlic as an annual, often as much for the sprouts as the bulbs, but I’ve recently discovered new (to me) techniques for growing it as a perennial, i.e. the permaculture way. While it can be grown in a pot, it’s also a great companion plant

2. Ginger

Already something we used regularly to prevent motion sickness, ginger became a much larger feature in our everyday cooking. It pairs wonderfully with carrot anything, works well in oatmeal, and, with some citrus zests, adds a zip to rice. We also use it to make tea, again combined with a bit of orange or lime. But, by far, our favorite ginger practice has become fermenting ginger beer on a regular basis. It tastes great while providing both the medicinal benefits of ginger and probiotics. It’s a great shade-tolerant plant that works well in the tropics but can be grown indoors as a pot plant in more frigid locales.


The Climate-Friendly Gardener

Seventy percent of American households engage in some level of gardening or lawn care every year. Some do it for beautiful flowers, lush grass, or fresh fruits and vegetables; some for the peace and quiet or the connection to nature.

But there is another reason to grow plants in your yard: certain gardening practices can help combat global warming. This guide will show you how.

First, we explain the science linking soil, plants, and climate change; then we provide practical tips for a more climate-friendly garden, and links to resources that will help you adapt these tips to your own needs.


10 Edible Perennial Vines for Vertical Gardening

Author: Jonathon Engels

Vertical gardening is a concept that is well promoted these days, especially when considering urban and suburban gardens in confined spaces. A quick search on any server will reveal a great collection of reused plastic bottles or PVC pipes suspended alongside walls and fences, little bunches of salad greens poking up periodically. Everything from old pants pockets to upcycled dressers to old pallets are used to grow food beyond just ground level. Often times these create beautiful, if not peculiar, garden touches for people, gardeners and the rest alike, to enjoy.

However, small containers like these, while a productive use of space, can often be higher maintenance and are typically used to propagate annuals, but of course, standard permaculture practice is to pursue, though not exclusively, perennial and low-maintenance gardens. It’s from this point of view that the practicality of edible perennial vines become a more obvious choice for utilizing vertical spaces. Climbing vines not only have the potential (and need) to move vertically, but also they can spread along ceilings (to utilize that space as well), become shading roofs themselves, help with insulating, and even function as living walls and fences.

In other words, while the upcycled vertical gardens are a neat trick and fun projects, looking to vines may offer more stacked functions and provide a more reliable, more easily maintained source of food. What’s more is that there are great, varied productive options for temperate and tropical zones, including vines for fruit and vegetables, as well as edible leaves and flowers. Most propagate easily and establish themselves quickly.



Food forests manage themselves

Author: Andrea Darr

On a suburban Kansas lot at the corner of 55th and Mastin streets, an experiment is underway: A food forest is growing crops, creating economic value and, most notably, doing most of the work on its own.

The 10,000-square-foot garden is not tended to daily, at least not by human beings. Insects do the job of managing pests, some plants act as natural fertilizer, releasing nitrogen into the soil, and other plants form deep taproots that mine the soil for nutrients, bringing them up to the surface for the tree roots.

The area doesn’t have to be mowed, it doesn’t get sprayed and it doesn’t just survive — it thrives.

What is this system? The trendy term is permaculture, but it’s nothing new. It has been around for thousands of years.

“This is how nature manages itself,” says P.J. Quell, the property owner who has lent the site to Cultivate Kansas City to design, install, manage and harvest food grown from guilds of trees, shrubs and plants. Volunteers come annually to prune trees and spread wood chips. That’s about the extent of work involved.

Of course, it took much effort at the beginning of the project, designing for maximum sunlight, digging swales to capture and hold water, and planting. There are 39 varieties of fruit and nut trees and 12 varieties of shrubs, several with which people are familiar — pears and plums — but also many that are relative unknowns: pawpaws, jujubes, serviceberries and aronia.


How to Eat Your Lawn: Transform Your Wasteful Grassy Space into a Food Forest Garden

Author: Sarah Rich

Who ever imagined that lawns would go from epitomizing the American dream to embodying all manner of evil? Blaming both human and natural failings, many homeowners have embraced the idea of lawn-eradication, and the Food Not Lawns movement is growing on a daily basis. Lawns were originally cultivated by wealthy European nobles to show off all the land that they didn’t need for growing food, but in an era of droughts, climate change, and imminent food shortages, such wastefulness isn’t a trophy for the elite; it’s pretty much reprehensible.

Several organizations now exist that help people transform their lawns into edible food forests, and one of those is Edible Estates. This company is the brainchild of Fritz Haeg, who has made it his mission to replace the water-guzzling, pesticide-drenched grasslands of American front yards with functional, fruitful plots filled with all things edible. His philosophy on lawns vs. edible gardens is as follows:

“The lawn devours resources while it pollutes. It is maniacally groomed with mowers and trimmers powered by the 2-stroke motors responsible for much of our greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrocarbons from mowers react with nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight to produce ozone. To eradicate invading plants, it is drugged with pesticides which are then washed into our water supply with sprinklers and hoses, dumping our increasingly rare fresh drinking resource down the gutter. Of the 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 17 are detected in groundwater and 23 have the ability to leach into groundwater sources.

The lawn divides and isolates us. It is the buffer of anti-social no-man’s-land that we wrap ourselves with, reinforcing the suburban alienation of our sprawling communities. The mono-culture of one plant species covering our neighborhoods from coast to coast celebrates puritanical homogeneity and mindless conformity.”

For those of you who may be interested in growing food instead of grass, there are countless books and websites available to help you on your way. As a couple of examples, the Food Not Lawns book is a great start, and Paradise Lot is an ideal reference guide for those living in urban settings.


Utopian off-grid Regen Village produces all of its own food and energy

Author: Lacy Cooke

Danish architectural firm EFFEKT envisioned a future where self-sustaining communities could grow their own food and produce their own energy. They incorporated that vision into the ReGen Village, a planned off-grid community that addresses issues ranging from climate change to food security through sustainable design. They plan to start building these utopian communities this summer.

According to EFFEKT’s website, there are five principles behind the ReGen Villages: “Energy positive homes. Door-step high-yield organic food production. Mixed renewable energy and storage. Water and waste recycling. Empowerment of local communities.”

Homes in these gorgeous communities are totally designed for sustainable living. They’re powered by photovoltaic solar panels, but passive heating and cooling systems take some of the pressure off the electrical use of each house. Families grow their own vegetables and fruit in connected greenhouses. Together, the houses form a “shared local eco-system.”

Villages include several public squares that are equipped with electric car charging stations, and there are also vertical aquaponic farming spaces. The community shares water storage facilities and “waste-to-resource” systems. In addition, there are areas for livestock, communal dining, playgrounds, and community learning centers.



Creating sustainability? Join the Re-Generation!

Author: Daniel Christian Wahl

Faced with multiple converging crises humanity is challenged to redesign the human presence on Earth within the lifetime of present generations, writes Daniel Christian Wahl, and so transform our impact from degeneration to regeneration. We are capable of creating diverse creative cultures elegantly adapted to the uniqueness of place.

After the post-war Baby Boomers came Generation X, followed by Generation Y – the millennials – and Generation Z – the iGeneration. So what’s next?

Creating a viable future for humanity on an overpopulated planet in crisis requires all of us to collaborate, across generations, ideologies and nations. We all will need to join the re-generation!

How do we keep the lights on, avoid revolution and turmoil, keep children in school and people in work, yet still manage to fundamentally transform the human presence on planet Earth before ‘business as usual’ leads to run-away climate change, a drastically impoverished biosphere, and the early demise of our species?

Rather than rushing for solutions we’d better make sure we’re asking the appropriate questions. Albert Einstein supposedly said:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask. For once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

It is time to step back from our cultural predisposition to want solutions and answers as quickly as possible. Do symptomatic quick fix solutions – rather than systemic transformation – actually serve the necessary culture change? Or are they merely premature responses to mistaken problem statements created within an outdated way of thinking, based on a cultural narrative that no longer serves humanity?

The right questions can reshape our perception of the world

By daring to ask deeper questions we begin to see the world differently. As we engage in conversation about such questions, we collectively begin to contribute to the emergence of a new culture. Questions – and the dialogues they spark – are culturally creative. We need to make sure we ask the right questions if we hope to bring forth the thriving, resilient, regenerative cultures and communities most of us long to live in.