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This Spring, I pruned all my shrubs and pulled out a few pine stumps. My first thought was just to pile them all up on their own. I have never had good luck trying to compost such material with the rest of my compost. But I'm concerned that these heavy materials will take years to compost all by themselves. What can I do to speed up the decomposition of such materials?

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Time to get a'chipping. – Michael Todd Jun 23 '11 at 22:55
I really don't have the money to rent or buy a chipper nor do I know someone who could lend me one. Good thought tho – Fatmuemoo Jun 23 '11 at 23:16
You need to make big bits into little bits. It'd be a pain, but an axe might work as well. Give you something to to do over the weekend when nothing else is going on. – Michael Todd Jun 23 '11 at 23:26
up vote 20 down vote accepted

That is very woody material. Wood takes time to compost - probably years for your stuff. You need to do two things: break it into small pieces, and mix it with other material.

The shrubbery cuttings might be choppable by hand - but it could take time. That isn't practical for a tree. You really do need to rent a chipper. And if this is a regular occurrence, then you'll want to eventually buy one (rent one first so you don't over-buy or under-buy).

As for mixing stuff: I would mix with grass clippings (and start collecting them if you currently use a mulching mower) and kitchen waste (vegetable peelings, coffee, etc). You want to get a good mix. For a large heap, most people do this by layering.

An alternative would be hugelkultur. I'd never heard of it until it came up in a question on this site last week. This is a form of slow in-situ composting. Basically you put the wood in the base of your beds and it decomposes over years, slowly releasing nutrients. Never tried it but if renting a chipper really isn't an option, then this is probably the only alternative (other than giving it to your local city's trash/tip services).

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I looked up huglekutluer. I'm going to try this! Thanks for the tip – Fatmuemoo Jun 23 '11 at 23:47

I also agree with the Hugelkulture beds mentioned above. You can just place all the branches and logs in a pile or several piles and put everything that you want to compost over top of them and then cover with either soil or invertred sod and mulch.

If you cover with soil you can plant in it right away. I have made several hugel beds in my gardens and they have all done wonderfully. As the wood rots it feeds the soil and holds moisture.

These can be done as raised beds, or dug into the soil

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I'd second the hugelkultur idea. I made a couple of raised beds using nothing but branches and a few logs, buried with about 6 inches of soil...The peppers and eggplants that grew out of that bed were possibly the best I've ever had.

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