The Q&A Archives: Composting Large Quantities of Leaves

Question: Please talk to me about efficient ways of composting 4-5 cubic yards of leaves at a time.

Answer: That much material is hard to turn by hand, but if you have a lawn or farm tractor with a bucket loader attachment, you're golden!

I presume these are dead leaves that fall from trees in autumn, rather than green leaves. To decrease composting time, chop them up fine with a lawn mower or shredder, moisten them so they are evenly damp but not dripping wet, mix in a bit of soil or compost activator to increase the population of microbes, and then pile the leaves in a windrow 5 feet high and 3 feet wide. The limiting factor will likely be nitrogen. The ideal ratio of carbon to nitrogen for composting is 30:1. Brown, dried materials are usually high in carbon, low in nitrogen, whereas green, fresh materials have just about the ideal balance. You can add nitrogen sources (manure, blood meal, alfalfa meal) to the pile to get it cooking. If you don't have a ready supply of these materials, the leaves will still break down -- it'll just take longer.

Keep the pile evenly moist and turn it often. If you can turn it 2-3 times per week, it will compost quickly. Hope this helps!

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