Gardeners & CO2 – Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Gardeners and Al Gore – How to reduce your own direct and indirect CO2 impact on the world.

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe active gardeners and authors resident in Spain.

The need to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere

Looking back 50 years to the London green pea winter smogs from a little polluted mountain valley in Spain it’s difficult to believe that the world now creates more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere now than then, in spite of the application of innumerable new technologies.

Last Spring we attended a lecture organised by the Valencia branch of the Slow Food organisation which reported on the findings of a joint Spanish/Portuguese University investigation into the natural trends in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over five thousand years. To do this the investigating team had taken core samples from the seabed to the south west of Portugal where there are successive layers of sand and the earth and rubble swept into the sea after large waves- Tsunamis – have hit the coast following earthquakes ( the last large one having destroyed Lisbon in 1755). Apparently the indications are that there is a natural cycle of low and high levels of carbon dioxide that leads to periods of heat waves followed by mini ice ages and that at present the carbon dioxide was on a natural increase with some indication that the increased population of the world was this time having some effect but not most of the effect.

On the other hand we watched one of Al Gores lectures on Spanish Canal Plus over Christmas and were shaken by his worst case predictions of global warming as a result of the high manmade levels of carbon dioxide pollutions and the need for urgent intergovernmental and industrial actions. Probably reality lies between the two lectures but what is sure is that we could all, including amateur gardeners, do something to reduce our own and related carbon dioxide impact. During the lecture we made notes of what we have or could do further here in Spain – one of the countries forecast to feel the brunt of global warming – and now turn it into a checklist for wider consideration.

21 Ways gardeners can help reduce CO2 emissions

We summarise our initial ideas below. If you have others to add please send them to us via the contact page and we will extend the list.

  1. Compost most of the prunings and weeds from your winter cutback and clean up of the garden in order to use home made compost for improving the soil and preparing composts for growing new plants from seeds and cuttings. In this way you will need to purchase less sacks of compost and reduce the emissions from the machinery required to harvest and process peat and palm fibres, and then transport them from northern countries or West Africa and South America respectively.
  2. Use one of the small worm composters that are now available for processing small quantities of kitchen and window box/flower pot waste if living in an apartment.
  3. If you cannot compost all your kitchen and garden waste then place it in the green waste bins or take it yourself to one of the increasing numbers of municipal composting yards that compost garden waste mixed with seaweed cleared from beaches after storms.
    Buy the above locally produced inexpensive compost rather than more expensive and less environmentally produced imported alternatives.
  4. Reduce the number of bonfires.
  5. Grow your own plants from cuttings or seeds and reduce the emissions of the worldwide greenhouse industry and the air and lorry transport involved. You have probably noticed that many garden centres do not produce all their own `plants and that many are now imported.
  6. Start to grow or grow more of your own fruit, vegetables and herbs. Do so with locally available natural ecological fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides and you not only don’t contribute to the transportation of fruit and vegetables from national and foreign growers to supermarkets and shops but also reduce the emissions from factories producing chemical products and packing materials.
  7. Use raised beds, no-dig beds and lighten soils on the vegetable plot by working in up to 40% of composts to improve the fertility and moisture holding capacity and reduce the need to use a rotovator or plough.
  8. Extend your own food production by keeping some poultry and rabbits. See our earlier articles titled Holistic gardening in Spain and Slow gardening which expand on points 7 and 8.
  9. Feed your poultry and rabbits as much as possible on appropriate own/locally grown vegetable leaves, herbs and grains.
  10. Recycle newspapers by making newspaper tubes as alternatives to plastic seed trays or peat or plastic pots for growing seeds. Section 4.12 of our book Growing healthy vegetables in Spain and 6.13 of Your garden in Spain explain how. Newspapers can also be added to compost heaps during the layering process.
  11. Cover ground with dense plantings to increase the night time absorption of CO2 from the air as plants produce chlorophyll, as well as reducing moisture evaporation and irrigation needs. In many areas this will reduce the local desalination plants. Planting less thirsty drought resistant naturalised plants appropriate to the microclimate of your garden will also help in this respect.
  12. Mulch around soft fruit and flowering shrubs to reduce evaporation.
  13. Make full use of the natural shade of the shadow of the house and create shade by planting spreading trees, constructing climber covered gazebos and pergolas to reduce the need to escape indoors to an air conditioned environment during the daytime.
  14. Create sheltered spots within the garden for enjoying the natural warmth of winter sun out of chilly breezes and reduce the need for daytime fires or central heating.
  15. Collect rainwater – see our previous article on this website entitled Rain in Spain is valuable – Ensure you catch it.
  16. Use solar powered pond fountain and pool pumps, garden lights, hot showers alongside pool and barbecues.
  17. If you fell a tree rather than burning thick branches on a bonfire produce you own barbecue charcoal by slow burning in a soil covered heap. This will not only reduce the cost of your charcoal but require no transportation or packaging materials.
  18. Recycle plastic sacks by using as an underlay to stone chipping paths rather than putting in rubbish bins to be incinerated or dumped on land fill sites.
  19. Recognise that covering your plot with fence to fence terraces with no hedges and shrub beds will heat up the air without absorbing an iota of carbon dioxide.
  20. When out gardening or enjoying the efforts of your garden close the shutters in the summer to keep the rooms cool and reduce air conditioning costs, and open them during the day in the winter to let the sun in and reduce heating costs.
  21. Exercise by using hand tools rather than adding to the weekend racket of energy consuming petrol/diesel/electric powered garden tools and machines.

We recently read that Al Gores 10,000 square metre garden is not as non polluting as it could be. Perhaps some of these ideas might be of help to him in his own garden in a climate not that different to Spain as well as being of interest to our main readership here in Spain.

© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe January 2008.