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Pine Straw Composting

Mark Allen


Joined: Sep 13, 2011
Posts: 14
Location: North of Atlanta
Ok, so many people say pine straw composting is very feasible and I have exhausted my resources to find new options but here is my problem.  I have pine straw in a circular hardware fabric bin that is free standing.  I have added green cuttings from a pithy plant (leaves and all) to the mix and turned it once.  I am about 20 days in and I water the pile frequently.  Yet it is always bone dry inside.  The water just takes off and the result is no heat.

Do I need to break down the straw more?  Add more organics? Less straw?  An additive like human urine?  Ummm any suggestions?? 

Just by reading I would think the straw compost is alkaline deficient.  If this is so what could I add to increase the alkaline content??  Would this help?

I really don't want to cut down the pine trees in my front yard but these massive trees are killing everything else and this straw is not going away.  I have a pine desert!!!


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Burra Maluca
Mother Tree

Joined: Apr 03, 2010
Posts: 4674
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
    
176
I should imagine it's virtally impossible to keep the stuff wet - it's incredibly free draining stuff!  Maybe if you jump up and down on it when it's dry it will break down into finer particles which will hold the moisture better.  Do you have any animals that could use it as bedding?  They'd crumble it up and poop on it at the same time, saving you a lot of work.  I have problems with keeping any compost moist enough over our dry summers and find that I need stone or brick walls and a plastic sheet over the top to try to reduce moisture loss.  I can't see that urine is going to help until you've found a way of keeping it in the pile - it's just going to drain away the same way that the water does.

Pine needles are used a lot in my area for mulching in the vegetable garden as it shades the soil nicely but lets rain through and every autumn everyone brings back trailer-loads of the stuff. 


What is a Mother Tree ?
Lolly Knowles


Joined: Aug 22, 2011
Posts: 159
I'm wondering if your pine straw would break down more quickly if it were contained in a black plastic drum instead of the open hardware cloth?  The closed sides would retain more of the moisture and the dark color would contribute to increased temperature, wouldn't it? 

A few years ago I bought a property that was planted with white pine "nurse trees" between the black walnuts nearly 30 years ago and the pines were never removed.  There are many years of pine needle carpet that need to be dealt with, so I may be trying the food grade plastic drum option myself in the spring.
Mark Allen


Joined: Sep 13, 2011
Posts: 14
Location: North of Atlanta
Lolly K wrote:
I'm wondering if your pine straw would break down more quickly if it were contained in a black plastic drum instead of the open hardware cloth?  The closed sides would retain more of the moisture and the dark color would contribute to increased temperature, wouldn't it? 


Sounds good!  I was at my permaculture design course today and heard about a local garden that is placing a black slotted pipe on the ground and mixing the mulch items on top of the pipe.  Ensuring to leave the ends of the pipe exposed they then cover the mulch with plastic.  This keeps the moisture in while ensuring plenty of oxygen movement.  I am going to try it and it seems a little cheaper than a barrel, but I think the barrel will work.  Keep in touch and let me know.  I am very curious??  I will let you know how my plastic and pipe works.
Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2170
Location: FL
    
  54
Pine straw is durable.  They have a CN ratio of 80 to 100:1 so about 3-4 times their mass in greens will be needed.  Composting them will take time.  The resulting compost will have a good amount of K in there, so there is a benefit to the wait.

The pine dessert you speak of is evidence of the ability of pine straw to serve as an able mulch. 


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http://farmwhisperer.com
Mr. Wright


Joined: Jan 07, 2011
Posts: 6
Location: Murfreesboro TN
I have had a similar issue. I live in an apt complex and they routinely hire a landscaping company to clean up the wastes. Well we have a few pine trees out here and I decided to compost it. I stuck in plastic bins, like others have suggested, however, I started throwing a bit of dirt and all of my kitchen scraps. I then weighted it down with a piece of cardboard the size of my bin and placed water jugs on top of it.

After about a month I had the bottom of the pine straw going black and heating up.

I would seriously consider the pine straw as a resource; mulch, bedding or filler in a huglekultur. It is too valuable to mess with in a compost pile.
Mark Allen


Joined: Sep 13, 2011
Posts: 14
Location: North of Atlanta
Mr. Wright wrote:
I would seriously consider the pine straw as a resource; mulch, bedding or filler in a huglekultur. It is too valuable to mess with in a compost pile.


Thanks!! I never thought about it to fill the huglekltur!  If it was a snake it woulda....
Mark Allen


Joined: Sep 13, 2011
Posts: 14
Location: North of Atlanta
Lessons Learned about pine straw

Pine Straw is a much better top layer mulch protecting plants from moisture loss (once the straw settles) and protecting the soil from the intense rays of the sun in the south. I have found that the south has a kind of perfect storm for composting. The heat combined with humidity composts deciduous material very quickly. So, soil building the humus layer and protecting your effort is of utmost importance here. This is where layering is important. When you compost and get great humus from all of your beautiful grasses and leaves then you really should cover the humus with something like pine straw or chipped wood to protect it and the little critters from the devastating summer sun. We also have another problem in the south with soil building. Clay. Although Clay holds an enormous amount of water when it is soaked it has some detrimental effects on annual plants because of feast or famine. The clay particles are really small and flat so they compact when it is full of water, this means it has very little space in between the clay particles and is hard for roots to uptake oxygen. When clay is dry it becomes compacted and sticks together with a suction like grip and provides no space to grow. Then it becomes hard and takes a tremendous amount of water to rehydrate. Remember clay is used to make bricks. So, the key is to maintain a balance in the mostly clay soil. Stay away from the extremes by protecting your growing asset. First and foremost create humus every day by composting all the time. Protect your composting effort by using easily found pine straw on top of the humus. Finally. break up that clay and work the humus down into the clay. Your plants will thank you as you are adding space to grow, nutrients to support photosynthesis, and oxygen to breath.

I am using a broad fork to break up my clay soil down to 16 inches. This is not easy!!! In fact the broad fork is causing me to develop an aversion to my garden. But once the ground is broken up the first time it will be much easier to maintain on a yearly basis. So, I toil and tell myself about all the happy plants I will have in June!!

One more point with the broad fork, If you live in a neighborhood or don't know where your services enter your property then you MUST, MUST, MUST call your local dig alert before you use your boradfork. My gas line is 12 inches down and I would have surely torn it out of the ground with this beast of a broad fork I bought. Dig alert is usually free to the public! But you will need to call at least 72 hours before you dig and you will need to mark out the area you are digging with white paint or I use lots of sticks I cut off of my trees when I was pruning last year.

I busted my gas line when I was using a trencher three years ago. I was all tough and cool using the trencher up until I heard this loud hissing and realized I was smelling gas. Then I must have looked like a whipped puppy when the fire engine, the ambulance, the gas company, the power company, the telephone company and the water company were standing around looking down at my trencher and I had to explain that I didn't know about Dig Alert. That is the first and last time I ever want to call 911. Trust me it may seem like a pain but when the gas companies investigator knocks on your door to determine if you will have to pay for all of the services that were employed during the gas leak, you may not think a quick call to 811 was so painful after all.

Thank You everyone for all of the wonderful advise! I appreciate permies.com so very much...

Mark
 
 
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