Composting

Composting Leaves in Your Own Backyard

Kathleen Rocco

The leaves might be falling but they can still be of benefit. Collect them and create healthy soil by composting them with food scraps and other yard trimmings. Here are some hints to start reducing waste, recycling nutrients and improving your landscape and garden.

First, find a good location in your yard to place a composting bin or build a compost pile. A well-drained area is a must to prevent the pile from lying in standing water even for a short time. Water eliminates oxygen and can lead to odors. Try to locate the pile in a sunny area, blocked from strong winds. This will help the pile stay warmer in the cooler weather.  It’s a good idea to have your compost pile within eyeshot to remember to check on it every couple of weeks. The pile will need attention to keep its contents breaking down efficiently and to produce a useable product in four months or so.

Second, gather your organic matter to make a pile around three feet cubed.  Unless you have lots of large trees, you may need to ask neighbors and friends to contribute to your new compost pile. This initial size will help your compost pile heat up quickly. You will be adding small amounts throughout the winter and spring to maintain that pile size.

Leaves, wood chips and cardboard are good sources of brown materials. Plant clippings and vegetarian food scraps are a consistent source of green material.  The pile should have twice as much brown ingredients than green to keep compost creatures happily chewing scraps into compost.

It may be more challenging to find the brown materials consistently over the year, so rake extra leaves near the pile to add them with your weekly input of green material.  When you first create the pile, add a good dose of old garden soil or compost that is already brimming with compost creatures.  This increases the population of the microorganisms and macro organisms that you need to decay the pile. The pile should always be moist to the touch, since most compost creatures need a damp environment to survive.

Finally, now that your pile is built, turn it every couple of weeks to maintain space for oxygen and check the moisture level.  Without adequate oxygen, the pile can become compacted, inactive and smelly. Turning the pile helps rotate material into the center (the hottest part of the pile), where decomposition tends to be faster. A dry pile will be inactive, so water the pile to keep it moist.

While the compost pile may not be active year-round, you can still add organic matter to it.  The pile will work slowly until it freezes.  Finished compost usually makes its way to the bottom layer of the pile. You may need to remove materials not completely decayed to scoop out the finished compost. It should be dark brown to black in color and feel like loose soil. You may have a small amount ready in the spring to sprinkle around seedlings, but most should be ready later in the summer.

Want more details about backyard composting? Learn more on our website or consider attending an upcoming composting seminar.

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4 comments

  1. A proper pile will smell of rich earth and will not attract any animals. If you include meat, bones or fish scraps, animals will be drawn to the pile.

  2. IF you plan to use the compost in your garden, you should make sure the pile gets very hot to kill any type of fungus that may be on the leaves.

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