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Pine needles in compost?

I live in an area virtually devoid of decidous trees, so leaves are not available. What I do have, however, is the needles from ponderosa pines. Is this a viable altenative to leaves, to add to kitchen scraps and grass clippings in a compost pile, or will the acid content in the needles cause me problems?
 
They count as a brown (carbon) for the compost. Can you get some straw and mix it? If you could mow the needles and straw with a bagger mower first, the pile will work better. Maybe add a little lime to offset the ph lowering needles. Not very scientific like a soil test, but a good compost pile balances out, usually.The needles will make the pile more acidic. I wouldn't make them the main ingredient, but mixed with lots of other stuff, they are okay.
 
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Later in the season I can cut wild grass after it's died and add that, and I could probably get some leaves from town in the fall, but I was wondering what I could use now. Straw would be a good alternative. Many of the needles I have are 2-3 years old, so some of the acidity may have leached out, and they have already started to decompose.
Thanks for your prompt response, I'll pick some straw up first chance I get and give it a try.
 
Our farm page. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ancient-Garden-Organic-Farm/214455481934611
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Do you have any farms nearby? Relatives who have lawns? A lumber mill? Tree service may have wood chips or sawdust... You can use coffee grinds from your kitchen and from a local restaurant, newspaper. I have pineneedles also but not like you but I cannot rake the lawn without getting pineneedles.
 

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 Have a great gardening day! hoe, hoe, hoe Pea

 Upstate NY, zone 5

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I have plenty of green sources available, it's just the brown one's I'm lacking. That might be an idea, contacting a tree service and letting them dump a few loads here (we have 3 acres so space isn't a real problem) and save them a dumping fee. But they might be all or mostly from pine trees as well. I could add enough lime to neutralize the acidity though (I think). The soil here is pathetic, so it will take a lot of material to build it up enough to reach anything resembling dirt. There are horses in the area, so manure is available, but if I am correct in my thinking, that's a nitrogen source (a green if you will) isn't it?
Which makes me wonder if pine ash is ok, or too acidic. It's way too hot to be burning now, but over the winter the ashes could be added.
This will be a multi-year project, and bringing in soil is just too cost prohibitive on our income, it needs to be done on a tight (or free) budget.

As an aside, this is the first day I've been aware of this forum. The prompt and sensible responses are wonderful. What a joy to find this place. Thank you all.
 
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I was just throwing out ideas as they came into my head...I am lucky to have a millwork operation not too far from me and he give me the clean scrap, the other is a tree service. I can get all I want but I have to pick it up. I lug it around in those molded plastic storage container.

I believe it is not a good idea to use too much ash in a pile, if I recall correctly. Too much potassium, maybe? Is that right, Kimm1? Hopefully she will see this thread and help you.

Also, a lawn service may be able to help you with leaves in the fall?
 

**********************************************************

 Have a great gardening day! hoe, hoe, hoe Pea

 Upstate NY, zone 5

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bump
 

**********************************************************

 Have a great gardening day! hoe, hoe, hoe Pea

 Upstate NY, zone 5

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The idea that Pine Needles are acidic is a myth. Research at the UCONN Agricultural Research Station in New Haven, Connecticut by Dr. Abigail Maynard has shown that there has been no significant change in soil pH in plots where pine needles have been added over many years. Maybe, possibly if you added tons of pine needles at one time something might, possibly, happen for a time, but even Lee Reich in Fine Gardening magazine stated that you would have to add so much at one time that it would not be probable.
What takes pine needles so long to get digested in the compost pile is the waxy coating on the needles that makes it difficult for the bacteria to work on them as well as getting enough moisture to stick so they can work on them. The kitchen scraps and grass clippings will help, and do not concern yourself about the "acid content" of the pine needles and do not add lime to any compost pile.
 

The sign of a good gardener is not a green thumb, it is brown knees.

West central Michigan along the lakeshore.

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Great, that is nice to know. We've just about decided to get a small chipper/shredder and if so, I'll run them all through it. I do need to get a ph tester though, just to see where the soil stands now. It's mostly sand, with some clay in spots, with only an inch or two of what could be called topsoil. Last year all I tried to grow was zucchini, I figured if anything would grow, that would, but it never produced and the plants stayed small. This year I used a different location and added scraps, grass clippings and pine needles and have a fairly decent garden going, but only had enough to do about 12' x 8', so it's time to get serious, expand the size, start some raised beds, and build up that soil.
Thanks so much for your response
 
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Hey Trin, just saying hello from the foothills. Surprised that your soil is mostly sand, as Denver is clay and we are rocky clay up here. But some crops absolutely love sand, among them tomatoes and stawberries. And both are comfortable with a more acidic soil, although I don't think they make good companion plants. Wish I had a larger space for the garden, but I'm growing it every year now.
 
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I had a wonderful garden when I lived in Englewood, terrific soil, but out here the soil is totally different. There's a new house going in close by and the pile of "dirt" they dug out for the foundation is mostly white. Theres no rocky susbstance to it at all, just sand and clay at various levels.
For this year's garden, I dug out a patch a foot or so deep, then took the top 2" from a large area and combined that with grass clippings and about 6 months worth of kitchen waste on top of about 2" of pine needles. Tomatoes, peas, beans, butternut squash are doing fine. Radishes, spinach, carrots not so good. I threw in a couple of potato pieces just to see how they would do, and they're up and growing, so we'll have to wait and see if they produce.
We're about 6200' here, not as high as you, but I'd say your scenery is about 12 times better.
 
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Most of that country east of the front is pretty alkaline in nature so I would think even if you could affect the pH toward acidic that would be a good thing. Changing the pH is not easily done though.

You might try building some raised beds, just filling with organic material as it becomes available. Newspaper and cardboard can fill in as a brown in a pinch. I think your old pine needles count as a brown too. So heck, pine needles and hourse manure could be a vialble compost. Like Kimm said it's the waxy coating that makes needles hard to break down so mowing them would help.

The thing about ash peapicker is that it can be very high pH. I read that ash from some hardwood is as high as 11, which is caustic.

(and pssst peapicker - I think Kimm is a he Smiler)
 
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Shouldn't be too hard to get manure in Parker, but if you can't find any you can always come to my stable in Evergreen and get some. Some reason, I don't bother, but I should throw a handful or two in the tumbler, it would work out pretty fast I think. Maybe I'll take a bag with me tomorrow.
 
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(and pssst peapicker - I think Kimm is a he )

Ohhhhhhhh! thanx
 

**********************************************************

 Have a great gardening day! hoe, hoe, hoe Pea

 Upstate NY, zone 5

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Soils west of the Mississippi River tend to be more alkaline than soil east of the river because of the amount of "normal" rainfall. In arid areas the soil would tend more toward alkaline. The home pH testors are notably unreliable so the best thing for you to do is contact your local office of the Colorado State Universtiy USDA Cooperative Extension Service, http://www.ext.colostate.edu/cedirectory/allcounties2.cfm about having a good, reliable soil test done.
Yup, Kimm is a guy.
 

The sign of a good gardener is not a green thumb, it is brown knees.

West central Michigan along the lakeshore.

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oooooops! sawwy Now I know.. Wink
 

**********************************************************

 Have a great gardening day! hoe, hoe, hoe Pea

 Upstate NY, zone 5

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Thanks Kimm. I've considered different options about testing the ph, including the home kits or the ph monitors with probes. I wasn't aware of their unreliability, so maybe that's not a viable option. Has anybody used these or the strip versions?
What I have done so far was the old dirt in a jar with water and salt, shake and let settle test. It had about 80% sand, and 10% each of silt and clay.
I'll take a look at the soil testing available and contact our county agent for details and/or to see if he has a general idea of what the soil is typically like in our area.
 
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I recommend some research before buying a chipper-shredder for pine needles. My experience has been that the two are non-compatible. The only thing I've seen work for pine needles is the leaf mulcher http://public.fotki.com/DirtPit/gardening/composting_tr...leafs_04_112602.html

Dirt
 
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Litmus paper can give you a general idea of what your soils pH is, if you know the proper range to buy, but the best way to know what your soils pH is, why it is what it is, and what to do to correct it for what you want is to have CSU do the test.
 

The sign of a good gardener is not a green thumb, it is brown knees.

West central Michigan along the lakeshore.

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I thought about a leaf shredder but the needles are also filled with sticks and twigs that would take forever to separate out. I'm going to start by just mowing them over and see how fine I can get them. The shredder I was thinking of was one of the small electric models. I simply can't afford one of the bigger gas-powered ones, and there are tons of small branches that need getting rid of too.
 
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I've added some shredded paper, and just now added a bunch of horse manure. The pile is about 4 foot at the base by two foot high now. I'll be hacking dried wild grass pretty soon (some of it's three foot high, just need to let the seeds drop off) and adding that as well. I expect a month from now the pile will be at least twice as big.
The gal I got the manure from is an old friend here in Parker. She showed me her garden, and parts of it are doing well, but she kept talking about needing to spray chemical this and chemical that on the stuff that wasn't doing well. I told her I didn't want to hear that. She said "no, I'm not organic like you."
She said she had to pay someone to come in and haul the manure away too; I think I'll go back a few times for free; what a deal.
I mowed the pine needles over and it sorta worked, but I'm still thinking about getting a shredder. I'll just keep an eye on the want ads and yard sales.
I planted a small row of Mustard Greens last week and they're peaking up through the soil now. Added some more spinach but that's not up yet.
The pole beans are starting to flower and the peas are gettin' fatter. I got this garden started a bit late, but for the most part, it's coming along fine.
I'm in the last two weeks of school; finals are here. Get a couple of weeks off and then grad school starts, but it's all late afternoon and evening classes, so I'll still be in the garden. Pretty soon I'll start breaking ground on the expansion to at least double the size of this year's garden for next year and all that compost sitting out there now will be put to work.
 
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There's now trend in restaurant composting grand rapids mi. I think it's about time, it's such a excellent idea.
 
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Trin, save yourself ALOT of work. Read up on lasagna gardening...it's simple and works well..
I use pine needles over cardboard in paths between the beds...they can be slippery if you're not paying attention. I mow and vac pine needles and leaves together and pile on my beds along with manure and compost in place.
As Kim stated., the needles do little as far as ph goes but they make wonderful compost!
Another gardener puts leaves into a garbage can and weed whacks them up ..why not the needles?
Don't bother purchasing a chipper the pieces escape. Welcome to. The forums.
 
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