Compost Juniper

bob64(6)October 16, 2007

I am trying to break down a large amount of wood from juniper shrubs that, even after years, seems to be resisting decay much more so than other types of wood we have present. As an experiment, I put some of it in two different holes that are about 2 feet deep and 3 feet wide (I need to fill the holes in anyway), threw on some old nitrogen fertilizer and topped with some green vines and weeds I just pulled. The piles are loosely stacked so a fair amount of air should still be getting in. The piles are near the edge of the woods and get maybe a few hours of direct sun and otherwise are in light that is filtered by the forest canopy. Other juniper clippings are still scattered in the woods where they were illegally dumped and are also resisting decay but are in bits too numerous and small to bother picking up.

Any thoughts on whether my experiment will speed things up or what to do to speed things up would be appreciated.

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david52 Zone 6

Although you probably have a different species of Juniper than we have here in the "Pinion Juniper Forest", I believe one characteristic of the genus is its ability to resist rot and decay. Here, they use the wood as fence posts, and I have some that are at least 60 years old. They often outlast chemically treated pine fence posts. I also use the bark as a mulch since it takes forever to break down.

To break down the chips and bark, mix it up with all kinds of other compostable material - even still, it may well take a few years. I also have heaped up the branches, let them dry out completely, then stomped on the dry stuff to get the dried greenery off the twigs. The left over, larger sticks get burned in my wood stove. Makes a quick, hot fire for cold mornings that will warm in the day, like now.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2007 at 12:33PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

If you are talking about Juniperus virginiana, you know now why the common name is eastern red cedar. Though not a true cedar, its wood will behave like it (resist rot). Like any other organic material, though, it will break down eventually and the more idylic the composting evironment the better. What kind of "old nitrogen fertilizer" was it? The reason I ask is because synthetic ferts contain salts which don't help the bio bugs. Yes, its better than no nitrogen but not the best choice.


    Bookmark   October 17, 2007 at 12:03AM
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The fertilizer was lawn fertilizer that was at least a few years old that I inherited from ma and pa. Other than that, I can't give exact N-P-K numbers because the bag was too messed up to read that part. I am not sure of the juniper species but they are a very common landscaping shrub around here (suburban, NY). You are certainly right that the wood resists rot, some of it is several years old and still is not mushy at all - no noticeable fungi or insect holes either. Other types of wood in the area succumb to decay much quicker. One time about two years ago I tried yeast and sugar water to try and speed things up but with no noticeable effect.

Thanks for the info.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2007 at 10:37AM
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I've had eastern RC chopped very fine(1/4") for a year, mixed with cattle manure and lots of grass greens. About a 1-2 c/n ratio. It hasn't composted very much in that time. Funny though, If I was to use them for fence posts they don't last that long.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2007 at 3:16PM
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I've had very good luck composting such woods in my worm bin. The juniper we have here will stay on the ground in the woods for years, and still be quite sturdy, but in the moist, microbiologically active worm bin, the twigs, small branches and leaves decompose in a few months to a year. I don't shred them, but try to keep the length under a few inches when I put them in. I believe a key element of my worm bin activity is that I use nitrogen fertilizer over my very heavy carbon inputs (lots of paper, wood twigs, etc.). Like some commercial worm operations I've seen, I use urea (46-0-0) pellets in the bin, about 5 ounces/cubic foot of material when I put the materials in. The added nitrogen really gets things rotting.

On a related note, why not just leave the juniper cuttings on the forest floor? The only ones I remove are from trees I need to cut, and remove the debris. I would think the cuttings on the forest floor will add to the natural floor, and eventually rot without you having to worry about anything. The extra organic material input can help the soil, and naturally recycle the material.


    Bookmark   October 18, 2007 at 6:04AM
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Thanks for the info Renais.
The reason I don't just leave it on the forest floor is that the juniper clippings are numerous and were illegally dumped on us. The forest and the adjacent wetlands have a limit to how much matter they can absorb without becoming a de facto green waste landfill. This is one of those rare instances of too much organic matter.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2007 at 10:22AM
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