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Mixed forest composting  RSS feed

 
Scott Stiller
Posts: 294
Location: North Carolina zone 7
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Hello friends. I've recently moved to a very wooded area. I compost everything so naturally I want to take up all the forest floor for composting purposes. The problem is the large diversity of trees. Oak, pine, hickory, cedar, and spruce. If I gather all these up and let them decompose what would be the best way to use it? My main concern is the acidity of pine needles. What are your thoughts?
 
Peter Ellis
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Location: Central New Jersey
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A couple of thoughts, one, I might not rush to interfere with the natural process that is feeding your wooded area by taking away the material and two, I would not worry about the acidity of the pine needles - they are already there in your soil, so you either have an acid soil to begin with from their influence, and you will need to adapt to that, or they are not having that impact and it's not going to be a problem just because you changed the way they are going back into the soil.

I guess my very first thought is "why take it away from the trees?"
 
Michael Vormwald
Posts: 154
Location: Central New York - Finger Lakes - Zone 5
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The diversity is an advantage to balanced super enriched compost that can be use anywhere you want to enrich soil. However, as Peter points out you'd be 'robbing Peter (not Ellis) to pay Paul' ...which could have long term negative effects on your woods. But I understand, to a degree, I harvest leaves and grass clippings on my property to enrich my garden soil.
 
Scott Stiller
Posts: 294
Location: North Carolina zone 7
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Thank you friends for your replies. I've recently purchased fifteen acres I'm turning into an organic farm and I have a lack of compost problem. Plus, I'm a bit stubborn. I don't want to bring in any kind of soil, compost, chemicals, ect because I can't be sure what's in them. So only using what's already here is the only thing I will consider.
 
Dan Boone
gardener
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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Scott, I'm with you. I live on about 40 acres of which I'm only trying to do plantings on a tiny fraction (so far), but I have zero budget for (or interest in) purchased potting soil, mulch, fertilizer, or chemicals. Which means I am using my $14 wheelbarrow (long story) to borrow various small quantities of soil and biomass (dead or fresh leaves, forest duff, dead grass, green pokeweed, et cetera) for my various gardening purposes. I am concentrating those resources from where they are in surplus to my kitchen garden and orchard area, where I am using them to try and establish productive growing systems under adverse conditions (poor dense soil, limited and sporadic summer rains, high summer temps, strong hot winds).

I view this as a harvest from productive elements of the forest and land that I'm not otherwise harvesting from. Would those harvests be sustainable on an annual basis? Perhaps not, although I have no way to measure that. But as a one-time deal to get my gardening and orchard systems established? Not a problem. And given that I'm "harvesting" very small amounts from an area that's huge in comparison to the part of the land where I'm reinvesting those resources, I think it's entirely possible that the borrowings might be sustainable over time. Not that I intend to push it; once I've got healthy well-mulched garden and orchard soils, plus additional established plantings of comfrey and nettles and other "green manure" mulch plants, I should be able to sharply reduce my "borrowings" from other parts of the system. But meanwhile, I'm using the forest as part of my growing system, which strikes me as a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
 
Scott Stiller
Posts: 294
Location: North Carolina zone 7
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You speak a language I understand Dan. I have a shovel, wheelbarrow, and an 88 jeep Comanche. That's the extent of my farm tools. My goal (and I'm thinking your's too) is to close the loop. I produce what I need and consume what I have here and that's it. I'm not even a paranoid prepper but I do know I can trust myself and that may be it. Thank you for your reply.
 
Dan Boone
gardener
Posts: 1770
Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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Scott, I'm not a paranoid prepper either but I do see establishing food forest and perennial food plantings as a hedge against all manner of "black swan" disasters that might result in future food insecurity for me and mine. (I use "zombie apocalypse" as metaphorical shorthand for unanticipated disasters.) This is family land, very rural, and we *hope* we won't have to live here for the rest of our lives; we're here now for eldercare reasons but that won't last forever. My notion is that we live in a world where we're all going to be getting poorer, hotter, and hungrier as we age (figuring climate change, weather weirding, and ever-ascendant corporate maximalism into the equation), no matter what else may happen; so I figure there's a good chance we'll be back on this land before we die if indeed we ever leave, and so I'm doing what I can to make those potentially-impoverished retirement years richer in fresh high-quality food. But we've totally depth-charged our own finances by coming here and staying for as long as we have, so there's really no budget at all for my projects. I'm rich in land and time, poor in money and equipment. My physical fitness is poor (but improving the more of this I do) so I'm also somewhat limited in energetic labor. I do have battery-operated chainsaw and weed whacker, but they are almost toys for the amount they can accomplish on an 18v battery. I broke my lopper but I still have shovel, rakes, hoe, and a Fiskar "brush axe" shaped like the traditional British bill hook that I use as a machete.

I am years away from producing all that we need at the rate I'm going with hand tools, but I figure every increment is to the good. Buying inputs just doesn't have a place in that scheme, though I can't help spending money on nifty seeds and a very few live plants. I do scrounge as many inputs as possible, but doesn't everybody?
 
                    
Posts: 238
Location: AR ~ozark mountain range~zone7a
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Ya heck ya gather up all the woods debris you can find! But if your going to have a drought this year, your trees will have a problem if all of the leaf mold was removed (it keeps the ground protected). I work a small zone at a time, trying to clean up most but not all of the dead wood (the dead wood & sticks hold the leaves to the ground). I clean out the ditches & drain pathways for example, there is a good amount of sediment in some places. And all those trees you don't like...maple seedlings or black gum suckers, lots of green leaves right there, and then there is weeds like invasive grasses & such. If ya need brown leaves now to start a compost pile, then ya gotta go get them, just don't wipe it out to the dirt.

james beam
 
Scott Stiller
Posts: 294
Location: North Carolina zone 7
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Good tip James. I do have the dreaded Tree of Heaven here. The wood is junk but I may have to look to the leaves.
 
Dan Tutor
Posts: 103
Location: Zone 5, Maine Coast
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Scott Stiller wrote:Hello friends. I've recently moved to a very wooded area. I compost everything so naturally I want to take up all the forest floor for composting purposes. The problem is the large diversity of trees. Oak, pine, hickory, cedar, and spruce. If I gather all these up and let them decompose what would be the best way to use it? My main concern is the acidity of pine needles. What are your thoughts?


Paul talks about whether or not pine needles effect soil ph in a couple of the podcasts. I seem to remember that the needles themselves don't change the ph much.

Keep in mind that raking up the forest floor deprives all the surrounding vegetation of many years nutrients already composting and feeding the existing ecosystem, so it's usually a better idea to harvest plant matter from areas with faster biomass accumulation.
 
Michael Vormwald
Posts: 154
Location: Central New York - Finger Lakes - Zone 5
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On the surface, it's an interesting "catch 22" to " rob Peter to pay Paul". On the other hand, we may simply be borrowing the abundance from one area to use effectively in another. In many cases, leaves that fall may otherwise just blow away, so to gather them for a garden is not the deprivation that some may assume. Also, we should not overlook the abundance of organic waste that many municipalities consider and handle as waste....like tree trimmings and leaves. The key to bringing in any external resources is to ensure it has not been chemically compromised.
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
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Location: Vermont, off grid for 24 years!
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There is a formula for sustainably harvesting from the forest to mulch a garden, but the exact amount escapes me. I think it was mentioned in geoff lawton's online PDC.
 
wayne fajkus
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Its amazing how easy and free it is to import into your land. Some assumptions are made like daily travel and owning a truck. Plenty of leaves, twigs and grass bagged on the side of the road for pick up. We scored 5 full dump loads of mulch (delivered) when the trimming crews were in town clearing power lines. At any time I can pick up a truck bed load at of the same from a city municipality.many coffee shops will give you a trash bag full of grounds.

I'm repairing erosion on my land. I have added 2' in some areas.

 
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