Carbon Capture, Carbon imports

Carbon Imports Part II – The Dark Side

First year mulch

Back in February I posted about adding carbon in the form of compost or mulch to a young garden. Importing carbon in the beginning of a new garden’s life helps it establish. But it bears repeating that the carbon you import should be local, and your imports should be ever diminishing.

First year mulch
Mulch on the Mothership Food Forest garden the first summer

Why? Let’s think about all the carbon we are importing that we shouldn’t. But don’t worry – I won’t be all gloom and doom, and I will offer much better alternatives!

While out working in the Mothership Food Forest (name evolving) one morning, I listened to an episode of my favorite podcast, Gardenerd Tip of the Week Podcast ( The episode is called Be An Eco Hero With Tessa Wardley. Good episode – lots to think about. It was the guest’s discussion of peat that connects so well here, and blew my mind.

Peat is in almost every potting soil you might buy at the big box stores, and is widely used today despite increasing alarm about using it. You will want to stop using it after you read this. Peat moss is not harvested, but mined from bogs that then dry up.

When peat is dug from a bog, new peat does not spring up. Peat is like fossil fuel, it was deposited a long time ago and will not grow back – it is created over time in conditions I venture to say we are not allowing to happen much these days globally. I live in New Mexico so of course peat is never being made here in this eon. Peat is one of our planet’s best vegetative carbon sinks – the carbon is sequestered in peat bogs and living things of all sorts benefit.

Here is the part that kills me – according to the podcast guest, one third of England’s water supply (aquifers and such) are peat aquifers. But as peat is being mined they are drying up. This just instantly reinforced my overall hypothesis that underlies this blog: we need to stick a bunch of carbon in the ground asap, all over the world, for lots and lots of reasons. One reason is to slow and reverse climate change, another is to provide ourselves and all the living species around us with plentiful fresh water. We need to start creating things like peat bogs – and stop mining them. The funny thing about all this is that we currently have no cultural practices that result in anything like new peat bogs or other soil carbon sinks. Ergo, Carbon Sequestration for the Rest of Us. 

A hay bale gets buried
My brother in law Jeffrey and my nephew Julian helped me dig a huge hole for this bale of straw.

Another kind of carbon that we are improperly mining is a big category – brace yourself. Much of our food is causing the agricultural lands from which they come from to lose carbon. So the carbon that comes to us in the form of food is a desertifying force. Ouch.

Regenerative agriculture, permaculture and several other movements seek to redo farming to make it carbon-storing instead of carbon-losing. But right now you don’t get much of your food from that kind of agriculture because the vast majority of our agricultural land is under “conventional” soil carbon-losing farming.

What a bummer to always hear we are a drain on the poor planet! It doesn’t have to be this way. It really does matter if you surround yourself with food forests. By turning your yard or any land at all near you into a food forest, you are taking effective action to save the planet, and getting lots of tasty food given to you by Earth in return for your pleasant but thoughtful actions.

We buried a bale below the surface
We buried a bale below the surface, making something like an artificial peat bog for my asparagus bed.

Start now, start today, to import less and less carbon and instead to pull carbon out of the air with the plants in your yard, always putting as much of this new organic matter back into the soil as you can (and eating the rest). Let me give you an example. Do you like rosemary on your chicken? Do you have a rosemary bush? Well it just makes sense to have one – instead of buying rosemary in a plastic clamshell at the grocery, let that rosemary grow in your food forest. Supply of rosemary guaranteed, import of carbon stopped. As the rosemary bush starts getting too big, prune it down to the size you want and let those prunings mulch the soil of your garden. I could go on and give a hundred more examples, but you will figure this out.

We current humans must, soon and for good, start sequestering carbon in the soil around us. Let us start now.



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8 thoughts on “Carbon Imports Part II – The Dark Side

  1. Sandra,
    That information on Peat mining is so darn important to know. We take for granted where so much of what we consume comes from, gardening included. You will be happy to know I have built my first Hugel bed, and am enjoying chipping all the branches and trimmings we cut on our property with my Sunjoe electric chipper. Happily, the electricity needed to run my chipper comes from our roof. Small, but satisfying progress. I like how your blog encourages me to take those small steps, and to realize how they do, indeed make a difference. Keep on posting!

  2. Greetings!
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