Today is the spring equinox! This might be my favourite day of the year. I am such a sun-lover that today means I have 6 months to look forward to more light than dark. Also, here in the North West, we often have wonderful summers and falls to look forward to. Springs are hit-and-miss. We can hit 30 celsius by May, but we can also have convection-related flurries, low temperatures and weeks of rain. But, at this point there is no stopping the growth in the garden…which means:
Picture is looking north back to my shed and house.
Time to get ridof those Himalayan Black Berries! Don’t get me wrong, the berry is delicious; so much so, that by late July I often get tricked into thinking I want them in my yard. But, I do not. This week I am particularly cut-up from dragging the runners, and falling the canes that stretch into the canopy. Even through my new Car-harts, I felt a couple tugs on my skin and I tried to navigate through the tangles.
Other than a few stands of snow berry, ivy, rose, or black berry, most of the yard is knocked down. I can now get a real sense of the contours of the property and see how my garden plan works with it. So far, I have noticed no interference except for the remaining trees and stumps….of which I haven’t quite decided their fate.
I actually had a hard time dropping the trees and seeing the bare yard. While I have no doubt that I want it cleared, it is hard messing with a little section of nature, and erasing a part of my childhood (as the yard is roughly the same as it was then.) Furthermore I twice felt entirely overwhelmed. Once, when starting out in the morning and realizing how much work it was going to be. Secondly, when I had created a third pile of debris I suddenly realized I was going to have an incredibly hard time getting rid of it all. It is of this last topic I wish to discuss.
My plan has been to not burn any garden waste. There are two reasons for this:
1. Left to decompose, it makes incredible compost: In a long-established organic garden (or in this case, naturalized plant material) there is far more benefits in the decomposition than just Nitrogen and Carbon. True compost is made up of so much bacteria, fungi, and invertebrates that provide additional benefits. For example, worm castings, make the nutrients more easily taken up by plants: some bacteria release a type of acid that helps break rock material into the minerals needed in plant uptake: bacteria also create antibiotics (as a defence against other bacteria), some of these are taken up into plant material, and can protect the plants. So much of this is lost if you simply burn it.
2. It is an unnecessary release of carbon into the atmosphere: It can take a compost heap a few months to break down into the optimum Nitrogen availability. It can take a buried branch or stump several decades to fully decompose. In the case of the stump, you are truly locking that carbon into your soil. It also becomes spongy, which retains water for deep rooted plants. In fact, here on the south coast of BC, it is the decomposing logs that is the only thing keeping many plants alive during the long, dry summers. As for a compost pile, while it breaks down quickly, so much of the carbon goes up the food chain. By the time you apply it to your garden because it has decomposed, the aforementioned other life-forms have multiplied, moved, and been eaten by something else, thus directing carbon into the life-cycle, as opposed to the atmosphere.
However, burning does have some advantages: The ash and phosphorus left behind is also essential in a garden (spread-out, anyways). Also, the larger dimensioned branches will take so long to decompose that they will take up too much space in the meantime. And burying them deep also means cutting them into smaller pieces. I also need to consider that much of it needs to be chipped in order to compost efficiently. The fuel needed to run the chipper could offset my hopeful carbon sequestering anyways.
Picture looking west at the far end of the property.
So, I will likely do this: Try two very large compost piles. One with small debris, and one with the large. With the small one, I will likely mix it with some of the dirt and try to compact it as I go. I will also need to control weeds in and around it. In the big pile, I will cut some and bury it in the beds along the fence. Some others I will pile with rocks and create a “bug habitat,” which I doubt will do more than harbour weeds and enormous spiders (but worth a try). It will all be unsightly and annoying, but I never planned on having a pristine yard anytime soon.
A small chipper is potentially something I will need to buy. Ultimately I will want to compost all of my seasonal garden waste and I imagine things like corn and sunflower stalks or the unusually strong tomato branches will require some mechanical processing before they join the fallen leaves and dropped fruit.
The neighbour is happy that I have invited so much sunlight to his garden and chicken coup (in the shed). We certainly want to grow a bit of privacy.
Again, I am torn between the blank canvas, and getting my fingers in the soil. But, this equinox and the stellar weather we’ve been having has gotten me and my family outdoors more, and made me lean towards getting some raised boxes going. I also received an apple tree for my birthday, so it along with a fig and some other plants formerly on my urban balcony need a home sooner than later. If I get the boxes going, you can expect a very enthusiastic next entry!
Bye for now.
Here is my happy (and growing) family. We walked down to the beach on my birthday. It was beautiful.