Posted by: lialeendertz | February 8, 2010

That tricky second post

Oh, I know the kind of post you’re wanting out of me. You want to know all about filming with the BBC, or maybe the eco-celeb gossip from the Soil Association Conference, including exactly what happened in those long, quiet hours after I drunkenly tweeted that I had brushed by hand along the back of Monty’s corduroy jacket…

But instead I’m going to talk to you about soil carbon sequestration. Oh no, there goes half of you. Ah well, at least those of you left have a genuine interest. No, don’t you go too! I’ll keep it short and make it Fun! And Accessible! Well, you know, maybe.

Just you and me then. I have – as I say – been to the Soil Association Conference. I am not trying to set myself up here as some kind of eco-queen. That I really am not, but I am, like many, on a bit of a mission to making my life more sustainable, and I do have a hunch that gardening has a big part to play in this. After picking up titbits from local talks and books, the full emersion of the conference was food for the soul, packed with radical people and challenging ideas about how we can save ourselves from hurtling towards Armageddon. But it’s really a farmers’ shindig, and so I spent much of my time trying to work out how I could apply the ideas I was hearing to gardening, not actually as hard as it sounds.

The talk of the conference, the buzz, if you will, was all of this soil carbon sequestration. It’s all pretty new. I may not have got the details down exactly, but the gist is this: soil, when full of organic matter or put down to permanent grassland, acts as a carbon sink, which gives extra grist to organic farming’s mill, hence the excitement. Now obviously they were talking about permanent grassland in terms of cows and grazing and – most especially – the role it can play in counterbalancing all the farting, but my mind immediately sprang to my lawn. Lawns do get a terrible rap environmentally-speaking , because they require constant petrol-based attention and regular applications of oil-based fertilisers, and they often get called names such as ‘green desert’. I know all this, as well as the fact that they are just a weird historical hangover, but I have a soft spot. I have always loved lawns and sensed they must be better than, say, a sea of gravel, environmentally speaking. Turns out I was right. They make excellent carbon sinks.

Obviously the benefit of this is lost if you fire up the old petrol or electric mower every time it needs cut or if you liberally sprinkle on chemical fertilisers, which is why I was out yesterday having another go at evening out its bumps and troughs to make it fit for the push mower, and why I have just ordered some of this micro-clover mix, which will keep the grass green and fix nitrogen so that it feeds itself. Short of spontaneously shaping itself into a rough likeness of the messiah (or his mum), this must be the most my lawn can contribute towards saving the world.

By the way if you are mainly a veg gardener, the trick is to try not to dig– every time you cultivate all that carbon just gets released. As such, I availed myself of a copy of Charles Dowding’s Organic Gardening the Natural, No Dig Way, which looks – unsurprisingly – like being ahead of the curve.

Oh, you have stayed till the end! Have some gossip. Slebs I have met or spotted this week: Martyn Cox, Dawn Isaac, Alys Fowler, Charles Dowding, Rob Hopkins, Patrick Holden, Rebecca Hoskins, Monty Don and John Craven. BBC filming try-out? Painfully awful and OK in turns. At one point I attempted to play Cleve to Martyn Cox’s Joe (talkative and kept things going)and Alex Denman’s James (posh and enthusiastic), but sadly without being half as funny or smouldering as The Quiet One himself. And Monty? After the corduroy-brushing incident he whisked me off to his Land Rover and plied me with organically raised pork products and vintage perry. I eventually lulled him to sleep by humming Fields of Gold (dont click! it will really play!) into his ear then made good my escape by hurling some battery eggs into his path.


  1. Wow, I read it all in under a minute, and even managed some of the clever linking text too.
    All very interesting, amusing, clever stuff!
    Am gonna have to up my game on my own infant blog, but meanwhile, I’m going to buy some micro-clover mix for my lawn too.
    Fab – looking forward to your next post already,

  2. I knew it was a good idea to let the clover stay in my lawn after it’d invaded. You’ll be saying moss is OK next…

    …well, the birds seem to think so at the moment, they’re ripping it out!

  3. Dont start me on lawns…and *scary fact alert* for the last couple of years UK soils have been so appallingly managed as a whole that they now emit more carbon than they sequester i.e. they are contributing to climate change. There, serves you right for having a Sting link.

    • But hey, man, if we all work together, lawns can be a force for good…

  4. As my ‘lawn’ is mainly clover I am very environmental if only by accident. Also clover (and moss which makes up the other half of the ‘lawn’) dont need as much mowing as grass. Cant do a push mower due to the slope of my ‘lawn’ but dont use fertiliser and weedkillers so thats good – and why there is mainly moss and clover!!!!!!! Also the lawn provides a rich food source for birds and insects alike – just think of al the bees my clover feeds

  5. I have always been a fan of the No Dig method. I think it’s the not digging bit I love.

    I’ve also tried the micro-clover – partly because I thought the idea of teeny tiny clover leaves was quite sweet – how sad and girly is that?

    Still not sure how much of a carbon sink the domestic lawn is though considering we carry away clippings and therefore, over time, begin to exhaust the soil (unlike on permanent grassland).

    A push mower though – that is impressive. I have rather a large lawn for that but it would be a great way to ward off bingo wings so I may still be tempted.

    • I have actually made my lawn smaller, and nicely rounded it and removed all the edges, just so that it is easier to get at with the push mower. Havent actually managed it yet, mind, but this year…

  6. Go, grass, go! Most fascinating, and I shall tell all lawn-huggers I know they can smile self-righteously.

    Now, pity the post doesn’t have a more search-engine friendly title so Google actually picks up this fascinating bit of info! You must instead lean on your army of loyal followers to re-tweet you til the cows come home.

    Sheila Averbuch – Stopwatch Gardener

    • Oh dear, I know! The thing took me so bloody long to write that some of these finer points get lost. I shall get there slowly.

  7. (Almost interestingly) mowers arent a big deal climate change-wise, it’s actually greener to mow your grass than it is to keep sheep at regular stocking rates as far as carbon emissions go. The main thing is if you use chemical fertilisers or not, or water it or not. Boring myself now.

    • Now that IS interesting. Is that simply because mowing is done on such a small scale? I am very keen to get with the hand-powered tools though either way because I like the idea of things being ‘simple and fixable’ of learning how to mend it myself, rather than having to send for a man, and being more self-sufficient in that way. Part of changing the whole mind-set I suppose. But thank you for your constructive comment.

  8. ‘Thank you for yuour constructive comment’=shut it, im not listening (I hope).

    Completely agree about the DIY/connection with what you’re doing thing. Wish I hadnt piped up now, Im so terrifically dull

    • Well I was being a bit sarcy, but I am glad you did pipe up. You do know about all this and I am just learning, and if you think I am getting it wrong, or trivialising the issue, then I would actually, genuinely like to know. I am not a man.
      What I found myself wondering at the conference was whether there was a place where gardeners can debate the bigger picture in the same way. I dont know the answer, perhaps there is a Garden Organic do or a Permaculture Assoc do where people actually get to discuss the environmental impact of lawns etc… (which is obviously great) without it sounding like they’re taking the piss or missing the point.
      blimey, this could be a whole other post!

  9. I got to the end too, and enjoyed the journey 🙂

    My lawn’s only 3 square metres so I’m not sure it makes much difference either way. But there is plenty of clover (and buttercups and dandelions and moss and all sorts of weeds of which I still need to check the names) and I don’t mow it very often so I think it’s a ‘good’ lawn. Well good for the environment and for me as a disorderly weed lover, but I expect it would make many gardeners weep.

    I would rather have a tethered goat than a lawn mower, but our landlord doesn’t allow animals. And I haven’t yet investigated the environmental impact of caprine flatulence.

    • Ooh, I would love a goat! Love goat cheese and have always thought cheese making looks great fun. But I dont think the goat would confine itself to my really very small lawn. It might, as you suggest, also cancel out any benefit by farting. Still push mower for me.

  10. Cleve to my Joe? No. I will always think of you as Judy to my Richard.

  11. […] the way, in case you missed it, my last post on lawns and carbon, among other things, inspired a hugely interesting and informative post on a […]

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