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What to do with piles of dead shrubs?

 
pollinator
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So the previous owners of my property did a fair amount of clearing, and left a bunch of piles of uprooted shrubs to die. They are mostly buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus), and they aren't breaking down very quickly. These piles are at least a year old already. I thought about renting a chipper, but the piles are kind of behind things all over the property, they are very pokey shrubs, and goodness knows what is living in these piles by now. So now I was thinking of collecting urine to pour on them, in hopes of speeding up the decomposition. Does that seem like a good idea? Or does anybody else have any ideas what to do with these piles?
 
master pollinator
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Leave them as critter habitat.  Throw seeds into them to encourage plant diversity.  Move them so that they're lying on contour to help slow erosion on slopes.
 
pioneer
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If you can cover them with anything, they will break down much more quickly.  A brush pile will lay somewhere for years and not break down, but if you wet it (or let the rain wet it) and then start covering it, it will break down pretty quickly, and make great soil to boot.  If you have a pile that you can get to pretty easily, you can throw your grass clippings, household food waste, weeds, trimmings from bushes, coffee grounds, anything you can find to cover it.  After it breaks down, you can plant it where it is or wheel barrow the soil where you need it.

If you have a good hedge trimmer or feel comfortable using a chainsaw to do it, it helps to cut the stuff up enough so that it lays flatter and doesn't trap so much air inside.  Even using a pruner works well if you aren't in a hurry and would like a reason to play outside for a couple hours.
If you can get it all lying down so that it is touching, it will hold moisture better and rot down much quicker, as well as being easier to cover.
 
Stacy Witscher
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Leaving them for critter habitat is certainly doable, and likely what I will do if I don't find a better option, but my property isn't really in need of more critter habitat. I have been throwing seeds around the property. I haven't tried doing that in the piles before, but it would have to be something that will germinate under the pile. Thanks for the ideas. One of my concerns is that they won't be great to have around once fire season gets worse. We've already had a few small fires in the area since I've been here.
 
Tyler Ludens
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In my experience, big fluffy brush piles take much longer to decompose than low, compact ones, so if you have the energy and tools, it might be advantageous to cut them up and get the wood to touch the soil as much as possible.  Low piles also hold moisture better and are not considered a fire threat unless you are in an extreme fire danger area, in which case, certainly keep any piles far away from important structures and features.
 
pioneer
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Stacy Witscher wrote:Leaving them for critter habitat is certainly doable, and likely what I will do if I don't find a better option, but my property isn't really in need of more critter habitat. I have been throwing seeds around the property. I haven't tried doing that in the piles before, but it would have to be something that will germinate under the pile. Thanks for the ideas. One of my concerns is that they won't be great to have around once fire season gets worse. We've already had a few small fires in the area since I've been here.



Yeah this-  fire hazard !  I swore when I moved here that I would never do a burn pile.....   Well,  I didn't for years,  and avoid it then I possibly can,  so it depends on the year.  

If you have planned on chipping, so you have put it where you can get to it and it is not mixed with soil,  you can chip it.  The people who own those great large chippers around here will not let you put old wood or bushes with dirt on their roots in their chipper it dulls it or something.

If it is old and brittle enough you may be able to stomp on it.  As mentioned, covering it with dirt if you have the energy or help to do so.  Something has to be done to get rid of air spaces so it is not a fire hazard.  The piles where this can't get done you have to burn in place, you can't leave fire hazards the way we have been burning lately.  But maybe you have the energy to stomp and cover with dirt.  Don't feel too bad if one of them is in the wrong place for that and you just can't do anymore and you burn it.  Do as much as you can

It is harder at this point because you have inheirited a mess.  Trying to take apart old piles to cut it up is beyond my strength or what most of us can get to.  When it is taken care of properly at the beginning it is so much easier.  Trimming ad you go before it is in a tangled up pile is the way to go.
 
master pollinator
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Brush piles and living bushes are nature's snow fence.

They can be the perfect place to plant peas or beans, since it's a climbing surface where they won't be competing with roots or leaves of the bushes. They keep the soil cooler. Leave the vines in place at the end of the season and they will help to rot it down and add to the snow catching function.
 
Stacy Witscher
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The fact that they are big fluffy piles is exactly what concerns me. These are piles of whole shrubs, each shrub being 3-4 ft. tall and wide, some with attached root balls, and they are tucked around and behind living shrubs, sometimes with rock piles as well. This is in the chaparral areas of my property. I'm not sure that I'd feel comfortable trying to stomp of them, some of them are quite high. I suppose I could burn them, but I haven't done that before. I know that I have to talk to the fire district before I can burn.

We don't get much snow here, typically about 6-7 inches a year. We have plenty of living bushes and some better brush piles, more dirt and/or less air spaces. There is very little soil here, I haven't had any success growing anything without soil improvement, which hasn't happened in the areas near the shrub piles, but I have plenty of bean seed, so I will give it a try.
 
Trace Oswald
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The ones I have done that started like that I used my electric hedge trimmers and just kept kind of chopping into the pile in different directions.  It doesn't take long to have them pretty well compressed down flat.
 
master steward
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My neighbors cleared over an acre of property of it's salmonberries and piled them up. It's at least 30 feet tall and 50 feet wide, and surrounded by cedars. I'm more than a little concerned about that thing!
 
Trace Oswald
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Nicole Alderman wrote:My neighbors cleared over an acre of property of it's salmonberries and piled them up. It's at least 30 feet tall and 50 feet wide, and surrounded by cedars. I'm more than a little concerned about that thing!



I could make the most awesome dead hedge with that much material.
 
Sue Reeves
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Nicole Alderman wrote:My neighbors cleared over an acre of property of it's salmonberries and piled them up. It's at least 30 feet tall and 50 feet wide, and surrounded by cedars. I'm more than a little concerned about that thing!



Yeah, the way us Western states have been burning,  I would be concerned too ! Are you on good terms with them ?
 
Sue Reeves
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Stacy Witscher wrote:The fact that they are big fluffy piles is exactly what concerns me. These are piles of whole shrubs, each shrub being 3-4 ft. tall and wide, some with attached root balls, and they are tucked around and behind living shrubs, sometimes with rock piles as well. This is in the chaparral areas of my property. I'm not sure that I'd feel comfortable trying to stomp of them, some of them are quite high. I suppose I could burn them, but I haven't done that before. I know that I have to talk to the fire district before I can burn.

We don't get much snow here, typically about 6-7 inches a year. We have plenty of living bushes and some better brush piles, more dirt and/or less air spaces. There is very little soil here, I haven't had any success growing anything without soil improvement, which hasn't happened in the areas near the shrub piles, but I have plenty of bean seed, so I will give it a try.



Don't do anything unsafe for yourself.  Maybe different piles will have a different resolution.  You could try the cut with hedge trimmer thing someone else mentioned.  Do call your fire district and ask for ideas, let them know you inheirited the problem and want to do the right thing to keep the neighborhood safe.  Do you have a volunteer fire team in your area ? Maybe someone can instruct you or help for one pile and they can look and tell you how big of a fire danger it is
 
Nicole Alderman
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Debi Baker wrote:Yeah, the way us Western states have been burning,  I would be concerned too ! Are you on good terms with them ?



They moved in a few months back. I brought them some duck eggs to welcome them to the neighborhood, but I haven't had a chance to build a relationship with them, as they're not out and about much and I don't want to be a nuisance. Building relationships is hard and doesn't come naturally to my introvert self, but I really do try.
 
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I have ancient cut tree branches on my property. They're never breaking down. lol So I have a nice brush wall happening in a place where the snow blows through fiercely and helps it drift.
 
Sue Reeves
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Nicole Alderman wrote:

Debi Baker wrote:Yeah, the way us Western states have been burning,  I would be concerned too ! Are you on good terms with them ?



They moved in a few months back. I brought them some duck eggs to welcome them to the neighborhood, but I haven't had a chance to build a relationship with them, as they're not out and about much and I don't want to be a nuisance. Building relationships is hard and doesn't come naturally to my introvert self, but I really do try.



If they are new, they might not know they have made a fire problem, you could offer your help or the number of the local volunteer fire team to them so they have some help.  People do not like to be told what to do, but everyone loves offers of help if offered nicely.  Likely your area has rules on such dangers, so you are helping them by getting a resolution before someone else( idiot, grumpy neighber) turns them in to the county.  
 
Stacy Witscher
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So I snapped some pictures of the piles. Some were dumped on the other side of the property line fence, so they are on BLM land. But I have pictures of two that are on my property. The rural fire district station is just down the road, a couple miles. They have a big sign on the building saying "Call before you burn". I suppose I could ask them what they recommend.

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Sue Reeves
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Looks like it is next to some nice flammable bushes.  I wouldn't Burn there on my own.  I would try cutting it up with the electric hedge trimmer idea. But maybe your rural fire district can be of help
 
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Is burying an option?
If not,  I would either leave them be,  or try to make charcoal.
 
Stacy Witscher
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Burying not really an option. The soil very hard and rocky. Maybe if we end up renting a mini-excavator, I could half-bury, half-cover with dirt. I don't know. I will try to stop by the fire station and see what they have to say.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I could see doing something with it if you're really limited in space, otherwise just leave them there and let nature take its course.

My place was covered in logging slash when I bought it. I left it there and now it's all turned to soil. Even the stumps are rotting away pretty good. It was logged  22 years ago. Many of the stumps are growing huckleberries. At one time I thought I should pile up all the slash on top of the stumps and burn them. But it wasn't necessary and very soon young trees came up to obscure the view of those stumps.
 
Stacy Witscher
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I'm not limited in space, I have 80 acres. My main concern was the fire hazard. Like I mentioned the piles are the chaparral areas of the property, where we want to have goats. The goats aren't going to eat the long dead shrubs, but they might stomp on them. So maybe we will just push the goat plans forward, livestock would really help the soil on this property. I worry less about stumps and fallen logs in the woodland areas, they don't get so dry. I'm also trying to balance my daughter's fears and her suburban sensibilities.
 
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Tough situation, your daughter being a townie has no concept of bush living.
I would suggest a skid steer unit may be able to flatten the files for you, by running over them or using the front bucket to crush them.
 
pollinator
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I look at that and think “biochar”.

Somewhere around is a thread where I wrote about my experience using a trench method of biochar making. It might be suitable.
 
pollinator
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Several ideas that may help to slowly chip away at the pile (some/ most of these ideas may not work for your needs or situation, but who knows?):

Get in there with a chansaw and loppers, and harvest all the straight long branches - limb up and use for junkpole fencing, livestock shades, trellises, etc.

Dig partial hole underneath, cover top with mud/leaves, make mini wofati livestock shelter.

Tell your kids, grandkids, neighborhood kids, visitng cousins, etc to "go nuts" in there(after checking for snakes) - build forts, use them as swords, whittling, etc.


If it's not too far from your house, you have enough kindling here to last you a lifetime - just whack on the pile each time to collect a bundle of small sticks to start your fireplace every day.
 
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Hi, if you don't want to leave it as habitat which is sometimes a trade off regarding fire risks, I think you are on the right track regarding urine. Your shrubs are very high (C) Carbon and your urine is very high N (Nitrogen) so this will react over time. It is not the only high nitrogen source you can use although it is a good one and almost 100% sterile from a healthy person.  
You mention a chipper, anything you do to increase the surface area is going to help even breaking the by hand. Organisms with  the mouth parts that chew down wood also help which may point to covering your heap in most instances. Fungal species such as Oyster Mushrooms may help if you are skilled enough to get them going.  You could take a quicker option and mess around with biochar techniques or use the shrubs as a rough mulch.
 
Stacy Witscher
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eric - I have concluded the same. It's too late in the fire season for burning where I live, and I don't want to pull apart these piles, so I am collecting a couple gallons of urine and then pouring them on these piles. Is it a perfect solution, of course not, but it gets me in the direction that I want to be going. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this discussion.
 
eric fisher
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Cheers Stacy, glad we are on the same plot. Best E
 
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