Monday, November 21, 2022

All bark and no bite

For two years in a row, as you recall, I foolishly tried growing garlic in a water tank I thought was filled with dirt and topped with bark. It turns out the tank was completely filled with bark.

Not a great growing medium for garlic (or anything, for that matter), and I was disgusted with my rookie mistake.

So as part of our general fall cleanup before that seven-inch snow whomp, I wanted to get rid of the bark, both the stuff in the water tank and the collected bark from two years' worth of splitting firewood. That pile of bark was "disturbing my wa," as we like to say.

So I pitched all the bark from the pile into our little 4x8 trailer and prepared to take it to the county's organic refuse dump. It filled the trailer to the absolute brim.

In fact, the trailer was so full, there was no room for the bark contents of the old water tank, so I figured I'd pitch it into the back of the pickup and bring the double load to the dump.

But then a funny thing happened. The bark in the water tank was several years old (we don't know how old exactly), and it was in the process of breaking down into beautiful mulch. So, rather than get rid of it, I pitched it into the wheelbarrow and dumped it onto the compost pile. Next spring, it will mix beautifully when we install our garden beds.

A few days passed, and I didn't get around to taking the trailer-full of bark to the dump. But in pointing out the older semi-decomposed material, Don and I decided not to get rid of the bark after all. Why not give it the same opportunity to break down into compost several years down the line? Waste not, want not.

So we assembled a quick cage made of field fencing...

...and pulled the trailer alongside it. I started pitching.

Within half an hour, the cage was full.

And there it will sit for the next several years. We're not in any hurry for it to break down. In fact, it's the first of what we hope will be an extensive composting system as we develop the property into a workable homestead.

As far as we're concerned, waste management should be on everyone's radar in the days ahead. Composting bark is just one aspect of that goal.


  1. Lots folks are bottom filling their raised bed with this sort of thing, and also limbs from storm debris. Then they top it with soil, then whatever they're growing. The roots of the plants get nutrients from the decomposing wood beneath and help it break it down as well. I think Scandinavians did this sort of thing in rows. It has a name which I can't spell without looking it up.
    Good for you!
    Another time/resource saver!

  2. Replies
    1. And it works very well in my NH raised beds. Saves me a lot of topsoil and I find the sponge effect of that decaying wood helps my raised beds last better between often far apart rain or my irrigation.

      Main issue is about every 2-3 years it decays enough that I use a tarp and empty my raised beds to replace that h├╝gelkultur wood.

      A thought to speed the raw bark to mulch process. Shred it, I use a lawnmower on smaller bits. And use urine as nitrogen-moisture supply. I've put shredded bark under rabbit cages for smell control and got awesome mulch.

  3. So glad to see you are NOT getting rid of that bark! We love bark for compost, tho' we have a chipper and if we have time, we will run it through the chipper just to break it down faster. We layer bark with grass clippings when the grass is available.

    Totally agree with Anon at 2:41 pm for filling the bottom of raised beds. Maybe you should try adding 8-10 inches of good compost on top of the bark in that water tank and try the garlic there again.

  4. I wondered as I read why you would get rid of good bark! Glad to see you are keeping it.

  5. I burn mostly hardwood but I also burn pine: the bark of both sometimes separates and I've found that the bark slabs burn extremely well. If I have a fire that's not drawing well, a few pieces of bark will get it roaring fast.

    That said, they would probably also do well buried in a garden bed or composted, too.

  6. Patrice, I have to admit I am salivating just a bit at the thought of what that mulch will become. And yes - disposal of anything (or re-use!) will have to become more and more of a thing in the days ahead.

  7. Whew! Good save! That stuff is GOLD for improving soil. Tree parts (leaves, bark, wood) have a lot of minerals that green manures don't have. I literally run down tree service trucks and beg them to dump their loads of chipped material in my yard. Even though we have an old forest and Troy-Bilts biggest chipper/shredder, and hubby rakes up and chips/shreds the leaves and debris from the roads and paths through the woods, never have half as much as I could use!
    To get the most out of that material - and all other compostable material - dont pile it in the tall grass and weeds outside the growing area. Pile it on a fallow garden bed or pile it where you will be adding a bed (or garden) in the future. As it breaks down and it rains and snows, the "good stuff" contained in it will leach down through the pile. Makes a lot more sense to have it enriching a growing area than grass and weeds. And in a tended garden area, easier to keep weeds and grass from invading the good stuff and using up the nutrients. Plus, it saves work...why cart it over there and dump it, then later move it to the garden? And while it is piled on the growing area, it acts as a mulch to keep weed growth down and moisture in.

  8. Aaargh! Like the other people, I was doing the internal scream "Noooooooooo!" when you were talking about hauling away the bark. Yes, it does take awhile to break down but when it does, it is wonderful stuff. I also gather any rotting logs that I find to put in the garden. Fantastic stuff.

  9. Oh, I have those field-fence bins, too, lined with weed barrier for composting. At the bottom goes limbs and logs of various sizes, broken or sawn to fit the space. In the middle goes chicken manure mixed with leaves to compost. At the top, leaf mold from last year's compost. Then I plant stuff in it. Last year I tried potatoes that are a bust in our heavy soil. We had a great crop...for a little while. Then last year's potatoes got eaten by tunneling rodents. This year, hardware cloth lining!