If you live in an area where pine trees are commonplace, it will only be a matter of time before you begin to notice those pine needles nearly everywhere. Many property owners will choose to not just let those pine needles sit around; they want to get rid of them.
But how can you effectively get rid of pine needles? Is it possible to compost them and put them to some kind of use in gardening or mulching? The common misconception is that pine needles are actually bad for composting, but that is not true.
Why Composting Pine Needles is Avoided
One misconception about pine needles is that they cannot be composted. This is because pine needles have a high acidity level, with a pH between 3.2 and 3.8. But when they fall off of the pine tree and are composted, they have a basically neutral pH level.
This means that you can safely add pine needles to any compost without having to worry that the finished compost will do harm to your plants or make the soil more acid-based. The one thing to keep in mind is that working pine needles into the soil without first composting them can actually lower the overall pH of the soil.
Another common reason why composters try to avoid pine needles when composting is that they tend to break down at a much slower rate. This is because pine needles have a waxy, smooth coating. This makes it difficult for fungi and bacteria in the compost to break down the pine needles.
In addition to that waxy coating, pine needles have a low pH that inhibits the microorganisms in the compost. This makes the process even slower than it normally would be and makes composters avoid them when possible.
If you are looking to speed the process up a bit, try using aged pine needles or needles that have already served as mulch for a season. Chopped up pine needles will actually compost a bit faster than fresh pine needles. Try making a pile of pine needles and running them over with a lawn mower to dice them. The smaller the pine needles are, the faster they will break down in the composting pile.
Composting Your Pine Needles
Because of the high acid level of pine needles, it should go without saying that compost with pine needles in it is perfect for acid-loving plants. Still, it should work fine for other plants even if they are not of the acid-favoring variety.
The first step is that you need a bin. If you don’t already have a compost bin, you’ll need to construct one. Of course, the size is up to you, but a good rule of thumb is around 5 feet by 5 feet to ensure that you can create an ample amount of compost without having a massive bin in your yard.
When your compost bin is ready to go, the next step is to rake up the pine needles. Create a pile that is around as wide as your lawnmower. As mentioned, pine needles compost faster when they are smaller, so you’ll want to run over the pine needles with your lawnmower to break those pine needles down into smaller pieces.
Make sure that you fill the bottom eight inches or so of your compost bin with leaves, grass clippings, and any other cuttings that you might have removed from the other plants around your property. When you have created a solid base, water it until it is moist but not to the point that it is soaking wet.
When you have watered down that base layer of clippings, add a layer of pine needles around three inches in depth or so. When you have a nice, even layer, water that down as well until the pine needles are moist, too.
After you have the first two layers laid down and watered them, it is time to add the manure. You can use cow, chick, or horse manure for composting purposes. Lay down about an inch or so of manure on top of the layers that you have laid down. Water this layer as well.
From here, keep layering the compose with those three layers until you reach the top of the bin itself. Make sure that when you lay down a new layer, you water after each layer has been completed. When the compost bin has been filled, you will want to water it every few days or so to ensure that it stays moist.
Mix the compost once every couple of weeks or so; you can use something such as a shovel or a pitchfork to do this effectively. When the pine needle compost is ready to use, it will be brownish in color and have a very earthy smell. The composting process should take two to four months from beginning to end.
Other Uses for Pine Needles
Another great use for pine needles is using them as fire starters. This can be good whether you are out camping or if you happen to live in an area with pine trees and you have a fireplace. All you need is a handful of dry pine needles to add in with your kindling (this can be wood or newspaper). This stuff will burn pretty quickly, so it works better with other flammable items.
Or, perhaps, you are looking to create safer, chemical-free cleaning components so that you can get away from those harmful chemical cleaners of days past. Well, you can create one of those cleaners using pine needles.
There are generic, chemical-based cleaners like Pine Sol that offer the smell of pine needles. You can create your own cleaner with that same great smell, but keep all those nasty chemicals at the store instead of in your home.
All you need to create this cleaner is to combine around a half cup of pine needles with some white vinegar. Put those ingredients in a jar and let that concoction sit for a couple of weeks. When it is ready to go, all you need do is remove the needles from the jar and you can use that solution on your countertops, floors, and any other surfaces that need cleaning. All much safer than your traditional chemical-based cleaners.
On the same hand, you can also create an infused, flavored vinegar that can be eaten in a variety of dishes. All you have to do is fill up a mason jar with that same half cup of pine needles and a little bit of apple cider vinegar.
When you have created your concoction, you let it sit for around a month or so. After that time has passed, strain the mixture. Now, you have a pine-infused vinegar that works as a great herbal base for things such as marinades, salad dressings, sauces, and other concoctions. Spruce up any meal (pardon the pun).
Speaking of other culinary uses for pine needles, you can actually cook with them as well. All you have to do is to spread them over the charcoal that you may use on your grill. The smoke from the charcoal and pine needles will create a great, smoky flavor that has a little bit of an herbal taste to it as well. This creates a tasty new smoke cook for your barbeque.
What you may not have realized is that pine needles can actually create a relaxing bath experience, too. All it takes is boiling around a gallon of water with just a cup of pine needles. Let it sit for around 20 minutes or so. This is so it can cool.
When the mixture has cooled down, you can pour it in the basin of your footbath to create a refreshing soak that also helps to deodorize as well. Yet another versatile use for your excess pine needles.
Pine needles smell pretty good naturally so it only makes sense that you would use pine needles to create a fresh, natural smell in your home. Because pine needles are so versatile, that is exactly what you can do.
To create that inviting, cozy holiday scent, you can actually boil the pine needles with citrus peels, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and a number of different aromatic herbs. This will create a more natural, better-smelling atmosphere than some sprays or candles that might have aerosols to them.
Pine needles are surprisingly versatile and can be used for a ton of different things. The great thing about pine needles is that you don’t have to do a lot to them to really be able to infuse them into something.
Instead of letting the pine needles build up on the outside of your home, sweep them up and use them in a variety of home methods that can make your home smell better, give your food a new herbal taste, leave your home cleaner, and about a hundred other things.