Brush Pile Burning

The Best Use for Brush | 5 Ways to Handle a Brush Pile

June 08, 2020
(last update June 08, 2020 )

Daniel Mark Schwartz Profile Picture

I often find myself with piles of brush, looking for creative ways to leverage this fruit of my labor to the fullest. After searching for a better way, I found somethings to do with brush that made me stop just burning it, and I’ll never go back.

What to do with brush? The best way to take care of piled up brush is to make “Biochar.” This garden enhancer has been shown to improve soil quality for decades after first application. And, is cheap and easy to make from your own brush.

Biochar really revolutionized how I take care of my brush piling up, and is really quite simple to make when you know how. But, I know some people don’t have the option of making biochar, which is why I’ve included 5 things to do with your brush pile.

Making Biochar from a Brush Pile

Biochar making is the process of controlled burning of wood and brush. This produces a biologically active charcoal for use as a soil amendment to increase the amount of food you can get from your garden in a year, and growing healthier plants.

The process of making biochar goes like this:

  1. Pile up your brush high, with nearly vertical sides and branches crossing (log cabin style)
  2. Ignite the pile from the top and let it burn down
  3. Push in the sides as necessary until you have a pile of glowing embers
  4. Once only coals remain, spread out the embers and douse extremely thoroughly with water.

While there are many ways of making biochar, everything from trenches to giant biochar kilns, I find this method fast, easy, and effective.

What are the Benefits of Biochar?

I was surprised when I first learned just how effective Biochar can be in the garden. Isn’t it just charcoal?

The use of biochar to improve the soil has seen increasing levels of interest from the scientific community, with the University of Edinburgh even staffing a dedicated biochar research unit.

While there is still much more to learn about the use and history of biochar, here are just some of the benefits:

  • Improves soil structure for better growing plant roots
  • Aids the soil microbiome, which are the little critters that feed your plants
  • Helps neutralize overly acidic soil, making it more alkaline
  • May help plants resist disease from soilborne pathogens
  • Sequesters carbon, reducing overall carbon dioxide emissions.

Biochar can take you a long way toward self-sufficiency and increasing the supply of healthy food that you grow yourself. Want to learn how to grow your own food? Check out my free article:

Compost Brush in Place

Brush will eventually degrade and provide nutrients back in to the soil no matter where it is, so there may not be any reason to pile it up and deal with it at all.

Instead of building a brush pile, consider just chopping it up a bit and spreading it out over the ground in or around the area that it came from. This mimics the natural process of the forest ecosystem.

This can also be a way to reduce threat of wildfire and to build a fire barrier on your property. Standing dry brush is much more likely be a fire hazard than brush spread out and damp due to contact with the ground. Ground contact will also increase the speed of decomposition.

So, consider saving yourself some time and energy and don’t make it a brush pile at all.

Make a Wildlife Habitat Brush Pile

Dead wood and brush are a natural part of the forest ecosystem, and provide animals like rabbits, chipmunks, skunks, raccoon, foxes, birds, and lizards a place to live. While you may not want any of these in your garden, having them on Andy around your property increases the overall health and productivity of your land.

So, rather than clearing and burning all the brush on you land, an better solution could be to find a safe place to just leave the brush piles as they are, to provide habitat for animals and to eventually decompose naturally.

How to Build a Brush Pile for Wildlife Habitat

A good wildlife habitat brush pile should have a base of strong branches or logs that provide room for tunnels and air spaces underneath. On top of this stack layers of smaller branches crosswise, ending with the smallest pieces, which form a sort of roof. The best wildlife brush piles are 6–8 feet wide and 4–6 feet tall

The best locations for brush piles are on woodland edges, field borders, in forest openings, or nears sources of water.

Having one or two brush piles per acre will greatly enhance the biodiversity of your land. Over the years, these piles will sink as they decay, but can be added on to each time you clear a piece of land.

Using Goats to Clear Brush

Feed Goats or Pigs

Here at Off Grid Permaculture, we are all about finding ways to let nature work for us rather than us working against nature. Not only is it much more effective, but it is ultimately much less work.

Rather than manually cutting, hauling, and piling brush just to clear it, one amazing option is to let domestic animals take of clearing the brush for you. Both pigs and goats are excellent for clearing land of shrubs or brush. In some areas, there are actually commercial goat services available that will rent you goats to clear your land.

Pasture your animals in the area that needs clearing for several weeks / months, depending on the size and number of animals, until it is sufficiently cleared.

Besides the benefits of cleaning up your brush problem, animal manure will naturally fertilize the area they are clearing, as well as providing meat and possibly milk to the homestead.

Brush Clearing and Permaculture Design Patterns

The study of Permaculture is about building natural systems where everything provides multiple levels of value. To meet this ideal, every animal on the homestead must serve multiple beneficial purposes.

Instead of caging or restraining animals, we should use their natural instincts to benefit the whole system. With our guidance, the natural rooting and foraging instincts of these animals can be leveraged to benefit the farm, rather than just being an annoyance, and at the same time reduce our labor and energy inputs.

Make Mulch

Another way to get the most value out of your brush it to rent or buy a wood chipper and make mulch.

This is probably my least favorite of the five methods because it is the most work, is very unpleasant and noisy, and requires relatively expensive machinery to accomplish. But there are some times when this might be the best move in your situation. Particularly, if you are on a small piece of land where you are unable to burn biochar safely, and are not able to use the more natural methods listed above.

In this case, a mulching the brush in place at least provides you with value from your brush pile and is better than just having the yard waste hauled away.

Wood chips are a valuable addition for use in compost piles. They can also be a very effective ground cover, when used in conjunction with no dig gardening methods, to clear a piece of land of weeds and to ready it for cultivation.

You can also potentially use wood chips as a cover material for humanure or composting toilets, which need a additive to aid with decomposition and to prevent smells. For this reason, you may actually prefer to make a certain amount of mulch on the homestead.

More information on humanure and composting toilets:

What do you do with tree brushes?

The most effective way to handle tree brush is to make it in to biochar, which is a biologically active soil amendment that improves the productivity of your land or garden. Biochar is cheap and easy to make, and actively helps reduce carbon emissions, while improving water and soil quality.

How do you get rid of brush?

Cut it down with a small chainsaw, ax, pruner, string trimmer, or machete depending no the type of growth. Drag it to a clear area and make biochar or mulch, or just leave in place to decompose naturally. You also have the option of buying or renting goats or pigs, which will clear out brush on their own.


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