Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tree disposal

When I talk about tree disposal, I'm really talking about consigning back to the ecology. This is not always an option when you have a monster of a tree and a small backyard - where it is possible though, look at how you can get the most out of your tree, by letting the nutrients decay on your property.

Pigeon peas

We had to remove 3 pigeon pea trees recently. The uncharacteristic wet weather in 2010 - 2011 had caused one to fall over. We could've gotten another few years out of these trees for their shade, nitrogen capturing ability and free mulch they drop with their leafs, but it was only a matter of time before they needed to go. They were, after all, approaching 4 years of age, when they tend to start deteriorating around 5 years.

We decided to use their remains to feed a new bed. It seemed fair, considering the trees spent their productive years, feeding and protecting the same patch of ground right underneath their canopy. A worthy legacy would be to build a new garden bed for a new generation of plants, right there. So one afternoon I set to work, breaking down the trees.


Rather than cut the whole tree down, I started by breaking off branches, and then snapping off the twigs. They were easily dropped where I was going to build the bed. No need for barrows or walking, they were snapped and dropped.


This is how easy is was to snap large branches with my bare hands. No need for pruners here, or a lot of muscle. I really enjoyed the slow movement of breaking the tree down without the need for tools. I did use garden gloves though. I wouldn't be able to do this with healthy trees and new shoots.


The trees even helped me break the larger branches into more manageable pieces. I used the body of another tree to brace the branch I wanted to snap. Because I wasn't rushing, I had the time to contemplate the easiest way to break the components up. This is why I prefer not to rush at a job with a machine, although machines have a useful place too. I did use an axe for the much larger pieces.


The thicker branches (in this case the trunks) were piled on top of the smaller twigs. All that was left to deal with, were the stubs and extensive root system underground.

Trunk stub

Rather than disturb the ground by pulling the roots, they were left to hold the ground together. As they slowly rot under the soil, a host of living organisms will turn them into humus (I love a good work crew) and fill in the cavities left behind. The next job was adding more to the bed...

Building up the bed

I had some limes on the tree that weren't going to be used, along with some lemons growing fungus on them. So I went around the yard, looking for fallen fruit and placed it on the bed - along with some grass nearby. Then it was time to bring in some machinery.

Mulching the bed

Dave chanced upon a garden chipper/mulcher at a garage sale in the area. It was made in Germany and was priced within our budget. Although we've always wanted a chipper, we couldn't afford brand new. I'm glad we waited. And it works a treat too! Leaves and branches went into the chipper and medium sized mulch came out.

It was just a simple matter of moving the chipper when an area was sufficiently covered. Ensuring a pleasant afternoon in the garden, didn't become a trip to the hospital either, I used the recommended safety-gear of ear, eye, foot and hand protection.

 Finished bed
~ trees consigned back to the ecology ~

This job of tree removal took 2 afternoons of work. It was very enjoyable work at that, listening to the birds, taking coffee breaks and having chats with family. Now it's time to wait though. This bed will rest until Spring (another few months) and then we'll plant it up again - adding a shovel of compost in the planting holes.

Now if I didn't have the chipper, I could've easily laid the leaves and branches on the bed and covered it with a bale of lucerne, straw or sugar cane mulch. It would take longer to break down, but it's food for the soil, so exercise a bit of patience. If yo can wait for a seed to sprout and grow into a tree, you can wait for a tree to decay and form a new garden.

Late 2008

Speaking of seeds - this is when I first planted the above pigeon pea trees in 2008. I knew I had a picture somewhere in my old posts, and found it here. I had fears they wouldn't survive. I wrote:

"My pigeon peas on the other hand, haven't been a great success. I've sewn 8 seeds in total, and so far only 4 have come up. Of those, only 2 plants have survived and one looks as if it's going to shrivel up soon. I've found better success planting direct, than planting in a seedling tray"

Worry not, Chris, for not only did they survive, they lived a productive life propagating seedlings naturally, and showing you the importance of patience *wink*! Nature is pretty good at growing stuff - I, on the other hand, still had a lot to learn.

Tree removal though, doesn't have to mean a bonfire or a trip to the tip. Some times, maybe? But it can also mean new life for new things to grow.  What I enjoyed most about this exercise, was realising how easy it was to conserve energy. I didn't have to use my pruners at all, I swung the axe very little, my barrow wheels were spared the burden of transport and the mulcher featured at the very end, was re-purposed from one local household, to our own.

The most energy used, was obtained from a seed, the sun, rain and the microbiology of the soil. That's why I love working with nature - if I let it, it will do most of the work. The biggest investment I had to make, was patience.


  1. Amazing tree to begin with. I don't believe we have pigeon peas here. Or we do but they are a bush bean of some kind I think.

    I am wondering if this soft of wood could deteriorate faster as well? Did you grow these trees just for mulch?

    I loved that you used the wood for mulching! We are getting further interested in huglekulture beds up here. It's just an easier more efficient way to expand our garden and compost tree trimmings. However, we could use mulch too. Wood gets reused here, whether as garden stakes, or to make garden beds or for fuel- we don't waste it. Garry just brought home a trailer of maple logs- the tree was knocked over in a recent storm on a friends property. I will ask for branches too because we could use some mulch;)

    Very glad you enjoyed this!

  2. Great job Chris!

    I had no idea they could grow into trees, I thought they only lasted a year or so. I'm going to put some more in this year as they are such good chook fodder.

  3. What an interesting read. Thanks for writing it.

  4. Hi Chris,just found you via Rhonda, looks like you have made some good progress, will have to read back and be inspired by your endevour so far.

  5. Hi LindaM, I reckon the pigeon peas would break down rather quickly, from what I've seen of the branches and leaves I've pruned and put under trees as mulch.

    So anything you can get a hold of for free, is food for your soil, so yeah - go for it! Get those branches if they're just going to the tip or getting burned. Huglekulture beds are perfect for your climate of freeze and thaw, I reckon. Throw all your autumn clippings/leaves, etc into a heaped bed and by a few weeks into spring, you'll have a nutrient bed for your new plants.

    It's cheap, it's brilliant and that's why I love it!. :)

  6. Hi greenfumb. You're right, excellent chock fodder full of protein. When my chooks use to free range more, they always found themselves under a pigeon pea, lol.

    Pigeon peas can get pretty big if you let them - about 3 to 4 metres high. I've seen people cut them back severely to make a hedge. The only problem I've found with these trees is they hide grasshoppers exceptionally well. The birds don't see them, especially if the foliage is really dense. I have one particular pigeon pea located near two fruit trees, and their leaves get stripped bare every growing season.

    I'm taking out that one too, so the fruit trees get a chance to keep their leaves, lol

  7. Hi, notjustgreenfingers and Margaret. Thank you for visiting and for commenting. I appreciate I was recommended by Rhonda for reading while she's away. I'm very touched.

    As time permits me, I'm running low today, I will pop by your blogs for a visit soon. :)

  8. Hi Chris, found your blog via Down to Earth, what a great post regarding Pigeon Peas, I too live in the Lockyer Valley and have lots of trees must go and have a look to see if we have Pigeon Peas to be honest I,ve never heard of these before anyhow I,m going to have a good read of your blog and its great to see someone posting from our beautiful valley,regards Lynne

  9. Hi Lynne - happy to meet another Lockyer Vallian. ;)

    The pigeon pea originates from India, but used in other countries for soil improvement and as a food source. The peas are edible.

    What we do have a lot of growing naturally in this area though, are wattles. I've ran a couple of seedlings through the mulcher/chipper quite successfully. As long as you get them young, they're fine, the older and woodier they get, makes it harder to dispose of.

    Nice to meet you and glad you stopped by. :)

  10. I have worked through an area of weeds and noxious stuff by the same had breaking method - I broke lantana into pencil sized pieces of sticks and it worked as a mulch too.

  11. A lovely lesson, patience in breaking things down and in waiting for them to grow. I too like to go slow and by hand where I can. Not sure if I would have the patience to wait for that garden bed to break down though! It's a lot like composting, isn't it? We do what we can, and then wait. and have faith that the patience will pay off.
    Nice post, well done!

  12. Thank you Bwendo and Carolyn for sharing your thoughts. My apologies for being late in replying.

    We've tried the lantana like you Bwendo, but unfortunately ours tended to re-sprout. But it does add a lot of good nutrients to the ground. While sadly it's far too prolific in our parts, I do have to say, it makes an exceptional soil improver. In this regard, it has the same magical qualities as pigeon peas. :)

    You're right Carolyn, it is like composting, only without having to turn it. I leave that to the worms and insects to do. There's so much work to do here otherwise, patience becomes a virtue instead of insanity, lol. But I can tell you, I was highly impatient for my pigeon peas to sprout in the very beginning. :)


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