Making and Doing

Sinking carbon in the spring

Written by Elizabeth Woodcock

The bluetits are busy popping in and out of the nest box. They took residence on 15th March. Then two great tits swoop through, that broad black blaze down their chests, curiously checking out the apple trees nestled in their pots, perching on last year’s fennel stalks and newly planted bamboo, before drinking from the pond. The robin is watching from the top of the shed, hidden under the overgrown hawthorn.

It might seem a perfectly normal garden scene but 18 months ago this was all membrane, bricked, gravel and concrete. There were no birds, aside from the starlings, pigeons and sparrows that frequented the neighbour’s feeders. There were no plants or pond or nest box. It was barren. As a Regenerative Gardener, I’ve ticked off last year’s desire, to have resident bluetits, that characteristic swoop of blue. And they are here because a habitat has been created to support them. To regenerate is “to change radically and for the better … to restore to original strength or properties”. Radical change, tick. For the better, yes if better is equated to health and well-being of all species, and I am hopeful to restore the land to its original strength.

Teeming with life

It starts in the soil.

We’re now starting to realise, scientifically, that the soil is more than broken-up rock particles. Healthy soil is teeming with life, and plants, when treated regeneratively, have a dynamic relationship with that life in the soil, to the point that they call the shots, requesting what they need and when, in a symbiotic relationship. They hand out carbon-rich exudates in return for help with growth, immunity and much more from the microbial community.

Root exudates are organic carbon compounds (such as simple sugars, organic acids, and amino acids) released from living plant roots into the soil. These small molecules can bind directly to soil minerals, making them important regulators of soil carbon formation and loss.”

Department of Organistic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

Enriching the soil

Regenerative gardening is also going to keep more carbon in the soil. 

I think of a song I sang to my daughter: “We’ve got the whole world in our hands ….” We really do, and by looking after our gardens regeneratively we’re thinking of all life. We’re looking after the soil, the plants, using no chemicals, planting a diversity of species, covering the soil, learning and listening to the natural world around us.

Last autumn, like a child, I piled the leaves high and scooped them onto the beds, and over the winter the ground was mulched or covered with a myriad shapes of leaf fractals and sheep’s wool, creating a carbon-rich cover that’ll improve soil texture and increase moisture retention, perfect for our increasingly common dry spells.

In March, I applied a layer of compost adding to the breaking-down leaves, as that microbial life in the soil is decomposing this organic, carbon-rich, matter, incorporating it into the soil structure. They are munching on mulch, ingesting, defecating, dying, eating and being eaten. The soil microbiome melting pot of fungi, bacteria, protists, archaea, nematodes right through to earthworms are cycling macronutrients, micronutrients and other elements vital for the growth of plants and animal life. 

The spring begins

The perennials, those plants that come year after year, start to show in early February, the garlic and chives. The rhubarb and raspberries a few weeks later and by late March, early April, the berry plants and apple buds are bursting forth in a chorus of green, shouting here we are, let’s go as the sun’s rays become stronger and the photosynthesizing begins.

And in between sinking carbon into our own soils, creating habitat for microbes, mammals and birds, we are also receiving food for our bodies, in the form of fruit and vegetables, and for our spirits as we turn consciously to becoming embedded into a web of life that we are part of.

For me, it’s a clear decision, say no to the extensive use of concrete, paving and plastic membranes. Let your soil breathe, restore it to its original state as a living, dynamic organism and it will support you too in that symbiotic relationship.

About the author

Elizabeth Woodcock

Elizabeth Woodcock is an RHS horticulturalist with training in regenerative agriculture and permaculture, a garden organic master composter, Lake District National Park walk leader, and is training as a mountain leader. She has been a journalist, science communicator, writer, and adventurer of many high, and low, places. She lives in Cumbria with her daughter, dog and chickens.