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Marin IJ Articles

Smart planting, exchanging seeds, composting will help ecosystem

  • D.F. Braun
  • Last year, the IJ reported that the Baker larkspur, believed to be extinct, is alive and well, thanks to the botanists at UC Berkeley and the Marin Municipal Water District. This plant, found nowhere else in the world but Marin County, had thought to be lost through a series of misfortunes. MMWD is replanting, as well as protecting, these plants along the Soulajule Reservoir.

    But, of growing concern are the plants that will have to "move" a quarter-mile every year to keep up with global warming. According to a team of scientists from the California Academy of Sciences, UC Berkeley and the Carnegie Institute of Science, plants will have to "travel" until 2100 to find a habitat similar to what they now enjoy.

    David Ackerly, a UC Berkeley professor of biology, has said the expected climate changes will vary greatly and will probably be more dramatic later in the century. Nevertheless, studies from the Alps all the way to Southern California's Deep Canyon have already documented species moving uphill to adapt to the changing weather patterns. A migration route must be established that cannot be blocked. Wildlife corridors are a must, but it is clear that plants will need to be helped, too.

    Conservationists are debating whether they should try to relocate plants to save them. It goes without saying that this will be expensive and never-ending, but it's important to start planning for the changes.

    The dwindling genetic diversity of food crops has spurred greater interest in heirlooms and seed-saving, preserving the best of the year's crops to use again in future years.

    Well, what does all this have to do with us? Sharing information, as well as exchanging seeds and plants that do well in our gardens, will be a first step in local conservation. What of native plants that will help a neighborhood strengthen the ecosystem by building habitat for birds and butterflies? An effort to improve and give back to the earth by avoiding synthetic fertilizers and pesticides also will help.

    To quote the famous ecologist Aldo Leopold: "The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the pieces."

    The tasks may seem a bit overwhelming, requiring more know-how and confidence than most of us home gardeners possess.

    One way to learn is at the College of Marin's Indian Valley campus' 5.8-acre farm organic farm and teaching garden, which launched last year and is the only teaching farm in the county.

    The focus is clearly about the future of organic gardening and the preservation of our soil. Workshops help students learn about soils and agricultural methods. For more information on the Center for Sustainable Horticulture, contact Nanda Schorske, dean of workforce development, college and community partnerships, at nanda.schorske@marin.edu, or call 883-2211, ext. 8200.

    Meanwhile, some experiments can be tried at home. Consider finding more room with vertical gardening: trellising, espalier and multiple canopies of functional plants. For example, if you have a south-facing wall you can grow herbs in ranked pots or tomatoes - even melons can grow on trellises. Such plantings also offer living insulation.

    One of the best ways to give back to the earth is through composting, which has been made easy through critter-proof cylinders. Compost improves our soil structure and adds soil nutrients.

    And what of that expanse of lawn? Is it needed or would it serve better as a small orchard or a vegetable patch or two?

    Perhaps it's time to rethink our gardens and do some "tinkering" of our own.

    The University of California Marin Master Gardeners are sponsored by UC Cooperative Extension. For questions about gardening, plant pests or diseases, call 499-4204 from 9 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 4 p.m. weekdays, or bring in samples or pictures to 1682 Novato Blvd., Suite 150B, Novato.