I have discovered a new way for composting branches and flower stalks. You know those thick, rigid flower stalks that you have at the end of the summer. And all the branches that fall out of the trees in wind storms! I used to cut them up and put them in my wire bin compost piles. Then when my compost was finished I would have to pick them out, one by one, when I wanted to use my compost. The branches and flower stalks needed more time to break down so they became a pain in the neck when separating compost.
The plus side to them being in the compost was that the stalks created oxygen spaces for the bacteria and other creatures in the compost pile. What I came to learn through experience was that the compost breaks down fine without branches and flower stalks.
Method for Composting Branches and Flower Stalks
Last winter I started piling branches and flower stalks and leaves in a pile, spread out in a long row. I’m talking about sunflower, zinnia, rudbeckia triloba and milkweed stalks. Also I put in the pepper, tomato and squash stalks and all the branches that had fallen out of the trees in storms. When I trimmed the raspberry canes I added them too. I am basing this loosely on the hugelkultur theory which I write about at this link the Hugelkultur Composting Method. Of course I layered leaves, soil and compost to cover all this garden debris.
The Results of Composting Branches and Flower Stalks
I wanted to keep you posted on how this composting method worked. I have some pictures of the Tahitian Melon Squash that I planted in this hugelkultur space. At the left you can see how lush this squash grew. It is beautiful and still growing great! The main thing that I learned from this experiment is that in the beginning the plants need a lot of water! Plants in a hugelkultur mound need a lot of water in the beginning before they get established. It only makes sense. Their roots are growing down into a mixture of branches, stalks, leaves, soil and compost. Whenever they are watered or it rains the water goes through this mixture very quickly. Once the plants were established they didn’t need to be watered as much.
A Great Way to Get Rid of Branches and Old Flower Stalks
Here is another picture of the squash growing. You can see how prolific it is. It grew up trellises that were 6 feet high! The great thing about this method is that you don’t have to deal with all the branches and dead flower stalks again. You don’t have to sort them out of your regular compost pile because they take longer to break down. You don’t have to bag them up and send them to the landfill because you don’t know what else to do with them! They will stay in the hugelkultur row, under the ground and eventually decompose into compost.
As you can see from the pictures, the squash had no problem growing in a row where there where branches and flower stalks buried. I am very excited about this discovery and am planning my next hugelkultur row for next year! If some of the branches and stalks become exposed you might have to put more soil or compost on top of them.