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weeds as nitrogen source, vines and woody waste

 
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In the midst of overhauling my UK garden, to a permaculture lead space + food forest there is alot of weeding and pruning to be done - ALOT. We've got 2 dumpy bags (circa 1 ton bags, but of course alot of air in them around the weeds) full of dying / dead weeds at the moment and there is plenty more. Piles of pruned branches from pear trees, maple and oak. Vines and climbers galore - this is / was a very ornamental garden prior to our stewardship. There are piles of leaves around that I can use too, although would like to get towards creating leaf mould from these.

Some are landscape plants that are coming out - alot of poisonous woody plants (spurge and alike), but predominantly it is thistles, grasses, dandelions here and there. Much is coming from the gravel paths running through a tree shaded garden. The paths are in a sorry state, with landscape fabric beneath that has perished and reached the end of its life. As such its an increasingly fertile ground for weeds. I'm planning to remove all the fabric and gravel and lay down sawdust. It will be a back breaking job by hand, but I digress....

I want to make sure I have the best chance of returning all of this waste to the garden in a usable form so am wondering about best practice for each of the below:

Weeds: dandelions, thistles and alike - I'm wondering about the efficacy of using weeds and other green leafy aspects as a nitrogen source? Is it generally the case that green (in colour) = helping a pile get hot?
Crawlers and climbers: wisteria, periwinkle, clematis - I've had experience with adding these to a pile and it seems without spending hours (and hours) cutting this into tiny pieces, it just ends up a stringy mess in the compost, even if the foliage dies. There is alot of this to deal with.
Woody waste: rose cuttings, general shrubby materials - Alot of this around - I can pile it up as brush piles, but then I'll be needing to source browns externally for my compost. Chipping it all up would be great, but means buying a domestic grade chipper, which may not be worth it?

I know that some here do not like the idea of homogenising waste by chipping / shredding and it takes an AGE to do by hand and I sense that this will help a pile get hot too. It also in my limited experience, yields compost way faster and I really want some fast wins here (fast in composting terms at least, I.E. usable next year). I've looked at sheet mulching and can do that in some spots, but I'm hoping that through some hot compost the weeds will be reduced in their scope to return. Spurge and some of the other ornamentals seem to fight sheet mulching fairly aggressively so composting may be a better solution to deal with them anyway.

I'm intending to build piles 1.5m square overtime in order to try and introduce the heat needed to fry any seeds, but I've had experience with piles that size still not getting hot enough. I want to make sure with the ingredients above I do the best I can to turn everything back to soil. In dealing with the gravel there will also be alot of soil coming out (I am trying to work out a way to sieve all the gravel before reusing elsewhere in the garden), but not sure what the effect will be if I compost this also.

Any advice appreciated.
 
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Sounds like a big project.

If you dont have sonewhere out of sight, but in the sun, to let the viney stuff breakdown, then renting a chipper might be a good option.

Are you sensitive to urishiol (poison ivy)?
If so, I would consider wearing protective clothing and face mask if you run the chipper, as somebof that oil may end up as droplets in the air during chipping.
 
Mj Lacey
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J Davis wrote:Sounds like a big project.

If you dont have sonewhere out of sight, but in the sun, to let the viney stuff breakdown, then renting a chipper might be a good option.

Are you sensitive to urishiol (poison ivy)?
If so, I would consider wearing protective clothing and face mask if you run the chipper, as somebof that oil may end up as droplets in the air during chipping.



Not too big I hope, but certainly alot of effort going in before this is even approaching order. The last owners of the property were here 20+ years and did alot at the start, but it seems very little since. The landscape fabric is in bits and needs replacing, the shed is falling apart, the trees are malpruned or not pruned at all and so significantly shading out the garden, the fencing is coming down. Its very hard to know where to start with this one, but I figure at least getting the compost in order should at least give us somewhere to haul all the organic matter to put back into the garden. Have rented a chipper before - £90 a day / $120, which adds up fast.
 
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Short answer, yes you can compost all those weeds! Chop em well and mix them in.

Long answer: use caution. Some weeds (we're looking at the ivy family here..) will somehow continue to grow even when buried into a pile. Baking them in the sun for a day or two first greatly helps prevent this. I love and hate my ground ivy. It's short so doesn't tend to bother my established plants, and the pollinators love the prolific purple flowers, plus it is super easy to pull up since it has a very shallow root and runner system. However, it takes a LOT of work to kill it. It's very hardy. My process is to pull it, spread it out on a tarp in the sun for 2 days, then add it to the compost pile. I immediately pull any very dedicated starts of it from the pile and repeat.
 
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Mj Lacey wrote: The landscape fabric is in bits and needs replacing,



The only thing I have to add is that you couldn't pay me enough to put landscape fabric down anywhere, and especially after I went to all the work to remove it after it broke down the first time.  If you replace it, it's inevitable it will break down again, and again, and for the remainder of your, and whoever comes after, lifetime.  That is a merry-go-round I would never put myself on.
 
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Trace Oswald wrote:

Mj Lacey wrote: The landscape fabric is in bits and needs replacing,



The only thing I have to add is that you couldn't pay me enough to put landscape fabric down anywhere, and especially after I went to all the work to remove it after it broke down the first time.  If you replace it, it's inevitable it will break down again, and again, and for the remainder of your, and whoever comes after, lifetime.  That is a merry-go-round I would never put myself on.



Quite right - when I say replacing, I mean with something else, not like for like. It seems pointless to me. 10 Years maybe stopping anything come up from below, but having no capacity to deal with anything from above. People have looked at me oddly when I have suggested this precise point, but it just seems ridiculous to me. I have two main areas with landscape fabric down paths and an open area of gravel around the house. The paths I plan to replace with sawdust which for now at least is a resource I can get my hands on readily. I figure even if it becomes a weed festival its no different to what I have now. The piece in front of the house is trickier. We live in the bottom of a valley and as such I have to have something down that drains easy. Gravel is here already and I cannot afford to replace it (circa £1000-1500 / $1200-2000) so I'm hoping to build some sort of gravel sieve (a soil sieve in reverse) put everything through it, remove the soil, lay a course of sand and gravel on top - no landscape fabric. As leaves fall in abundance on this I guess my new permanent pastime will be removing leaves from the gravel (for which there seems to be no good solution) and raking gravel every week or two.

Any tips on getting the fabric up when its at / past end of life?
 
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Allison Whitacre wrote:Short answer, yes you can compost all those weeds! Chop em well and mix them in.

Long answer: use caution. Some weeds (we're looking at the ivy family here..) will somehow continue to grow even when buried into a pile. Baking them in the sun for a day or two first greatly helps prevent this. I love and hate my ground ivy. It's short so doesn't tend to bother my established plants, and the pollinators love the prolific purple flowers, plus it is super easy to pull up since it has a very shallow root and runner system. However, it takes a LOT of work to kill it. It's very hardy. My process is to pull it, spread it out on a tarp in the sun for 2 days, then add it to the compost pile. I immediately pull any very dedicated starts of it from the pile and repeat.



Thank you - thats helpful on the vines. Ivy is here as its essentially a woodland clearing with live in so I will try to take that approach in future.
 
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Mj Lacey wrote:As leaves fall in abundance on this I guess my new permanent pastime will be removing leaves from the gravel (for which there seems to be no good solution) and raking gravel every week or two.

Any tips on getting the fabric up when its at / past end of life?



I have a leaf vacuum that I love.  It vacuums and shreds the leaves so they break down more quickly in compost and it will save you raking gravel :)  It can also be used as a blower, so if the gravel is small and likely to be sucked up, you can blow the leaves out of the gravel first and then "suck and shred" them.

I'm sorry, I don't know a good way to remove it.  The couple times I did it, it was by hand and it wasn't fun.
 
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The only thing I have much experience with is the woody waste.  I am in a hurry to get some compost finished and started with chestnut burrs, raspberry briars and multiflora rose all ran through a chipper and mixed with comfrey and grass clippings.  The multiflora rose had already leafed out so it added greens to the pile as well.  In a month, the pile has already reduced by half.  

Dead branches and tree prunings are delegated to another pile which I’ll likely be utilizing to mulch my garden paths.

I am at an advantage as we already have a second-hand gas powered chipper/vac.  If I were to rent one, I would plan to have all my materials ready beforehand.  While it’s easy to feed in branches as you clip them off, it’s also more time consuming than just working through a pile.  Two people make the job go quicker too.  My husband and I both know the diameter our chipper can handle, so one of us usually goes through and cuts everything in manageable pieces while the other feeds it through.
 
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I like cardboard, we seem to have an abundance of it because my son is addicted to Amazon. So it's a win win, get rid of the cardboard, and suppress the weeds.  It doesn't last that long, but it gives you some time to get enough mulch, which ever kind you choose, down to keep the weeds out.  If you choose to go with wood chips for paths, and aren't going to have enough of your own, lots of tree company's will give you wood chips for free.  The down side of this is you don't know what kind of wood you will get, or what chemical the tree was exposed to.  Pace yourself, when you have a huge project like that it's easy to get burnt out. Good luck to you.
 
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Jen Fulkerson wrote:I like cardboard, we seem to have an abundance of it because my son is addicted to Amazon. So it's a win win, get rid of the cardboard, and suppress the weeds.  It doesn't last that long, but it gives you some time to get enough mulch, which ever kind you choose, down to keep the weeds out.  If you choose to go with wood chips for paths, and aren't going to have enough of your own, lots of tree company's will give you wood chips for free.  The down side of this is you don't know what kind of wood you will get, or what chemical the tree was exposed to.  Pace yourself, when you have a huge project like that it's easy to get burnt out. Good luck to you.



Thanks. It's unfortunately not the case in the UK (where I am at least) that woodchip is really available. There are only a few arborists within 20-40 miles of me and I've tried them all. None are prepared to dump chips here, zero. I can find manure but that involes collecting, which in turn means I need to spend on buying, fitting and using a trailer for that. I'd rather sheet mulch but to do so is surprisingly hard here.

Cardboard I have been able to source though, in good order (large sheets, no tape or staples) and in a decent quantity.
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