Disposing of Plant Residues – Burn, Dispose of, Compost, or Till into the Garden.

Q. I’m considering 3 methods of disposing of my cornstalks.  1-trip to the dump, 2-tie them up and sell them, 3-borrow a chipper-shredder and then till them right back into the rows.  I would like to chip/shred them and till them back into the rows along with some nitrogen. Any downside to this? I have looked through the stalks and haven’t found much smut (which I could cut off). What do you think?

A.  Whenever the Zoo animals don’t want my corn stalks I grind them up and put them in my beds.  The same can be done for other healthy, clean plant residues.  I will dig the soil out from the 18″-wide bed – about 10-12″ deep, grind up the stalks and spread them evenly along the bottom, then replace the soil and firm it on top of the plant residue.  If the plants are green, with moisture still in them, you don’t need any nitrogen – they have it still.  However, if you are tilling in dry plant residue, there will be very little nitrogen, and it wouldn’t hurt to add a little (8 ounces for a 30′ row).  Remember that nitrogen is volatile, and as plant parts age and dry out the nitrogen leaves and goes back into the atmosphere.  Over the winter, the soil will subside as the plants decompose, and when you till the bed in the spring, you will hardly notice anything.  But the benefit will be there.

 
Regarding the corn smut you have – unless you want to perpetuate that fungus in your garden, I would dispose of any plants that have the smut on them away from the garden.  However, if you are from Central America you may well want to ENCOURAGE the smut in your corn!  Those folks prize “wheat-la-coche” (sp), as they call it, and eat it like others eat mushrooms.  It’s not bad at all, but eat it before it becomes the dry, black powder!
 
Always remember, that you only want clean, disease and bug-fee plant residues in your garden.  And don’t leave them on the surface of the soil!  The nitrogen will quickly leave, and the bugs and diseases will just as quickly find them.  The best place for them is well-tilled into the soil, where they can compost naturally, and give you a little added nutrition and much improved soil tilth.