Apr 112010
What to do with pine cones and needles, twigs, acorns, glossy leaves and nut shells.

A common approach to slow-to-compost materials (like pine cones) is the use of a separate compost bin. Throw slow-to-compost items into the slow-compost bin to create a cold compost pile.

Pine cones and needles, nut shells, twigs, acorns, and glossy leaves are among the materials that can be composted in a home pile, but which take a long time to decompose.  There is no harm in including these items in a hot batch pile, but they may not be completely decomposed at the end of the hot batch period.  They can be sifted from the finished compost and added to the next batch pile.

Separate Slow-Compost Bin

Some people would prefer not to have to sift these slow-to-decompose pieces from their compost.  A common approach to composting these materials is the use of a separate composting bin.  Throw slow-to-compost items into the slow-compost bin to create a cold compost pile.  (I have a separate bin for twigs and small branches so I always have old, dry kindling materials for the fireplace.  When the weather warms up, I occasionally water the cold pile to encourage decay.)

As materials begin to decompose over time, they can be added to the regular compost pile as carbons.

Crunch and Mulch

Slow-to-decompose materials usually make great mulch.  Twigs and small branches can be chipped or shredded; pine cones and acorns can be stomped into smaller bits or used as is.  Sometimes the resulting pieces don’t look so attractive, but they can be the bottom inch or two of mulch, topped with whatever you usually use.

I once saw a gorgeous pile of mulch for sale by the yard at a Sand and Soil retailer.  As I got close enough to see the individual pieces I was surprised to find it consisted entirely of pecan shell pieces.  An employee told me it was their best-selling mulch and was so popular they could hardly keep it in stock!

Include pine needles still on limb and other tree branches in your cold compost pile.

Using pine needles still on the limb in outdoor compost piles helps keep loose leaves from blowing away.

Pine needles still on the limb create pretty mulch also.  I like to use pine limbs cut from discarded Christmas trees over leaf mulch.  The pine keeps leaves from blowing off later in March winds.

First, lay a few inches of shredded leaves in the bed, then cover it with pine limbs.  Position each row of limbs so that the “V” of the offshoots are going in the same direction, and overlap them for fullness.  At the end of the row, put a few limbs going the opposite direction to cover the last bare stump, then hide the stump of those limbs by tucking it underneath needles.

Mary Tynes, Master Composter, www.mastercomposter.com

Image Credit (top left): http://www.flickr.com/photos/meddygarnet/4451950687/

Image Credit (bottom right): http://www.flickr.com/photos/cwsteeds/101553109/

  2 Responses to “Slow-to-Compost Inputs”

  1. I would like to know if pine cones and pine needles need to be raked and removed from under a pine tree. Or can we just leave them as they fall naturally?

  2. My pine trees have produced a banner crop of pine cones. I want to crunch them up and add to my compost pile. How can I crunch them up? Can I also put them into a wire bin where I place leaves to over winter and decompose?

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