Tree Pruning and Compost Workshop a Success

Aaron has kindly written up a short summary of the tree pruning and compost workshop on Sunday, which is posted below. His review is littered with permaculture principles. Thanks Aaron!

Pruning Report

Thanks to Transition Coburg’s last post, the Brenneman’s had a few people around to help with the pruning. Yay!

Well, one person actually – at least at first – crack on at ten with their own shears and a book of pruning notes.  By ten-oh-five the two of us were up the tree and making it work.  Neither one of us sure exactly what we were doing, just laughing and talking and cracking (bad) jokes three meters over my nature strip.  I was already well pleased, for even one extra pair of hands makes a long job easier.

But then some amazing stuff started happening.  What Sam calls the “multiple dividends” of simple living happened, right on my yard: People started coming out of their houses.

First to see who the mad folks up the tree were.  But soon there was soup being served up and music and lots of laughing.  The revered gardener in my street came and pruned my grape vines for two hours.  He’s eighty or so, and seeing him way up the ladder with the secateurs in one hand and a cigarette did my heart good.  There was also cake (toffee model of the Louvre on top) and compost!

People just kept drifting in all day, helping with the pruning, taking turns with the child minding, clearing up.  It says a lot about the society that we’ve become that the easy pleasure of ten or fifteen people working together, just doing life, is almost lost to us.

Thanks again to everyone who made the day possible, what better springboard for the week than a Sunday like that?

Brenneman A

NB – I also gave workshop in compost. A partial text of the compost workshop is reproduced below. Please post comments below if you have any compost tips, good compost websites, or compost stories to share. 

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Growing Dirt

There are literally thousands of resources available on-line that tell you the theory of breaking down your scraps into good soil. (Compost Revolution is a good one, it’s clearly written and provides lots of options.  Get your council to join!)

I never got much beyond the “green and brown in equal amounts” theory before I waded in and got to the practice, so unfortunately I’m not able to talk too much about the chemistry.  But I know what works in my garden.

The “my” part of that last sentence is the important word.  I know my garden, I know the local conditions, like “that corner where the chicken likes to sit” local conditions.  So my compost responds to my conditions.

Because “Compost” is not just one thing.  It’s a label for a large class of things, like “plant” or “dog”.  Once we realise this, and that we can’t expect our particular pile to be just like everyone else’s, we’re starting down the path to growing dirt.

Kinds of Compost

I’ve got three kinds of compost going right now.  Not three piles, or three bins, but three different kinds.

1 – Hot compost

My family (six people) produces between five and fifteen liters of scraps a day.  That’s a lot of kitchen waste and waste paper.  We cook almost all of our food fresh so it’s the stuff that, if you were forced to, you could live on – potato peels, scrapings from the pot, teabags.

This goes daily into a 200 liter round bin that was someone’s offering to the hard-rubbish gods six or seven years ago.  (It was lacking its plastic lid, so out it went!)  Most days I just chuck the scraps in the bin and walk away.  Every third day or so I put my bare hand to the bottom of the bin on the outside.  If the outside of the bin is not noticeably warm, I turn the centre a small amount, add some straw or paper strips, and drop on a couple of handfuls of sticks.  Since the heap is going well, that’s almost the total of the maintenance for the hot bin.

This heap accepts orange peels, onions skins, chicken carcasses (the bones come amazingly clean), straw hats, old jeans, it would just about eat your toes if you stood too close.  Even on a 20 degree day, it steams.  The only thing I ever had to admit that it wouldn’t digest were sheepskin ugg boots.  It ate the glue from the soles and the rubber fell off, though, so moral victory.

I’m not going to go over the finer details of that heap, since the point of this paper is the variety of heaps not the specifics.  There is lots of information on the tubes: Composting in 18 Days tells me it’s similar to what is called the “Berkeley method” and is way scientific, but the bits I understand I agree with; and the Permaculture Institute has a good example of hot compost in practice, not so much science.

2 – Cold/ Slow compost

This is the normal type of compost that folks have in their back yard.  It’s a big heap or bin that you throw everything in and not much seems to happen but next year when you move the bin there is awesome dirt underneath.  Which is a pretty good thing, and really is the closest we get to magic I reckon.

My slow heap takes about one in fifty of the “five liters of scraps” that I mentioned before, mostly when I’m making a new one.  After that it’s nothing but sticks and leaves and cardboard. One bale of hay maybe, and I’ve got rich black dirt in three to five months.

This one is hard to call a “heap” though, as it’s typically the two or three square meters that surround the hot compost.

Cutting from the fig tree?  Just throw them down in front of the bin, walking on them will break them up with about zero extra effort on my part.  Every couple of months, spend ninety minutes digging up any sticks (meaning anything wooden up to the size of my wrist) that’s not breaking down.  Whack with a hatchet, throw back in.

For this, I pinch my neighbor’s green waste bins on bin night and liberate all their clippings and such.  My cold compost eats fast enough that I can’t keep up with it.

Good information can be found at Compost Revolution, and Mother Earth News has advice that’s appropriate for our Melbourne winters, “a five- to six-foot mound is the smallest you should build for successful composting in colder climes.”  Normally.

3 – Swales

This is the one my partner calls “the big bloody lumps in the veggies.”  It’s another form of cold or slow compost, but it’s doing a totally different thing in my garden.

The main body of the swales are logs, as big around as your arm.  These I steal from various nature strips and fallen trees over the six weeks before digging the spring beds.  Before being broken down and chopped up, I normally have about ten or fifteen cubic meters of tree branches and small logs, which goes down to between two and five cubic meters when processed.  They’re dug into a trench in the garden, and a fairly complex layering process puts the trees with straw and cardboard and maybe 100 liters of unprocessed food waste with five liters from the hot compost.

By next spring the logs are gone, and in the year they have provided home to literally billions of organisms, held several hundred liters of water in reserve on hot days, directed water to where it needs to go when it rains, and look darn nice to boot.  (That last one may be a matter of opinion.)  Right now they are invisible in my garden, having broken down to level with the soil, but they are still in there, working.

I don’t have many links on this one, since it’s mostly a home-brew job, but Wikipedia tells me this is “Hügelkultur,” and the guys at richsoil.com do a lot like I do but bigger.

4 – Other

I know I said I had three kinds of heaps, and now we’re on bullet point four.  Because, in case I haven’t driven this home enough, there are several other kinds of compost happening in my garden right now.  The three above are the big, permanent heaps, but I’ve got several others going too.

Small, temporary, highly site specific, letting microorganism work since I’m lazy: There is kouch grass stewing in the baby pool to break down the fibers, and the pile of chipboard under the grapevine that’s running thick with mycelium while it falls apart.  There’s yet another kind of cold/slow heap that I’m experimenting with doing inside an old cupboard.

Compost is happening all the time, all around us.

Closing

When you go back and look at your compost tonight, don’t think about what it’s not doing.  Pay attention to what it is doing, and figure out how to help it do that thing.

Compost gives unconditional love.

End transmission,

Brenneman A.

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One Response to Tree Pruning and Compost Workshop a Success

  1. Here’s some composting videos from John Jeavons’ website:

    http://www.johnjeavons.info/video.html

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