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A Tree Ate My Compost

 
pollinator
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Location: Northwest Missouri
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I fell victim to a classic blunder. Last April I made a compost cage and layered that puppy up with grass, leaves, and chicken poo. My first batch compost. I was really proud. Until this April. I went to collect my creation and found that it was essentially now a pile of tree roots!

The large hackberry tree nearby just reached up and ate all the compost. So much that it was very difficult to dig/tear up. I would guess that now half the bio-mass is roots. I'll still use it in the hugelkultur I'm building, but I don't believe I'll use it for plants going into the garden since those roots will need time to break down.

Lesson learned: If you give your compost bin earth contact, keep it well away from trees! Find some other way to shade it or make the bottom root-proof!  
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steward
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"Thank you very much"
 - hackberry tree


That's impressive and I don't blame it at all.  My compost pile is about 30' from a number of trees and that hasn't been a problem for me.  They're mainly spruce and a small oak.  I guess my pile is usually not sitting there longer than 8 months over winter or 4 months in summer.
 
gardener
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Actually Matt, I find it impressive.

This is the reason I like to make my compost piles in the bed as opposed to somewhere away from the bed.  That ground under the pile is fertile indeed.

Eric
 
Matt Todd
pollinator
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This brings up a related concern. I have another hackberry (much smaller) in my developing food forest. It's at the north end and I'm growing shade tolerant perennials in wood chip beds nearby. Is this tree going to send roots all over my honeyberries, saskatoons, and goumies and take all the nutrients from my developing soil?

I see native gooseberries growing under hackberries all over the property... so I guess I'll just have to wait and see if hackberry will play nice with my cultivated berries. I know root pruning is an option, but not a fun one.  
 
gardener
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I put down a thick layer of paper, cardboard or packets leaves before filling the composts that the former owners had built near trees. I also tend to compost in place in the garden (when the chickens are pre-digesting it first), but there are times of the year when there's too much to manage, but a thick layer of browns kept out everything except the Morning Glory - nothing stops it in my climate!

It also made sure that if the compost ended up on the wet side, there was lots of carbon to soak it up.
 
steward
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I recommend to folks that they start their compost piles on a bed of biochar....at least 4".  The biochar will absorb the fertility that tries to leach down from the pile and will create an air break to help the compost pile stay oxygenated.  This will also help stop tree roots from coming up.  My compost pile sits at the southern edge of my garden clearing surrounded by trees....zero problems with roots.  Give it a shot....composting is noticeably better with biochar dispersed throughout the pile as well, btw.  Heats up faster and breaks down quicker.
 
Jay Angler
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Greg Martin wrote:I recommend to folks that they start their compost piles on a bed of biochar....at least 4".  The biochar will absorb the fertility that tries to leach down from the pile and will create an air break to help the compost pile stay oxygenated.  This will also help stop tree roots from coming up.  My compost pile sits at the southern edge of my garden clearing surrounded by trees....zero problems with roots.  Give it a shot....composting is noticeably better with biochar dispersed throughout the pile as well, btw.  Heats up faster and breaks down quicker.

Do you mean biochar that has already been inoculated, or can you use "fresh from the kiln"?
Yes, the new composts I've built this year have all had fresh biochar added to layers when I've been organized in an effort to get it inoculated. Any suggestions as to volume of new biochar vs volume of everything else that you'd recommend?
I've been reading a book recently that is strongly promoting biochar for helping us stabilize Earth's carbon and getting it out of the atmosphere, so I'm looking for an easier way to make it out of waste products that won't hurt my garden. We've got a lot of trees that are being taken over by English Ivy which will eventually kill them, or increase the risk of them coming down in a windstorm. I'm eyeing that Ivy as fair game for making biochar. If only I had a decent set-up to use Himalayan Blackberry without it hurting me, it would get similar treatment!
 
Greg Martin
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Jay Angler wrote:Do you mean biochar that has already been inoculated, or can you use "fresh from the kiln"?
Yes, the new composts I've built this year have all had fresh biochar added to layers when I've been organized in an effort to get it inoculated. Any suggestions as to volume of new biochar vs volume of everything else that you'd recommend?
I've been reading a book recently that is strongly promoting biochar for helping us stabilize Earth's carbon and getting it out of the atmosphere, so I'm looking for an easier way to make it out of waste products that won't hurt my garden. We've got a lot of trees that are being taken over by English Ivy which will eventually kill them, or increase the risk of them coming down in a windstorm. I'm eyeing that Ivy as fair game for making biochar. If only I had a decent set-up to use Himalayan Blackberry without it hurting me, it would get similar treatment!


Jay, I'm using freshly made, that way it's inoculated with both nutrients and biology during the composting process.  Overall I am shooting for 10 - 20% of the initial volume in biochar, though I've heard that some folks use much more and that it still does well.
 
Greg Martin
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Forgot to mention....I don't crush my biochar.  My intent is to mimic nature with it and nature seems to break it up just fine without me.  The chunkiness of newly made biochar helps with air infiltration into the compost pile as well as with stopping tree roots from coming up, I believe.  Having said all this, I went to check on an old compost pile (3 years) that I made but never spread, the trees have eaten it.  If I harvest the same year I make it that hasn't been a problem.  Not sure when the tree roots moved into that older pile, but not surprised they eventually did....would have been surprised if they hadn't.  That pile also has tree seedlings growing up out of it....it's sort of my biochar hugel analog that I'm watching.  The compost/biochar is very moist.
 
You know it is dark times when the trees riot. I think this tiny ad is their leader:
The Wheaton Eco Scale
https://permies.com/t/scale
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