Stop the bio-drain

By Lynette L. Walther | Jul 14, 2017
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Yard trimmings, fall leaves and vegetable and fruit scraps go into the compost bin. It is just another way of curbing the bio-drain. Not only that, the resulting compost provides free soil supplements.

One of the leading food trends in recent years has been the organic farming movement. And it shows no signs of slowing down. Sales of organic fruits and vegetables have become a multi-billion-dollar business. However, you don’t have to be a grower or purchaser of organic foods to practice one of the smartest tactics of organic growers — eliminating the bio-drain. There are a number of good reasons to do this, and all of them benefit the environment, you, your garden and your pocketbook, too.

Every year tons of bio-matter — leaves, grass clippings, limbs and more — are gathered, bagged up and hauled to landfills. We pay for water and fertilizer and care for and generally pamper our lawns, perennials, shrubs and trees. And whether we consider it so or not, we also cultivate a whole lot of weeds in the bargain. Those weeds, plus the trimmed grass, leaves, spent flowers and limbs are all biological matter. Discarding them and removing them from our property is the very definition of bio-drain. In essence we are throwing away what we have grown, what has used that water, those nutrients and even space in our landscape. What a waste.

When we “throw away” what we have grown, we are losing important nutrients that our plants could use when those items are composted. That includes what we collect when our landscapes are weeded, mowed and pruned. We are filling landfills unnecessarily with this bio-matter, and we are even wasting fossil fuels required to haul them away. This is insanity! But the solution is easy and it actually saves us money in the long run.

For example, we had a number of large trees trimmed recently to allow more light to come through for surrounding trees, shrubs and planted areas. What wasn’t saved from the process for firewood to heat our little home was chipped up and piled near the compost area for use as a rough, but serviceable, mulch material. The fact is that not one ounce of biological matter was removed from our property once those tree trimmers drove away. After all, those trees grew with the water and care we had provided them. Why not make use of what we had helped to produce?

The same principle applies to leaves (shredded) or pine needles, which can be used for mulches too. This is another example of what I mean by stopping the bio-drain. Likewise, when we mow, the grass is not collected and bagged, but rather allowed to fall back to the ground, where it eventually breaks down to release its nutrients back into the lawn. Any nutrients that had been applied to the turf area are still there in those clipped blades of grass, clover and weeds in the lawn. They simply had taken a different form. Allowing them to morph back into the lawn, also eliminates bio-drain.

There are strategies for using entire fallen or cut tree logs to create raised gardens (called “hugeculture”) made by piling several logs into a raised line, and covering them with soil on which to plant — still another example of keeping those nutrients in situ.

Organic farmers are masters at weed control, and of course they use no plant-killing chemicals in the process. Weeds compete with other plants for nutrients and water, and sometimes sunshine as well. Good organic growers know their weeds as well as they know their crops. Removing weeds is probably one of the most intensive duties of any organic grower. Weeds germinate and grow at different rates. At any one time, a field can contain several different types of weeds. Most important is to combat weeds before they go to seed, because one weed can mean thousands if it is allowed to go to seed. But you can also be sure those growers don’t waste their time and effort weeding more often than is actually needed. They know when the time is right to send in the hands to remove as many varieties of weeds as possible — before any go to seed.

And then they turn those weeds into compost, eventually returning the nutrients the weeds had “stolen” from that field. In the process they have accomplished a number of good things: the ability to add good organic nutrients back into the soil without harmful chemicals, kept those tons of weeds out of landfills and eliminated the necessity of hauling them away in the process. The weeds and non-edible parts of those annual crops are considered a valuable resource once they are composted. This is something today’s gardeners might also consider.

Want some help getting started composting? Visit the Renee's Garden Seeds website and click on Gardening Resources and then Garden Basics for a handy, downloadable home composting guide.

It’s sort of a new way of looking at what’s right under our noses. Certainly, diseased plant materials should not be added to compost, but rather bagged and removed. But most plant and fruit items can be considered good compost components and potential soil supplements.

In another way, it represents a path of least resistance by keeping all that biological matter right where it belongs. Putting it to good use is simply plain old good sense.

The net gain from having some trees trimmed is this huge pile of  rough wood chips. Though rustic, they are perfect to thickly mulch ornamental beds for “free” — and they keep every bit of bio-material in situ. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
A good deal of any gardener’s work is combating weeds, which compete for moisture, nutrients and sunlight. Good organic gardeners recognize that weeds are yet another “product” of our gardens, and can be used to our garden’s advantage by making compost out of them. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
Nothing wasted, the ashes from our wood stove fires that heat our little home are used to add important nutrients to the compost mix and are sometimes scattered at the base of trees and shrubs. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
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