About eight months ago, I wrote about the issue of carbon sequestration, and how the most promising option is for us to simply put it back in the ground ourselves. Between our kitchen scraps and yard waste we produce tons of the stuff per year, ideally suited to be turned back into soil, without really doing any more work than dragging it all to the curb.

So here’s an update. As for my back yard, it’s now entering its third full year of virtually zero productivity. My intense composting seems to have bred a form of slug which devours everything I plant or transplant into there like vegetarian piranhas. They’re soon going to meet a wave of onion, chive and garlic transplants in the hopes of warding them off (they didn’t eat the onion greens which grew out of the compost, but I did). The planters I’ve been putting together are a different story though, they’re really happy in my sunny, south-facing front yard. Since the people who installed the crushed brick garden there used plastic sheeting which was much too cheap and much too thin, it’s been long overtaken by Bindweed in the worst way. However, that seems to have had a positive effect on the soil underneath, as many others are now creeping up too, including a booming crop of garlic mustard (now going to seed, hopefully will yield me enough seed for the rest of my life), grasses, wildflowers and even a bunch of sumac and small trees (which I’ve been letting grow.

The planters themselves were made with old buckets and other junk I had lying around (including for one, an old stock-pot with holes rusted through in the bottom). I used a half-inch spade bit and a power drill to bore out a dozen-ish holes in the bottoms of buckets and any other containers which didn’t have drainage. Then I put in a layer of straw or sticks to keep the finer stuff from creeping out through ’em, and alternated the rest with layers of garden waste, torn up newspaper, kitchen scraps, organic potting soil and manure. Into many of them I threw dirt from my actual garden in the hopes of introducing some helpful worms, insects or microbes. I put them together as the ingredients add up, so it’s a relatively constant process (most recently I did a few smaller pots of spinach and peppers, and a bucket of hops clones I’ve been working on, strung to the base of my black flag). As the year goes on, I’m moving annaul crops like cucumbers, corn and potatoes, to more short-lived herbs, lettuces, and a few perennials (like hot peppers) for indoor and outdoor growing, many of which hopefully will keep yielding into the winter. And as a special treat, I’ve silvered the underside of a few old umbrellas (one with paint, one with tinfoil, which works well enough to boil water in direct sunlight), to use with full-spectrum lightbulbs to grow herbs and others indoors – right now I have lamb’s quarter and a spider plant growing atop my computer desk.

Because these planters use a living soil medium, unlike most potted plants, the hope is to continue generating nutrients in the soil throughout the season and split the demands between different but mutually supportive crops like corn, beans and curcurbits (cucumber, pumpkin, squash etc) along with others which don’t all drain the same nutrients. And since each bucket or bin is its own composter, the hope is to have half-decent soil come out of them at the end of the year, to mix into more buckets for the next season or building a raised bed in a yard somewhere.

Pupmpkins with cuukes and a few green onions

Potato Planter


Corn and bean bucket

Corn and Cukes

The whole goal of this is to make it really easy – something anyone with no special skills could do without spending much money (everything so far has cost around $20 in seeds, manure and soil) and with lots of recycled planters, most of which (and I have a much larger pile in my back yard, as my neighbours throw away a lot of buckets and planters) haven’t required me to walk more than a block. And because the system eats garbage (kitchen scraps, chopped weeds, waste paper, sawdust etc) it saves a lot of resources while it operates, rather than having to use costly new ones. The carbon it saves from garbage collection trucks, and the carbon it sequesters in the soil are pleasant side-effects of the food and lush greenery which I’m really looking for.