Sunday, July 08, 2007

Getting rid of garden refuse

All gardens generate refuse in the form of grass clippings, old leaves, pruned branches, and the trunks and limbs of felled trees. A keen gardener is supposed to enjoy turning all this into compost. Not me!

After spending much money and time on rotating compost bins, electric-powered wood chippers, temperature probes and other equipment, I have decided that composting is not how I want to spend time in the garden. Open burning is not an option. Open burning is illegal and it would irritate the neighbours. So I piled up my refuse in a secluded part of my garden and every few months I would pay for it to be carted away.

In the beginning, my pile got bigger by the week. Then after many months, an equilibrium was established. The new stuff I added to the top of the pile was balanced by the stuff disappearing at the bottom of the pile. Then after some years, a change took place and the piles began to shrink faster than I could add material to them. I think what has happened is that the population of organizms in my pile of garden refuse became more and more efficient in breaking down plant matter. Even tree trunks got broken down in a few months to the extent that they could be easily smashed into little chips with a hammer.

What is doing the work? I see mushrooms of many kinds popping up from time to time. There are lots of fat earthworms. Also insects of many kinds. There are centipedes, presumably living on the insects. There must be zillions of microbes. All they need is a diligent gardener to keep feeding them with new refuse . I no longer need to have my garden refuse carted away.

Lately, a friend working for a big property developer told me he had run out of hollows in the property to dump the tree trunks that he had been clearing. He has been clearing the property for years, phase by phase. Now getting rid of tree trunks was becoming a bigger and bigger problem. I advised him to go back to the old filled areas, excavate all the tree trunks with a backhoe machine, and smash them into chips. Then the holes would be available for refilling with new tree trunks. The rotted chips can be spread onto the lawns and gardens they are making.

In the humid tropics, the turnaround time for decay of tree trunks is less than one year; faster if one learns to feed the ecosystem that does the work. All those manuals on composting are impractical in the humid tropics, where it is moist and warm all the time and where the diversity of breakdown organisms is at the maximum.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have developed a very easy way to make compost in Singapore.

I use BRC mesh, about 2" guage, and make rounds about 4ft in diameter at about the same height. I put in all the compostable matter and stick odd PVC pipe lengths salvaged from various works in between for good air circulation. I used to turn the heaps but nowadays I am unable physically to do this often and labour is expensive so they get turned when I have help. There is no doubt that turning the heaps hastens the decomposition process.

A friendly gardener gives me grass from his other gardens which I dump in in layers with leaves. Now and again I put in a layer of spent soil from flowerpots and a dose of pelleted dung ( no fresh stuff, this is Singapore).
Left along without turning and provided there is rain there is good usable stuff in 3 months. In dry weather, water with a hose.
Not much trouble at all.

Your laissez faire method has achieved the same result it seems but if you get a BRC 2 " mesh round it, it will look neater and a bit professional :>) as befits a botanist turned horticulturalist.

Anon; Singapore