One of the best things you can do for healthy garden habitat is to allow the natural process of decay. It is the decomposition of once-living things that rejuvenates soil and nurtures the entire circle of life including microbes, insects, birds, and mammals.
This tree branch crib project offers similar benefits to bug hotels like the ones you see here.
The Benefits and Beauty of Decay
Ready for the secret to how nature works? There is a much value in decaying things as there is in living things. One gives life, the other is life.
If we want our gardens to support nature, it’s vital to garden organically, free of all the -cides that kill plants and critters. The other part of the equation is to mimic nature and allow the decay process to provide the bounty it contains.
Both fallen leaves and old tree branches give so much to a garden. They provide habitat year-round, feed the wild things, and protect and enrich soil.
This project shows how I keep old branches in my garden. It provides food and habitat for countless creatures great and small.
Make a Tree Branch Crib
This is one of those projects that doesn’t have a real name so I made it up: branch crib. It’s a distant cousin of a corn crib with the functionality of a bug hotel.
For me, the greatest measure of successful gardening is not perfect borders or weed-free beds—a once-a-year special event—or the awesome garden art, but the life it supports.
The goal with this project is to create a habitat that sustains living things in an artful way.
In addition to keeping compost (easy composting guide here) and saving fallen leaves and yard waste (allowing everything do decompose and replenish the earth), I also save fallen and pruned branches and twigs in a pile at the back of the garden.
It’s quite amazing how attractive the branch pile is to wild things. All day long, birds drop by to feast on insects, and gather twigs and straw for nest-building. And that’s just one example.
Looking closer, there are nooks and crannies for countless insects to lay eggs, nest, and rest, tuck in for the winter, while the whole lot gradually decays and returns itself to the earth.
It’s the original bug hotel. In other words, it’s nature doing its thing.
UPDATE: I’ve been asked a few times if any four-legged animals try to live in the crib. Nope! My old branch pile was certainly attractive to them, but not this. It may be because of the way the branches are standing up: there is no room to get into the crib and definitely nowhere to lay down.
A Simple Building Project
The original tree branch pile / yard waste dumping zone was quite an eyesore:
I decided to build a structure to hold the branches while they decompose. It would also act as a screen to block off my gnarly yard waste area from the rest of the garden.
I started with some leftover wood from my storage shed, determined to use supplies on hand and not to spend a dime on the project.
You’ll notice in this next photo that there’s some flower planters in the area. I had randomly stashed them there for a future project but, they were so heavy to move, I ended up building around them. I’ve only got so much stamina!
The tree branch crib is 12-feet long by four-feet deep and about 6-feet tall. Again, I just used some leftover 4×4 posts, and various pieces of barnboard (formerly part of a raised garden bed).
My main concern was making the whole structure self-supporting, so it could hold the weight of the branches and not blow over in the wind. We get some crazy winds here.
As you can see from the next photos, it’s a simple structure and does exactly what I hoped.
The Completed Crib
Here it is with all the branches in, plus some garden art.
Do you recognize the giant spoon and fork? I remember seeing them in homes when I was a kid.
The random planters are making a comeback: there’s some dianthus, sweet peas, and strawberry plants rescued from other parts of the garden. Next summer I’ll work up the energy to move everything around again and create a better display, but for now this is fine.
Most importantly, the birds are loving the branch crib. They are in there all the time, devouring insects and collecting materials. I also see some doves sleeping in there.
We’ve had a few big wind storms and the crib has stayed steady so I’m calling this one a success. I love how it makes a creative display of the branches while letting them live out their glorious days of decay.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛