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Recycling Autumn

I’m sure we’ve written about Autumn before on these pages but this is about a particular series of thoughts I’ve had at the beginning of this Autumn (2016). I thought we had managed our garden, which is fairly long, in such a way that the old fashioned Autumn cleanup was largely a thing of the past. Not so! Despite there having been a lack of rain here for the last couple of months’, stuff has grown. We named these pages ‘Growing Stuff’ and this year stuff has grown! I can remember years back having massive bonfires at this time of the year as we tidied up an untidy garden but we have so managed things that I have given up having bonfires and have relied more on ‘the yellow (green?) bin’.

Hedges, bushes and shrubs seem to have particularly run amok this year which is all very well but when they start cutting out light from the garden you realise you need to do something about it! Also being nature fans we have allowed half a dozen buddleias to grow to encourage the butterflies (it’s been a bad year for butterflies but not bad for bees). The only problem is that they grow wildly and then seed wildly and you have to really prune them back before the seeds spread everywhere.  I start with pruning these back and easily filled the bin. Having several old bins or barrels around the place, I promptly filled them, working on the basis that I would transfer stuff each week from these to the Council’s bin. The only problem was that I was carrying on clearing up all the time and was now resorting to heaps of cuttings all over the place. It was when the Council bin was full, three other barrels were full and there were now two large heaps of cuttings that I began to realise that we needed a fresh approach. Recycling came to stay!

We have four compost bins so the obvious thought was more stuff needed to go on the compost heaps. Now the RHS website advises the following balance for your compost bin:

Aim for between 25 and 50 percent soft green materials (e.g. grass clippings, annual weeds, vegetable kitchen waste, or manure) to feed the micro-organisms

The remainder should be woody brown material (e.g. prunings, wood chippings, paper, cardboard, straw or dead leaves)

That is reassuring because my answer to all these bins, barrels and heaps was to mulch the contents using an old Flymo which I rarely use because the bearings are obviously going and it makes such a noise – but it is good for slicing cuttings etc. to pieces. The end result is well chopped material – EXCEPT it won’t handle thick stems of bush or shrub branches. Some of the tree trimming had meant that I not only had finger thickness bits to get rid of (using secateurs) but there were also a number of much thicker branches that need to be converted into logs.

Initially I was going to simply put the mulched cutting on the compost heap, the logs down the garden to dry out, and then the rest of the thick stems in the green bin – which I completely filled. Now this summer when some of the grandchildren have been around we have cooked sausages on a chimera we have at the bottom of the garden and I thought, “Good supply of logs for that for next summer, but why don’t I keep all the thicker twigs and stems and let them dry out over the winter?”  Putting them in old plastic bags out of sight at the bottom of the garden, not tied up but open for them to ventilate, pointing towards the fence so rain hardly gets in, means that next summer we have this excellent supply of kindling that has dried out, to start the chimera off each time. When we ran out of bags, we just made a medium size heap of the rest. Nature watchers will recognize the manufacture of homes for bugs, insects and small animals that will sit there for the next six to nine months providing protection for them throughout winter and spring.

The total result of this has meant a good pile of logs, a number of bags and a heap of potential kindling, and a two-foot cube compost bin filled to the brim. That of course will need turning and mixing with other materials to stop it going mushy and horrible but it’s a good start. I did worry that all the leaves would create an acid result and need lime adding but the RHS happily says, “People sometimes think you need to add lime to the compost heap, but there is no need to do so.” Excellent! (If you want more on using leaves try https://www.planetnatural.com/leaf-mold/)

Now we also tend to grow various ornamental grasses in our garden and some of them die off in the Autumn and then shoot again in the spring. If you have read the other articles in this series, you’ll know that we are the proud possessors of some massive dahlias which, come autumn, get cut right down to the ground. A friend in the know counselled, don’t dig them up for winter but just protect them, so last autumn we took the ornamental grass cuttings and used them to cover the ground where the dahlias reside.  Well it dropped to minus four here last winter a number of times, and these plants, about six or seven foot high, are as prolific as ever. It’s too early at the moment to cut the grasses down, but later on they will form protective mats again for our underground wintering plants. They’re a bit unsightly but they do the job and in the spring we collect the remains and they end up on one of the compost heaps. Recycling, it is a wonderful thing. Oh yes, the other thing – this week for the first time in I can’t remember how long, our green bin won’t be going out. Everything has been completely recycled.  

Have I completely given up on the green bin? Definitely not! When the tomato plants die off and need pulling up, they go in the green bin. The theory that a hot compost heap will even destroy tomato seeds doesn’t seem to work for me so rather than have tomatoes popping up all over the place, they are going to the Council so their more sophisticated systems can deal with them – and the buddleia seed cuttings, I don’t trust them either!