Sunday, August 31, 2008
Now I know that preparing the main garden bed is going to be hell. So many roots!
When I moved in, the backyard had a large tree, which meant there was almost nowhere with full sun. Not bad for sitting under, but not good for gardening. This created a dilemma: is the shade and carbon sequestration more important than fresh veg?
Our tree was, as a retired arborist described it, a weed tree. In about six years, it had grown to have a foot-thick trunk. Cutting it down would not mean the loss of a grand old maple or oak. And it would prevent some problems with overhanging branches in years to come. Plus there are still a couple large trees on the property.
It's not easy to figure out how much carbon a tree sequesters in a year. Somewhere between 20 and 40 pounds seems a reasonable estimate. This tree, however, has a very shallow root system, so in the long run, I suspect it would release a lot back into the atmosphere. And it wouldn't have a long life.
So, what might we save in carbon emissions? If we assume that my food consumption patterns are similar to those of an average U.S. resident, then 12 percent of my greenhouse gas emissions come from food. In other words, about 2 tons of GHGs are produced per year per household, just to ship food. The additional growing area could produce enough food for a person for a year, in theory, but I'm nowhere near being that confident in my gardening skills. But even if I can reduce food shipping by 5 percent, that's a tenth of a ton of GHGs cut from my share. Far more than the weedy tree would have sequestered.
Thus, a hot Labour Day weekend found my upstairs neighbour and I sweating away with shovel and axe. And once we've built the beds, we have all winter to plan companion plants and dream of fresh chard, tomatoes, beans, peas, maybe even corn and squash.
I should note that this is not a decision most tenants face. And it's one that should not be undertaken without careful consideration (and a check of municipal bylaws). But I rent half of a house, and landscaping is my responsibility under the terms of the lease. Also, this was not a valuable tree. I'm also in the unusual situation of having two good friends living upstairs, who also want to have a productive garden.
Oh, and getting the darn stump out took about four hours. I gained a new respect for trees, and my neighbours discovered the full richness of my vocabulary.