Let’s just burn it: composting takes too long!

On the allotment over the week-end: confrontation with allotment neighbours! I didn’t intend it as a  confrontation, it just happened that way. New(ish)  allotment holders a couple of plots down from us had a ‘wet’ fire going, burning all the hedge they were cutting down at the back of their plot – because the stuff was green it produced a thick, acrid smoke that drifted across to us & made working difficult. I strolled over intending to offer some suggestions as well as ask them not to burn anything more otherwise we couldn’t continue working on our plot. I suggested they should compost rather than burn, that burning is best used with diseased material. By building a compost heap with branches on the bottom they would ensure an airflow through the heap & so speed up the composting process & not waste all that plant material going up in smoke. The response? ‘Are you retired’, he said, implying we must have so much time on our hands then obviously we could stand around waiting for stuff to break down. He, however, was impatient  – ‘wood takes forever to break down, I want to get it cleared NOW’!  They carried on burning, I actually saw him shoveling leaf litter onto the fire; we had to stop working.

You could argue they are newcomers to the art of allotment gardening & will learn in time that time is what is actually needed. However, I would argue their attitude is quite typical of a whole layer of new allotment gardeners attracted to the idea of ‘growing your own’, but not prepared to work with the natural cycles of the year, of plants & with the earth they are temporary custodians. Impatience marks their approach, so in place of developing a cycle of composting they become consumers of garden miscellanea,  gardening as yet another element in their annual consumption of goods. Instead of cushions or electrical goods, it becomes raised bed kits, watering systems or miscellaneous ‘miracle’ growing mediums. Apart from this,  they were just rude!

The cut down hedge could have provided:

an excellent base for a hot compost pile because of the air it would allow to circulate through the compost heap & actually speed the composting process up;

a micro environment for small animals, insects & micro organisms in general;

potential fencing posts, stakes for raised bed edging; sturdy bean poles, a fruit cage framework… the list is as long as your creativity in uses across your allotment.

I know allotment fires form the backbone of all our allotmenting tales, but they do become a metaphor for ‘bad’ gardening practice, increasingly a symbol of the impatience implicit in ‘lifestyle’ gardening. Actually, if I HAD been retired I might have replied that I probably had less time than he had to wait around for wood to compost; however, we should return to Crouch & Ward’s notion of being custodians of the land we pass across in our time on our allotments, experience time & the seasons’ rhythms as they happen, accepting & learning from the outcomes.

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