Fermented brown gold (the story of my weed bins)

During the heatwaves I still have garden work to do, but it all gets done by 7 am or maybe 8 am at the very latest. The rest of the day will be a writeoff! Many of the jobs are things I was supposed to have done to get ready for the heatwaves 🙂 Saturday’s early morning job was to cycle the weed bins.

I have three big black lidded rubbish bins out in the garden. I put the grassy weeds, pulled/dug up couch grass and whatever else is in the weedpiles into the bins, fill them with water and leave them for ten weeks. The idea is that all the grasses, stolons and seeds are broken down or at least rendered inert, so that I can use the organic matter for other things without fear of simply creating new grass plantations. Most weeds and seeds will be mostly ruined by four or five weeks, maybe less with a good heatwave. Couch stolons though appear to have the ability to survive anything up to and including a nuclear strike. On the day after the apocalypse the cockroaches will be lazing under those little umbrella-like couch flowers eating pollen cake like there’s no tomorrow. I’m trying this weed bin process because I’m informed that even couch is killed by this drowning process – but it takes ten weeks, not four.

So, what does it look like?

Looking down inside a black-sided bin. There is murky brown water with some bubbles, and a pile of green and brown-coloured sort of slimy looking ex-grass.

Halfway through emptying a bin, after ten weeks of fermenting. It smells like silage, strong but not rotten. Any broad-leafed weeds are completely disintegrated. The grass stems still hold their structural integrity but they’re a big mass of loosely associated carbon. Most of the nutrients are in the water.

The water level and overall mass has shrunk a little since the bin was filled. That water is excellent fertiliser, so I use it around the garden. It’s a way of ensuring the nutrients keep cycling in what is really a very nutrient-poor system. This batch of water all went to watering the various trees in zone 4. The organic matter itself got piled on the lawn area around the clothesline as a kind of mulch.

Two bins next to each other, filled with dried grass. A hose is going into the one on the right. The one on the left is filled almost to the top with clear water and a large brick weighs down the pile in the middle.

The bins are filled with new weeds for breaking down and then filled with water. The brick stops the grass from floating above the water level. The exercise probably costs me about 150 litres of water each time but I recover most of that for watering the garden.

I’m currently using three bins solely for this purpose, and barely got all of last year’s weeds cycled before this year’s arrived. If I was organised enough to ensure that only couch went into one bin and no couch into the others, I’d get more cycled through but as it is I have to let each bin sit the ten weeks every time. I may try and be more organised with next year’s weed piles. I did try this year but so many weeds! It ended up all just mixed together. I keep looking at giant bins and skips with a kind of opportunistic envy, wondering if I could convert one and do all the weeds at once.

Black bin seen from above. The dried grass is still largely submerged, the brick pokes up from the water a bit. The water is still clear but brown. White froth covers half the water surface including some of the brick.

I did the bins in the morning. This is what they looked like that evening after a 40-degree day. Water was still clear but brown, hot and very bubbly, and the smell of fermenting was strong. It gives me hope that I might not have to wait the whole ten weeks this time.

My verdict on whether this works to kill couch is still out – I’ve done a couple of loads now with inconclusive results. The couch is still recognisably couch but appears dead when I pull it out. The areas I put the now-heavily-broken-down brown matter into do get couch regrowing in them, but they’ve had couch in them before and there’s no guarantee there weren’t stolons waiting in the ground for what’s effectively a really good watering with a nice fertiliser and mulch topping.

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3 Responses to Fermented brown gold (the story of my weed bins)

  1. sr says:

    I do this too! But only wait two weeks. Plus some weeds go in the keyhole gardens. Have you heard of those? Good water-savers.

    • tikiwanderer says:

      Not by that name, I will have to look those up. They sound interesting! I would like to cycle the bins every two weeks and if it were just normal broadleaf weeds with no seeds I could probably do that. But I thought seeds needed longer? Are you getting much new recruitment from what comes out of the bins?

      • sr says:

        The plants definitely seem to like the juice. It gave one particularly underdeveloped pepper plant such a kick in the pants that it started growing fruits. I don’t worry do much about the seeds, they’re everywhere regardless of what I do.

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