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Winter has come and gone, and here lies a stack of unused, unloved, simply rotten old firewood. When it was purchased, perhaps there were visions of romantic evenings in front of the fireplace or imaginings of solitary nights with a book and a bottle of wine. Whatever the case may have been, intentions fell short. The good news: Those old logs don’t have to sit and rot in diminishing self-worth. There are wonderful new undertakings for firewood to find value.
Wood is an organic material, and with any organic material, there is the inevitable onset of decomposition. It isn’t anyone’s fault. It is a fact of life, or at least the termination of it. The beautiful thing about these cycles is that the materials involved in them have the ability to be useful until the very end. What we, as environmentally enlightened and sustainably minded people, have to do is figure out how to help these dearly departed souls.
Got old logs? Here’s what to do.
Hugelkultur is a cool method for building raised garden beds. The basic idea is to bury old chunks of wood and/or stumps so that they will slowly break down beneath the soil. Generally, this wood is either atop the ground or in shallow holes, and it is covered with a good layer of soil. The slow decomposition of wood, which is why we don’t usually compost chunks, is perfectly suited for making a long-lasting source of nutrients for the plants atop them. The logs also absorb water and keep the inside of the mound moist in drier times.
Hopefully, spring has included the introduction of spring gardens, and since raised beds are all the rage, last year’s firewood suddenly becomes a great money-saver and useful commodity. Rather than going out to buy landscaping timber, one can simply use old logs to border their garden beds. Not only will this mean we aren’t using virgin forest to build garden beds, but the decomposing wood, as with the hugelkultur, might actually add a little compost-y goodness to the garden.
Recognizing that trees and branches fall in forests, that they are naturally part of natural systems, will lead us to realize that piles of rotten wood offer a good habitat for many types of wildlife. Frogs, insects, birds, solitary bees, and various other creatures find them to be cozy homes, and for us, as the facilitators of this, we should happily invite these woodland animals into our gardens as pest control, sources of fertility, and entertainment. Meanwhile, the wood will slowly break down and become habitat and food for soil life.
While we are still on the topic of gardens, we should also mention that organic mulch is magical. It prevents weeds, protects soils from drying out, adds fertility to the soil, slows erosion, feeds soil life, and — only because eventually we have to stop listing things, we’ll settle at — more. Old rotten firewood can be chipped, grinded, or smashed up to make for some very nice, long-wearing mulch for the garden.
Then, where there is mulch, there are also potential pathways. Rather than using concrete (a horrible thing for the environment) or gravel, organic mulch can be used to make attractive pathways through gardens, both preventing weeds and grass from growing, as well as functioning as designated place for our feet. Then, we aren’t damaging plants or compacting garden soil. These paths work great off patios, in yards, or through forests.
For a little slant on the term old firewood, we can also consider what used firewood becomes: ash. Ash is a great thing in the garden, and it can be used as an additive to composts, mulch, and soil amendment. Wood ash tends to be alkaline, so it can be used to balance pH levels in acidic soil or compost piles, and it contains a lot of micronutrients, particularly calcium, to round out the soil’s mineral profile. A word of warning: Don’t use ash with acid-loving plants, like blueberries.
Sometimes rotten firewood isn’t so rotten that it doesn’t burn. Much of the time this wood simply isn’t as suitable for the fireplace, where want slow-burning firewood. If the wood isn’t completely rotten, it might make for great outdoor fires for summertime barbecues and camp cookouts. Then, we can take the ashes from these fires and use them again (as noted above). Wouldn’t it feel nice to give old firewood the chance to live out its fate?
What a wonderful world it would be if we all found ways to do stuff like this. We could produce more food while using up less resources. We could enhance the natural world rather than always destroying it. Let’s start it with logs, old rotten ones.
*Note: Unfortunately, old firewood is not ideal for mushroom production, which should begin on younger wood, with six months of being felled. However, they can be used for mushroom compost, which the trees would love.
Lead image source: Chris Lou/Shutterstock