This foundation gives us life, creates medicines, helps our food grow, and absorbs carbon.
In short, soil is a Good. Yet, knowing this, we have a soil crisis (which is the opposite to a dirt crisis). Healthy, rich, soil has a minimum organic content of 6% (this is measured as the carbon content of soil). Yet in South Africa most of our soils have less than 2%. This is a disaster; our soil has a decreasing ability to build life.
What is soil? We do not tend to think of this question much. The dictionary definition is: “the upper layer of earth in which plants grow, a black or dark brown material typically consisting of a mixture of organic remains, clay, and rock particles”.
Soil-net.com has a different perspective where: Soil is one of the three major natural resources, alongside air and water. It is one of the marvellous products of nature and without which there would be no life.
Soil can be seen as a functional matrix. Or as a Living Being.
Thinking of soil as Living, moves our approach to gardening, farming and landscaping in a different direction. Healthy soil has been proven to sequester carbon and plays an important role in ameliorating the impact of climate change. In agriculture carbon farming is being encouraged.
Carbon Farming is managing land, water, plants and animals to meet the Triple Challenge of Landscape Restoration: Climate Change and Food Security.
The role of carbon rich soil is key to fighting Climate Change: the soil scientist, Dr. Rattan Lal says: “A mere 2 percent increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils could offset 100 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere.”
Everyone can enjoy the double benefit of improving their own landscape environment and helping fight against climate change by simply adding more organic matter to their soil. Adding organic matter to soil will build Living Soil - soil that is literally full of life: teaming with billions of bacteria, fungi; populated by earthworms all turning this matter into nutrients for your plants.
There are two types of landscapers. The first are those whose raison d'être is to ensure that the gardens they manage are neat, tidy and pretty. The second are those whose key purpose is to - while still having an attractive outlook - ensure that indigenous nature can be sustained and thrive within the environment they have created.
The second type of landscaper deserves our attention (and plaudits). Essentially these landscapers are stewards of the soil. These are the landscapers who compost on site, plant indigenous annual grasses (which feed the soil) and provide a habitat for insects, birds, small mammals and reptiles - they build gardens which are literally teaming with life above and below the soil.
These landscapers - perhaps not consciously - are taking the lessons of carbon farming in order to build a better environment and a better landscape. For instance the landscaping achievements at the de Beers/Anglo American Training Centre, Siemens and St. Stithians College are astounding. Natural grasses have been planted. Open spaces reclaimed from kikuyu grass and allowed to become a haven for indigenous birds, insects and other animals.
The landscapers involved - Life Landscaping and Servest - should be rightly proud of their efforts. Not only in building more eco friendly landscapes but also in the beauty achieved through their project’s role in carbon sequestration.
Key to building a healthy landscape is composting. A carbon centred landscaping philosophy is that no organic matter should ever leave site. Instead it should be fed back to the soil. Which in turn will nurture the soil and build a healthier landscape.
Too often - at enormous cost - organic waste is removed from a site. Composted by someone else (often simply dumped). And then sold back to the client.
A waste of diesel. A waste of time. A waste of money. A waste of valuable organic nutrients. A waste of carbon.
This organic matter also includes food waste. Composting food waste adds significant value to compost. If one thinks of farming as a nutrient extractive process, shouldn’t these nutrients which came from the soil be fed back to the soil.
Compost produced through The Heron in-vessel composting machine (IVC) at the Tshwane Fresh Produce Market was tested by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) in Pretoria. The results were astounding. ARC tests indicated that the compost produced had an NPK of 6:1:5 with nitrogen levels equivalent to that commonly found in chicken manure. And with a carbon content of 38%. All from condemned fruit and vegetables and waste cardboard which otherwise would have been disposed of in a landfill.
Focusing on the total organic waste stream must be the first step towards Carbon Gardening.
Who knows, just as the Australian farmer is now able to trade carbon credits from carbon farming, perhaps the South African landscaper could enjoy a similar benefit - but with the added reward of greatly enhancing the life of the soil upon which their visual efforts depend.
Imagine if South African landscapers could get a tax credit for their carbon landscaping activities? Not only would this help South Africa contribute to the fight against climate change; it would also repurpose our whole approach to gardening. One where soil stewardship becomes the focus with beautiful landscapes the result and benefit.