Managing Green Waste
Having just been told that the tidy tips are now closed due to the Coronavirus outbreak, and not knowing if the kerbside collections will be able to continue, there is a question of what we do with our green waste.
Here are some hints and tips for how to manage your garden with this question in mind.
Compost your waste to make new stuff
Home composting is much more sustainable in any case than having your waste collected and processed as it reduces the fuel used for transport. But if you haven’t yet ventured into the world of composting, here’s what you could do:
• Make a compost bin out of old pallets or timber, making sure you include a removable front to access the material. Alternatively, any large container will do as long as it is open at the base.
• Buy a compost bin if you still can. Central Bedfordshire Council offer deals on composting bins so check their website for details. Even if you can’t get one now it is a good investment for the future.
• If you can’t do the above, just pile it up in a suitable space in your garden making sure to only include a good mix of suitable material.
Here’s what to put in:
Soft waste: Plant stems, grass clippings, annual weeds, vegetable peelings, loose tea, coffee grinds.
Woody waste: Chipped woody waste, scrunched up newspaper or waste paper, toilet roll inners, small pieces of torn up cardboard, shredded paper (not heavily printed or glossy though)
Don’t put in:
Cooked food, meat, cat litter, perennial weeds (see below), large pieces of wood, and plant material including grass which has had chemicals applied to it.
You need to make sure there is a good mix of high carbon items (stiff stems and woody material) and high nitrogen items (lawn clippings, soft prunings) as the organisms that break them down need both to survive.
If you have kids at home, why not take the time to learn more about home composting and make it a home-schooling topic. It really is a wonder to see plant material turn into crumbly rich soil.
Reducing the amount of material created in the first place
Our green waste generally consists of lawn mowings, weeds, prunings and unwanted plants, so lets start with the lawn:
Leave it long!
• Firstly, why not leave all or part of your lawn to grow long? Perhaps the end of your garden? Or mow an edge so that you can reach your borders but leave the central area long? This is great for wildlife, looks fantastic, and saves you time. You can mow a path through it so that you can walk through and enjoy it. You never know, you might even get some wildlflowers appearing.
For areas you do want or need to mow regularly, the mowings could be scattered thinly back on the lawn or onto borders (or just leave the grass box off) or could go on the compost heap as long as you add layers of other material as well, as grass-only heaps will not decompose well. If you do spread the lawn clippings rather than compost them make sure you take off no more than 1cm and only do it in dry conditions. Mowings make a good mulch for leafy veg and can be used to earth up potatoes. If you don’t have veg, just spread it thinly under shrubs -no more than about 10cm deep – deeper than this and you will find yourself with a smelly soggy mess.
Hoe, Hoe hoe!
• A weed is only a plant in a place you do not want it, and in many cases they are great for pollinating insects. In ornamental borders it is wise to weed regularly. If you use a sharp hoe regularly when the weeds are tiny, ideally no more than 1 cm, then you will create much less waste than if you leave it until they grow tall. If done on a dry sunny day you can even leave them on the surface to die after hoeing, but annual weeds can also go on the compost heap.
If you dig out the tougher perennial weeds these need to destroyed before putting in your compost bin. One method to do this is to put them in a bucket of water, pour water in and hold it all down with a brick. Cover and leave for 4 weeks. The resulting liquid can be poured off and used in the border as a plant feed and the dead weeds can be put on the compost heap. If you can’t dig them out, just remove the leaves completely on a regular basis, the plants will run out of energy and eventually die. As long as it is only leaves, and not roots or flowers these can go in the compost bin.
Most importantly, please try not to use weedkiller. There is debate over whether glyphosate-based weedkillers such as Roundup are cancer-causing and there is evidence that it harms to local wildlife (as do pesticides, so avoid those also).
In wilder areas of your garden why not let the weeds flower to provide a feast for the pollinating insects. To name a few, dandelions are great for insects, nettles are essential as a food plant for the larvae of several butterflies and brambles are loved by bees, but many other weeds are also good.
• Prunings of herbaceous plants can go in the compost bin, as can light shrub prunings. It is good to cut them up before you put them in as it will speed up the process.
For larger stems, stack them into a spare corner of your garden to make a log pile. This will be a haven for all sorts of insects with bees, beetles and other invertebrates making a home there.
Alternatively, you could chip woody stems and put them on the compost heap or use as a mulch or to create a bark path.
• Unwanted plants – first is it really unwanted? If we are talking shrubs here, could it be renovated? Many shrubs will regenerate from the old wood if cut down, although some are happier if this is done in stages and a few won’t like it at all.
If perennial plants have outgrown their space and you need to remove some, why not ask your neighbours if they would like some before disposing of it (do warn them though if it is a very vigorous plant- and maintain your social distances.)
…throw your green waste into the countryside, whether that be over your fence or otherwise! You may think it is just plant material and will rot down, but it could spread pernicious weeds, pests and diseases, and ornamental plants into the countryside where they don’t belong and negatively affect the already fragile natural ecosystems.