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Baling weeds to accelerate decomposition?

 
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Hello,

This is my first post and I'm a total rookie when it comes to gardening. I have a lot of large, dry, fibrous weeds on my property that I'd like to break down to put the organic matter back into my soil, if I can call it that, it's pretty devoid of life. I've tried making a large pile and waiting for natural processes to take over, but it hasn't really worked. The weeds have a lot of structure and don't compress. They dry out quickly. I've tried cutting them up, but it's laborious and hasn't helped much. The pile is more compact but remains dry. I've noticed straw bales retain moisture well and I assume break down rapidly. This, despite straw drying quickly when not compressed into bails. I'm thinking of bailing the weeds and soaking the bails to get them to break down faster. I'm low-tech and would likely use a garbage can and some twine. So, the weeds wouldn't be as compressed as hay baled by machines. The weeds also have a lot of seeds. I'm not worried about spreading them. Nature already does that extremely well already. Does anyone have experience with this or recommendations? All feedback is appreciated.

Thanks
 
pollinator
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I'd be inclined to take at least some of those weeds and burn them into charcoal. There are lots of threads here on ways to do that, ways to inoculate the finished charcoal to make biochar, and the benefits of biochar in garden soil. From the way you describe your soil, it could help a lot!

For composting the rest, I think maybe you've got too much "brown" and not enough "green". It might be that if you used an enclosed composter and mix the weeds with damp material, such as kitchen scraps or grass clippings, they'll break down a lot better.

I don't think baling is a good tactic in this case. Straw bales break down slower than loose straw, because the bale keeps the inner layers dry. And if a bale of straw does get enough moisture inside it to break down, it can sometimes produce enough heat to start itself on fire!

So, my recommendation would be to take that garbage can you were thinking of using as a baler, and turn it into a compost bin instead. When mixed with wetter materials the dry, woody stuff will break down fine. And think about taking some of the woodiest pieces and using them for biochar.

(If you decide to try baling anyway, please let us know how it goes. I'd be happy to be wrong about that. Just be careful about the fire risk!)
 
gardener
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i'm inclined to agree with ellendra. if the weeds don't compress well they are probably more candidates for chipping/shredding than composting (even when broken down, the woody stuff takes longer). If you donĀ“t have a shredder (or can't run them over with your lawn mower, etc) then I think biochar (or maybe firestarter) is the next best thing.
I have a lot of this kind of stuff left over from feeding my rabbits (they like the leaves, not the woody stems)-- I chip it into mulch.

If you already have a pile that's not breaking down, I've heard that peeing on it can get it going (as can molasses water, comfrey tea, and some other stuff). Haven't tried it!
 
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Moisture. You need some way of keeping them in contact with moisture, other compostable stuff (grass clippings, leaves, kitchen scraps, manure, soil, other weeds...) that can retain the moisture mixed into the pile will help greatly. You can build a pile like a lasagna of this stuff, a layer of this, that, repeat... and water it if it doesn't see much rain.
 
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I agree with Kenneth, moisture is your friend.

Add things with moisture to your weeds.

I like to use used coffee grounds because we make some every day.

I feel a bale of weeds will be the same as a bale of hay after a year it will still be a bale of weeds.
 
Marcus Alonso
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Thanks for the great suggestions everyone. I'm especially intrigued by the biochar idea. I think maybe I'll try both the biochar and some bales. I have enough material to probably fill a dozen 50 gallon garbage cans compressed. The pile I have now is only a fraction of what I need to process and it would probably fill 3 or 4 cans. I would need a whole lot of kitchen scraps/wet material to mix with these prolific weeds. I have also tried shredding them, but the fibers wrap around the blades of my wimpy electric shredder and jam it.

Also, thanks for reminding me about the fire danger of bales. I'll keep them away from any structures.
 
Marcus Alonso
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I finally got around to baling some of those weeds recently. First I built a hand-powered baler. Then I learned how to use it. The fitst bales didn't come out well, but I persisted and the latter bales improved a lot. It's extremely strenuous work because the weeds must be broken down to fit in the baler due to their length. I wouldn't recommend it. I plan on adding coffee grounds and water to speed up decomposition. And maybe planting something in them like people do with straw bale gardening. I've attached pictures of the baler, pile and bales.
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This looks great, I'm impressed! If you are planning to expand garden areas next year, then stand your bales on the area where you want to garden next year, and the grass and weed will not be able to come up, and the soil will improve under there.
Then next year you can break the bales apart and use them as dense deep mulch on the garden. They will still have some viable seeds but if the mulch is deep enough very few of them will be able to germinate successfully, and the few that do, the soil will be so soft that they will be very easy to pull.
 
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