In the current COVID-19 pandemic, a general tendency for “getting out into nature” becomes very obvious. People who have the money are buying houses, holiday homes and if neither is possible flats with small gardens or at least balconies. In small, rented apartments, people often have balconies and want to have a green spot. Even in the smallest space, one can commit to organic gardening and take a step towards climate change mitigation, no matter how small the effort, in the beginning. Especially soil is vital in tackling climate change. Soil is an important part of the carbon cycle, and changes in soil management practices can reduce emissions of carbon-containing greenhouse gases from soil.

What is organic gardening?

First thing you need to know, start small because it will be time-consuming and needs your attention daily, especially at the beginning. Organic gardening means that one cannot use mineral fertilizer, chemical herbicides, or insecticides. Start by removing these from your routine, and you are already on the way. Another critical topic is the soil. One cannot use potting soil with peat because that is tremendously bad for the climate. Peat is full of stored CO2, and once the peat is cut and added to potting soil, large amounts of CO2 get released into the air. Using potting soil containing peat in a typical 40 cm long windowsill flower box will release as much CO2 as a 40 km car drive.

Organic gardening – an interplay of synergies

In an organic garden, natural ecosystems play an essential role. People new to gardening often keep their gardens completely clean. Still, a sterile garden with grass and Thuja is not an ecosystem that will attract beneficiaries. It needs time and patience for nature to come into one’s garden. For example, people often plant salad and radish in their first vegetable patch because they are easy and grow fast. Iberian slugs love this kind of food and will show up in hundreds or thousands, all over Europe. If one has an organic garden, there will – with time – be many attackers who can keep the slugs at bay. If there are enough old leaves under the hedges where they can hide, there will be countless invertebrates, ground beetles and hedgehogs who will eat the slugs. If you have native hedge plants like dogwood, sea ​​buckthorn, or elder in your garden, first, the blooms will attract bees and other insects. Later, the fruits will be welcome food for birds, who also happily feed on Iberian slugs.

Humus – a stable grounding for organic gardening and climate

Humus is among the most critical topics in organic gardening. On a large scale, humus holds the soil in agricultural fields and forests stable. Soil with enough humus can be resilient against climate change, holds more water than soil with low humus content and has enough nutrients for healthy plants and invertebrates. In gardening, the best way to get your humus is a compost heap. Any biological remains can be brought there, from eggshells and other kitchen leftovers to cut grass and branches. Over the year, the resident invertebrates will reduce the natural material to humus, and in the following spring, you can use your clean, black humus to improve the soil in your garden. By the way, it is pretty warm underneath a compost heap, so that this will become another hub of activity for your slug task force, including blindworms and rainworms. For urban gardening, a group of young scientific entrepreneurs around David Witzeneder sells a worm box. This box is a stylish wood box with thousands of rainworms which you can have on the balcony or even inside the flat – no smell and, from my own experience, hardly any escaping worms.

Blindworm in Garden (C) both photos Dagmar Henner

Organic gardening condensed

In short:

  1. Make sure that you have healthy soil with large amounts of humus in your garden or your plant pots on the balcony
  2. Do not use peat planting soil
  3. Have some flowering/blooming plants
  4. Leave some old leaves for insects

These are some small steps towards what an individual can do against climate change.