Monday, November 12, 2012

Conservation of Yard Waste

Sometimes I wonder if I've discovered a previously unknown law of physics: the Conservation of Yard Waste.

As you may recall, back in September we finally took down our massive, overgrown forsythia hedge, leaving us with a massive pile of brush to be disposed of:

Our first attempt to deal with this pile came to a premature halt when our new little chipper started literally pulling itself to pieces with the effort. But we eventually repaired the cracked housing with some putty and wrapped the whole thing up in duct tape, and over the course of several hours, we managed to reduce all the leaves and small branches in the pile to a surprisingly small quantity of mulch:

At that point, any grand notions we'd had about using this tiny chipper to convert all our yard waste into a sufficient mass of mulch to cover our garden paths pretty much flew like a little bird out the window. And more frustrating still, after all that work, the forsythia carcasses still hadn't disappeared; they'd just been stripped down to a pile of branches and trunks too large to fit into the chipper, which would have to be bundled up to be hauled away by the borough.

So, last weekend, we finally got around to tackling them, and over the course of an hour or so, we managed to reduce that fairly large pile to a smaller pile of nice, tidy bundles:

Now, it might seem as if, at this point, we had actually succeeded in reducing the total volume of yard waste. But no sooner had we completed this task than we turned to another urgent outdoor job: stripping down our garden beds to prepare them for winter. Any hopes we might have had of harvesting a few more tomatoes or peppers before winter set in were pretty much crushed under the weight of last week's early snowfall, leaving us with withered carcasses of tomato vines and pepper plants that had to be pulled out so they wouldn't rot in the garden (and possibly drop seeds that would send up a bunch of volunteer plants next spring in all the wrong places). So we spent another hour or so snipping and untangling and pulling, and by the time we were done, we were left with a brand new pile of yard waste about as big as the one we'd had to start with:

So no sooner do we finish dealing with one massive pile of branches than we turn around and produce a new pile, which we'll have to leave to dry out for another week before we can start turning it into mulch. Hence my theory: no matter how much work we put into our yard, the total volume of waste in it awaiting disposal remains the same. The work we put into the system is, apparently, expended in converting the contents of the pile from one substance to another; the size of the pile itself remains constant.

Perhaps we'd better alter our landscaping plan to accommodate a waste pile (of fixed size but varying composition) and turn it into some sort of a feature. Of course, I thought that was what we were doing when we first built our compost bin—but it's beginning to look like we'll need a second bin just to accommodate all the material waiting to be transferred to the first bin.

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