The Coronavirus Veg Garden: What to do with all that garden waste?

By Sally Nex

When you’re on extended gardening leave, what better to do than…. garden!

We’re all making the best of the shutdown and getting stuck in starting new veg patches, raising seeds, planting potatoes, digging new asparagus beds and generally having a wonderfully creative and productive time of it outdoors.

The seed merchants can’t keep up with new orders, there’s a run on compost and I have a record number of students signed up for my Self Sufficient Veg Gardening course. Now all we need is for the garden centres to reopen and we’re all set for a bumper year.

Compost heap
Compost heap

You don’t have to garden for long, though, before you build up a heap of green waste: that catch-all phrase for the weeds you hoicked out of that neglected border, the turf you peeled off the lawn to make way for the new veg bed, the overgrown hedge you cut back and the spent stems from last year which – at last! – you’ve now got around to snipping back.

Before, we’d just have loaded it all into the car and taken it off down the tip.

But now what? The tips are closed due to the lockdown, and in any case we’re not supposed to go anywhere that’s not absolutely necessary. Yet the heap grows higher every day….

Fear not. Here’s my guide to getting rid of your green waste without once setting foot outside the garden, or lighting a pollution-laden bonfire. It’s the environmentally friendly way to dispose of garden waste: zero-emissions, wildlife-friendly and good for your garden, too. In fact these days I see my “waste” as garden treasure – a precious resource to be hoarded and put to very good use.

Spent crops, even if they’ve bolted (like this American land cress) make great compost
Spent crops, even if they’ve bolted (like this American land cress) make great compost

1: Build a compost bin

I love my compost bins. I have three: one full of well-rotted compost to use, one that’s rotting down, and one I’m filling. I made mine from 1.2m long planks nailed to wooden uprights with a 1cm gap between the boards; you could just as easily nail four pallets together. Full instructions here: growveg.co.uk/guides/how-to-make-a-compost-bins-from-pallets/

2: Compost anything green

Absolutely any of your garden waste that is green can go on the compost heap. Annual weeds (before flowering), top growth of perennial weeds like bindweed and nettles, and spent crops (even the diseased ones: most fungal leaf diseases, including blight, won’t survive composting).

Annual weeds (this one’s chickweed) can go on, but catch them before they set seed
Annual weeds (this one’s chickweed) can go on, but catch them before they set seed

3: Chop up your browns

Now for the ‘browns’ – woody material like spent artichoke stems, old asparagus stalks, and thick stems from spent Brussels sprouts plants. These rot slowly – ideally, you want a 50:50 mix between these and your fast-rotting greens for good compost. Bash them with a hammer and cut them up small with secateurs or loppers to help them break down.

Even bindweed roots can go on the heap if you dry them first
Even bindweed roots can go on the heap if you dry them first

4: Dry your nasties, then compost them too

Ah, you say: but what about all those nasty white bindweed roots I dug out yesterday? They’ll resprout if you add them to a compost heap – so dry them out and kill them first. Lay perennial weed roots in the sun in a greenhouse or on a windowsill indoors. In two or three weeks, once completely dessicated – they should snap easily - they’re dead, and perfectly safe to add to your compost.

5: Pile up your turf

If you’ve taken up part of the lawn to start your new veg garden, the turf won’t make great compost, but it will make a great turf stack. Turn your turves grass side down and make a pile, staggering each layer like bricks in a wall to keep it stable. Cover with cardboard and leave to rot. In a year you’ll have lovely fine, rich topsoil to use on the garden or in home-made potting composts – and for free!

These pruned branches can feed the fedge – and provide a habitat for the local wildlife
These pruned branches can feed the fedge – and provide a habitat for the local wildlife

5: Make a fedge

The most challenging green waste items to deal with ‘in-house’ are the really big, woody prunings – tree branches, dead bramble stems, old beanpoles and canes. They’re too thick to cut up for the compost heap; and you’d drive the neighbours nuts if you tried to shred it all. So stack it up in a corner and let it rot quietly, over years.

Drive a double row of 1.5m posts into the ground 60cm-1m apart each way. Then stack your woody garden waste between it. This is a ‘fedge’ – a cross between a fence and a hedge – and lasts indefinitely: just keep topping it up with new waste as the old breaks down. It’s a wonderful habitat for wildlife and gently returns all the goodness in your garden clippings back to the soil to feed your plants. Waste? What waste?

Sally Nex

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