Monday, 15 March 2010

Chronicles of a New Garden: tidy gardening

by Francesca

When I finished cutting the ivy and pruning back some trees that were casting unwanted shade on my garden plot (here), I was left with large piles of plant material, and a question: what to do with it all?

garden waste

How you dispose of large quantities of garden waste mainly depends on whether you live in a rural or urban area, and on how much land you have. In some countries, local town councils have waste management programs that collect yard waste. But elsewhere, and in the countryside, it's up to you.

Here are some solutions to the garden waste dilemma. Please add more in the comments, if you have found a system that works well for you!


Some plant waste can go straight into your compost bin. But compost bins are only for small-scale composting, and because the key to good composting is variety, you don't want to choke your compost with large quantities of one ingredient.


This is the simplest and most time-honored way to deal with the problem: set aside one area, preferably tucked away in a hidden part of your garden, where you'll toss all your garden waste. It will eventually decompose on its own. A compost heap is a fuss-free solution, but it can take years for some vegetable matter to break down, it's not very pretty, and it doesn't offer a controlled environment for decomposition, so you won't know how long it'll take to break down.


This is a carefully planned and “constructed” compost heap, which also provides a good spot for growing vegetables - right on top of the heap itself. Hugelkultur was invented by German horticulturalists Hans Beba and Herman Andra in 1979, and since then has become a part of biodynamic agriculture. Done properly, it creates a raised bed in just a few months, and will remain fertile for 4-6 years (Beba and Andra recommend starting in the fall, so that by the following spring the heap will be ready for sowing).


To make a hugelkultur compost mound, choose a sunny spot in your garden, and dig a trench, keeping the turves as you dig. Ideally the trench should be oriented north-south; make it about 1.5 meters wide, and as long as possible. You then fill it with vegetable matter in distinct layers (see diagram). Put the slowest-decomposing materials at the bottom, such as branches and other woody matter. Then layer in your turves, turned upside down (with the roots up). Next come garden waste and leaves, semi-mature compost, and finally, cover the pile with a layer of the soil you got when you dug your trench. For the first few years, the decomposition process will release some heat and warm up the rich soil, thus prolonging the growing season.

I've always wanted to make a hugelkultur mound – growing while composting sounds like such a great idea – and I'll be starting one this fall. Have any of you ever tried one?

Reference: Heynitz & Merckens "Das biologische Gartenbuch"


This method is something of a compromise between a compost heap and a compost pile, and it's less complicated than a hugelkultur mound. Dig a trench, and gradually fill it with your compost ingredients (kitchen scraps, garden waste, chopped prunings, lawn cuttings ...). When it's full, cover it over with its original topsoil. Depending on climate and ingredients, you can garden where the compost trench is in a couple of years or so.


A very common practice in farming communities, and an efficient way of disposing of woody matter in rural areas where there's shortage of land to compost the wood, like the steep hillside where I live. Farmers pile prunings and other woody matter into bonfires, and burn them when the wood has dried out, choosing a damp, calm day in spring or fall when the fire is easy to control. Instead, they scatter any wet farming waste in the woods, where it breaks down naturally. (They always put their kitchen waste into compost bins, which were provided by our local town council).

What strategies do you use to dispose of large quantities of garden waste?