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how fast will sticks Compost?

 
T. Pierce
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Location: Virginia
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ive never heard of putting sticks and branches in a compost pile till coming to this site.  my question is, how fast will these break down if i throw them in the compost pile now?  im planning on emptying the compost every year.  will i be sorting out sticks and such while i try to get out the decomposed compost?  im talking about just usin 1/4" to 1/2" size sticks, twigs, branches.
 
John Polk
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The smaller the particle size, the quicker it will break down.
 
T. Pierce
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Location: Virginia
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how quick?  in a yrs time will they be gone?
 
John Polk
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It will depend on what kind of wood it is, and whether it is still greenish, or dried.  In a good, hot, active pile, ¼" to ½" material will break down fairly quickly.  Even if it is only half decomposed, it will continue to decompose once you incorporate it into your soil (though, at a cost to your available nitrogen).  If I had a lot of twigs to compost, I would mix them 50/50 with some good greens in a separate pile.  Or, better yet, convert them into biochar.
 
T. Pierce
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please explain/define biochar for me.
 
Paul Cereghino
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I make brush piles in sites where I want to plant a tree in the future.  I recklessly mix anything mostly smaller than1/2 inch with any organic junk, clippings, pasture cuttings, etc.  After one year (in a cool humid climate) with no supplemental nutrients or water, and a couple good stompings to increase humidity in the pile, and a couple good urinations, material is punky and 25% decomposed, and soil underneath is enriched with frass and in good tilth.  The remaining pile then becomes surface mulch for the new planting and I don't have to till in sod.  One might choose to call it 'decomposition' rather than 'composting' -- but a rose by any other name smells as sweet.
 
John Polk
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Here is an introduction to bio char.
It will hold much more nutrients in the soil than compost.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bio-char
 
T. Pierce
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Location: Virginia
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interesting.  thankyou.  so to compensate for the potential nitrogen deficiency with using this biochar....a layer of nitrogen rich manure would help.  or perhaps tilling in green compost if one would want to use this method of composting
 
Jack Shawburn
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Rabbit, if you leave the "sticks" in then use the compost as mulch the
larger "half decayed" pieces will make good mulch.
If you need finer compost then just sift out what you need.
The bigger pieces are also good fungal feed when used as mulch.
I used to sift all but just do it for seedling mix now.
 
duane hennon
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Paul said

"I make brush piles in sites where I want to plant a tree in the future."


I use the same technique for trees and starting food forest beds. it also helps to get the fungi/bacteria switched over to forest species from grassland, especially if it is placed on a lawn

I started calling it "modified hugelkultur" since that has a more scientific ring to it than "brushpile growing"
your neighbor may complain about an unsightly brushpile, but what can he say about "modified hugelkultur?"
 
T. Pierce
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Location: Virginia
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thanks for the replys.  i like the idea of brushpiles a yr before planting.

its made my lil mind start to whirl.......could the same concept be used for raised beds?  after bed construction.  place a layer of twigs/sticks then a layer of manure.  then topsoil.  has anyone tried this?  how would this work out?
 
T. Pierce
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Location: Virginia
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Jen0454 wrote:
Rabbit, if you leave the "sticks" in then use the compost as mulch the
larger "half decayed" pieces will make good mulch.
If you need finer compost then just sift out what you need.
The bigger pieces are also good fungal feed when used as mulch.
I used to sift all but just do it for seedling mix now.


that makes too much sense.  thankyou. 

have you found that it only takes a yr to break smaller sticks and such down?  whats your experience?
 
Jack Shawburn
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Anything thicker than your finger will take longer to break down.
but they will be soft and fungus already moved in.
those pieces I like for mulch.
Made a brush pile once and put some spent mushroom media in the middle
and some green clippings over the outside but so that it still could breathe
got the best compost from it.
I also put mulch in a large circle around my bigger trees and some logs directly on the ground at the edge of this circle to keep the mulch in.
most the times the logs sprout fungus and mushrooms.
 
Paul Cereghino
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I have looked around and have not found much good information about exactly what goes on with 'nitrogen deficit' when you add wood to a soil system.  Most of the science appear to be focussed on just tilling in carbon material, not creating strategic pockets of carbon.  Here are my working hypotheses:

1. the bacterial robing of nitrogen from the soil solution happens at the surface of wood, and eventually the surface is so encrusted with bacterial-based communities that they no longer actively drain nitrogen.  So there is a initial period of intensive nitrogen drain near the surface of a wood particle, but the effect lessens over time.

2. The interior of wood particles is consumed by fungi.  The fungi can operate with lower N levels and it is really unclear what the fungi are doing with N in relation to their wood eating habits.

3. plant roots forage, and so the more heterogeneous the soil the more likely plants will find a nitrogen rich site.  Roots can forage for water one place, and nutrients another place, but need water to get nutrients.

4.  Nitrogen 'stolen' to begin surface decomposition of carbon rich material is released later as bacterial bodies decompose or are eaten by nematodes and protozoans, so the problem becomes the solution with time.

I met a guy who would pound alder stakes into the ground to improve soil structure--vertical fractures, no digging, patchy introduction of carbon, lots of depth for air and water penetration.

Lots of talk on this issue.  Not a lot of science.
 
Jan Sebastian Dunkelheit
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Location: Germany/Cologne - Finland/Savonlinna
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I use my electric chopper for twigs and small sized branches. When I have a lot of them I just cover a small area with the chopped material and water the small mound with urine and water. I love how they turn the soil black in one year. The undecomposed material is raked up and thrown in the compost then.

 
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