Three Ways to Capture Carbon in Your Garden

and other carbon-capturing gardening ploys

By Edible East Bay’s Staff Garden Fairies in Interview with Joshua Burman Thayer and Other Human Experts


Inside your home, the practice of fixing, repurposing, or improving items you already own can help you avoid purchases that incur carbon debts during manufacture and transport. Out in your garden, you can actually help move carbon below ground where it belongs by engaging with projects such as these:

The Wünder of Hügelkultur

When a tree or large limb comes down in your yard, do you pay someone to haul it away? Perhaps you rent a chipper and fill your green bin? Try creating a hügel instead.

To get up close and friendly with hügelkultur in action, pay a visit to Cloverfield Organic Farm in El Sobrante. This small u-pick farm offers fruits, vegetables, and flowers and also sells plants. Farmers Susan Truscott and Michael Lancaster happily point out their hügels and describe how these can function like raised beds. A new hügel was added this summer when a large eucalyptus limb fell on the property. They buried the limb under a mound layered with garden clippings, compost, and soil as in the diagram above. The hügel holds moisture, and as it decomposes, it fosters fungal growth, creating a fertile spot where new fruit trees will be planted this winter.

One component of a hügel is compost, and an effective home composting setup helps move carbon back into the ground. If you can find a ready source of discarded pallets, you can upcycle them to make an effective corral for your compost.


Upcycle discarded pallets for a home compost system

There are several good videos online that show how to construct a one-, two-, or three-stall compost system out of little more than a pile of pallets plus some baling wire. As you collect the pallets, make sure they bear the HT stamp showing that they are heat treated and not chemically treated with toxic methyl bromide.

Lots of home gardeners with small spaces manage with a single-stall design, but our gardening writer, Joshua Burman Thayer of Native Sun Gardens, likes a three-stall compost system so that he doesn’t have to turn the pile. He has one stall for adding new compost material, a second where a pile can “cook up” for six to 12 months, and a third for fully “cooked” compost that’s ready for use in the garden.

To make a three-stall system, Joshua wires together three pallets as the back wall with another four at right angles to create the side walls. For a deluxe system, he might add bracing plus movable front walls and lids, and he might even line the insides with chicken wire.



Joshua’s Seven Layers to Compost Success

“Like a good lasagna, compost should be built in many thin layers,” says Joshua. “Layering is how nature builds soil year after year in a slow, natural cycle. Be patient and moderate with each layer to replicate nature’s pattern.”

Read the chart below from the bottom up to see how to build the layers. Joshua says to keep the compost moist so it’s spongy (but not soggy), and to filter your finished compost through a half-inch mesh screen to remove larger particles, which can then be used in the garden soil layer of the next pile.

Soil Cap Layer: A one-inch layer of garden soil caps your heap.

Garden Residues Layer: Pile on up to six inches of clippings from your yard. Leave out woody stalks as well as any diseased plants.

Ash Layer: A fine, quarter-inch layer of wood ash adds potash and also dissuades pathogens in the soil. Do not overdo this layer.

Carbon Layer: Add a two-inch cap of shredded paper, dry leaves, and grass over your food scraps. If the scraps are slimy, enlarge this layer.

Kitchen Scraps Layer: For about two weeks, pile on the kitchen scraps. These are the main fuel for your compost, but note that a home compost bin cannot accommodate bones, oils, meats, or woody material. Be careful not to overload this layer. Food scraps are nutrient rich, but they can get slimy, which is why you want the carbon layer above.

Garden Soil Layer: A layer of existing garden soil over the base helps inoculate the pile with good local microbes.

Foundation Layer: A six-inch base layer of small branches allows aeration of the pile, which helps it heat up.