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. There 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.
Worm composting science facts are helpful to understand how important vermicomposting is to the health of the soil. This is a continuation of a summary of worm composting facts from a survey in Australia. Please see my blog post Worm Compost Science Education Facts for the the introduction and more science facts on worm composting. There is a lot of information here so I divided it into two blog posts. In this picture you can see worms working on creating worm compost from a cantaloupe rind.
More Worm Composting Science Facts:
In all growth trials the best growth responses were exhibited when the vermicompost made up a relatively small proportion (10-20%) of the total volume of the container medium. (p. 17)
Surprisingly greater proportions of vermicast in the plant growth medium have not always improved plant growth. (p. 17)
There is a substantial body of evidence to demonstrate that microbes, including bacteria, fungi, etc. also produce ‘plant growth regulators’ such as: auxins, gibberellins, cytokinins, ethylene, and ascorbic acids. (p. 18)
Since microbe population is significantly boosted by earthworms, large quantities of ‘plant growth regulators” are available in vermicompost. (p. 18)
Vermicompost is rich in humic acid which promotes plant growth and nutritional uptake. (p. 19)
Several studies have shown that earthworms effectively bioaccumulate or biodegrade several organic and inorganic chemicals. (p. 19)
Vermicompost use in crops inhibits soil-born fungal diseases. (p. 19)
The ability of pathogen suppression disappeared when the vermicompost was sterilized, indicating that the biological mechanism of disease suppression involved was microbial antagonism. (p. 19)
Buckerfield found that the stimulatory effect of vermicompost on plant growth was apparently destroyed when it was sterilized. (p. 22)
The page number at the end of each fact gives the reference to the research in the original survey! As you can see there has been a lot of favorable research on worm composting.
Purchase My PowerPoint Video, an Introduction to Worm Composting!
I created a PowerPoint video which I saved as a movie, as an Introduction to Worm Composting. This is a very good introduction with my own photos and video clips on my experiences with worm composting. I tell you what common mistakes I have made to save you from making these mistakes yourself! There are two choices:
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Here is a preview of my PowerPoint video: the Introduction and Chapter 1:
I have discovered the hugelkultur composting method! For years I have had the dilemma of what to do with the debris from my garden. This includes fallen branches and dead flower and vegetable stalks. I didn’t want to bag them up to be deposited in the landfill. I made a few compost piles with this garden debris. Read my last post on sticks in the compost pile for my conclusions about adding sticks and stalks to the compost pile.
Introduced to Hugelkultur Composting Method
A while ago, Veterans Compost emailed me a link to an article about the hugelkultur composting method. Hugelkultur involves creating a mound by piling soil, leaves, compost and any other vegetable matter around tree stumps and branches until you have built up a structure 3-4 feet high. Some people dig a trench first to put the tree stumps in. This is not necessary. You can create this mound on top of the ground saving yourself a lot of work digging!
It is actually a huge raised bed shaped like a small hill. The theory is that as the wood breaks down and composts, it will supply nutrients to whatever is growing and help retain water in the mound. There are pictures on the internet of these hugelkultur mounds (be sure to scroll down on the page to see the pictures). There are all kinds of plants growing abundantly out of them. The good thing is that the mound is permanent. You don’t have to dig it out or turn it as you do with a compost pile. So you don’t have to sort through the sticks and stalks that haven’t composted yet.
Hugelkultur comes from the Permaculture Community
Permaculture comes from the first part of the word permanent and the second part of the word agriculture. This term was introduced by David Holmgren and his teacher, Bill Mollison, in 1978. Permaculture is creating ecosystems that are sustainable and self-sufficient.
Hugelkultur gets its ideas from watching what happens in a forest as fallen trees decompose. With a hugelkultur mound, the wood is covered with soil, compost, leaves etc. to enable it to decompose faster.
My Version of a Hugelkultur Mound
I loved this idea of composting. No tree stumps were available for me to compost. So I modified this idea using lots of branches and garden debris. Last fall I started making a long pile of these. I would layer my pile with leaves, compost and soil , then garden debris and then repeat. If making a mound with tree stumps works I feel that my method will work also! You can get an idea of my mound from this picture. It is about 2 feet high. I am going to plant it with Tahitian Melon Squash. I will keep you posted on how it progresses! Continue reading →