Soil and Compost forum: leaf shredding...

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(Zone 6a)
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UrbanWild
Aug 23, 2016 11:07 AM CST
Do any of the commercial shredders do a good job on leaves? Can they handle larger quantities? I live in an area where people bag leaves and I'd like to treat that as a windfall. But a few years ago I helped a friend similarly and it took years for the bagged and unbagged piles to start to break down appreciably.
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Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
Region: Alabama Composter Garden Photography Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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Seedfork
Aug 23, 2016 2:43 PM CST
Not much help with experience with leaf shredders, the few garden varieties I have used clogged more than I was willing to tolerate. So I have depended on using my lawnmowers for my leaf shredding and it has worked pretty well over the past several years. Last year I became a bit more picky about the leaves I picked up and concentrated on trying to just pickup leaves that had been mowed and not raked. Of course many of those were bagged and many were not, they were just in piles beside the road. I use my seed fork to load them in the back of my pickup. I keep a tarp attached to keep them from blowing out when I haul them. I still picked up a lot of leaves that had not been shredded, but I kept them separate from the shredded ones. I don't recall shredding any leaves last year, if I did, it was a very few compared to the previous years. I developed regular routes and specific stops where I could almost predict there would be nice piles either bagged or just lose piles waiting for me to pick them up. I ended up with the largest pile of shredded leaves I have ever had, but still depleted them all by last month. I have stops for grass clippings also. So I mix a lot of leaves and grass clippings to make compost. I also use a lot of the unshredded leaves for mulch and for paths. No matter how many I collect I never seem to have enough. If I spread the leaves on the ground they will be decomposed in less than a year, it takes a lot longer if they are put in piles, unless they are turned and watered like a compost pile. If they are turned and watered here in this area in six months they are well along in decomposing. If just left in an unworked pile, they will take a long time to decompose. Mixing leaves that have finished decomposing with newly shredded leaves does help retain moisture and quicken the decomposing process.
I normally have more oak leaves than anything, some pine straw and of course during the peak leaf collecting season when the really nice leaves are available I have a wide selection to choose from. There are advantages and disadvantages to fast or slow decomposing leaves. For paths and mulching I like for the material to decompose slowly, for soil amendment I like for the leaves to decompose faster.
I have worked out a system after a few years of experience: I clear a large area (dirt) and let the shredded leaves pile up in a long low wall(about twenty feet or more), I try to do it so most of any necessary raking is always downhill. I then use that short wall to block the leaves as they blow out from the mower, and build that low wall into a huge pile. It takes a little practice but I can process a lot of leaves in a short while using that method.
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Aug 23, 2016 3:39 PM CST
I have oak leaves - they need to be shredded well or they'll take forever to decompose. I bought a leaf blower/vacuum which helps in tight spots of the yard but doesn't shred as well as using the lawnmower with a bag. Since I use them for mulch, I don't need to wait to use them. I had a big old chipper/shredder that worked well but took up a lot of room in the garage. It did a decent job on the leaves.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
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RickCorey
Aug 23, 2016 5:32 PM CST
UrbanWild said:Do any of the commercial shredders do a good job on leaves? Can they handle larger quantities? I live in an area where people bag leaves and I'd like to treat that as a windfall. But a few years ago I helped a friend similarly and it took years for the bagged and unbagged piles to start to break down appreciably.


I don't think a dry heap breaks down at all. Or, at least, it's very slow.

A compost heap with only brown leaves will be too low in nitrogen to break down quickly. If you can mix in grass clippings, coffee grounds, garbage scraps or green yard waste, it will break down faster.

And chopping material in a compost heap makes it break down faster.

Then there is the "rule" to NEVER add lime to a compost heap. Well, true, adding lime encourages the liberated N to turn into ammonia and blow away.

But as a young kid, I was in charge of raking lots of brown pine needles and whatever brown leaves we had, and piling them up. I waited for years for them to compost, but they didn't. (I never watered them, and they had no N. I carefully returned all lawn clippings to the lawn, and didn't consider rooting through our garbage for compost-able items.)

After years of accumulating pine needles and some leaves, I got impatient and threw some lime onto my heap, and even a little hydrated lime. And I watered the heap twice per week. POOF! That whole mound of pine needles disappeared in a few weeks, and I got some compost out of it.

Everything that I read says not to add lime to a compost heap, and I totally believe that it causes you to lose some N. But it sure turned that permanent mound into compost, which several years of ignoring it had not done.

MAYBE, if your heap is very, very acid, a little lime would help. But avoid hydrated lime, and try things like "add some N" and "maintain moisture" before resorting to something that causes N to be lost to the atmosphere.

Brookline, NH (Zone 5a)
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dc0145a
Aug 31, 2016 9:08 AM CST
I have red wrigglers in my compost pile (leaves, weeds, grass clippings, chicken & goat manure, vegetable scraps). The wrigglers break it down in no time at all.
Donna, NH
Name: Rj
Just S of the twin cities of M (Zone 4b)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Plant Identifier
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crawgarden
Aug 31, 2016 9:47 AM CST
dc0145a said:I have red wrigglers in my compost pile (leaves, weeds, grass clippings, chicken & goat manure, vegetable scraps). The wrigglers break it down in no time at all.
Donna, NH


Donna, curious do your red wrigglers make it through the winter or do you have to reintroduce them in the spring? Thanks

Name: Rita
North Shore, Long Island, NY
Zone 6B
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Newyorkrita
Aug 31, 2016 11:10 AM CST
The earthworms will leave behind many egg cases which hatch in the spring to make lots of new worms. If you have a big compost pile that heats sufficiently and keeps heated in the middle then the earthworms may over winter in there.
Name: Rj
Just S of the twin cities of M (Zone 4b)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Plant Identifier
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crawgarden
Aug 31, 2016 5:33 PM CST
I have 4 big composters that I've made, I have never seen any worms in the piles and they do heat up, perhaps they are hanging out near the bottom of the pile. Did indoor vermicomposting for years so I know what they look like. 4b can get pretty cold in the winter.
Name: Karen
Southeast PA (Zone 6b)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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kousa
Aug 31, 2016 5:44 PM CST
I have a gas chipper that shreds leaves and small twigs very well. Bought it from Lowes for $800 in 2014. The only downside to this chipper is it does not have a bag attachment. So the shredded stuffs just fly out of the chute. You have to target the chute into a pile or some empty space. It is very easy to start which is a plus for me. If you need the brand and model, let me know.
(Zone 6a)
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UrbanWild
Aug 31, 2016 8:32 PM CST
kousa said:I have a gas chipper that shreds leaves and small twigs very well. Bought it from Lowes for $800 in 2014. The only downside to this chipper is it does not have a bag attachment. So the shredded stuffs just fly out of the chute. You have to target the chute into a pile or some empty space. It is very easy to start which is a plus for me. If you need the brand and model, let me know.


Yes, please! Will look at them here.

Always looking for interesting plants for pollinators and food! Bonus points for highly scented plants.
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
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dyzzypyxxy
Aug 31, 2016 8:42 PM CST
I tried shredding with a chipper/shredder and as has been said above it was tough to keep it from getting clogged with leaves. Went back to mowing the leaves instead of raking them. Set the mower on the tallest height it will go to, and just run it over whenever there are too many leaves on the lawn. Throw the leaves from the driveway, beds etc. on the lawn too.

The great thing about doing this is that it mixes the browning leaves with grass clippings really nicely so the composting then goes like crazy. Good mix of green to brown stuff. All you need to do is water and maybe turn it once or twice during the winter. Every fall at our house in Utah we'd have a huge compost heap full of leaves and grass, and within a week or two it would be down to about half the size, and hot, hot hot!

If you don't have any lawn, find a grassy space or ask your neighbor if you can mow their lawn . . . ?? Rolling on the floor laughing
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
(Zone 6a)
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UrbanWild
Aug 31, 2016 9:13 PM CST
dyzzypyxxy said:
If you don't have any lawn, find a grassy space or ask your neighbor if you can mow their lawn . . . ?? Rolling on the floor laughing


Hilarious! Hilarious! Hilarious! Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing

Always looking for interesting plants for pollinators and food! Bonus points for highly scented plants.
Name: Karen
Southeast PA (Zone 6b)
Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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kousa
Sep 1, 2016 3:47 PM CST
Here are some pics of my chipper/shredder. It is a Stanley CH70


Thumb of 2016-09-01/kousa/45aad3

The small opening down near the engine in front is for branches up to 3" in width. The chute high up (your left) is where the shredded and chipped stuffs fly out.


This is the opening for leaves
Thumb of 2016-09-01/kousa/e61b69

It can shred leaves as fast as you can in. The leaves must be dry though. Wet leaves will clog the chute. If you have any questions, let me know.

[Last edited by kousa - Sep 1, 2016 3:47 PM (+)]
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Name: Rick Moses
Derwood, MD (Zone 7b)
Region: Mid-Atlantic Region: Maryland Hostas Ferns
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RickM
Sep 12, 2016 9:02 AM CST
@UrbanWild,

We have a Bearcat chipper/shredder. All year long, we pile up all of the yard trim in the back. Then a couple of times a year, we pull out the 'cat and starting shredding. Yes, you have to be careful about not jamming too many leaves in at once, because it will clog. But, an old tree branch makes a great push stick.

This a 2-person job. There is no bagging attachment, so the shred comes out at the bottom and piles up. So, while I clear the discharge and bring more trim to be shredded, Larry feeds the beast. I like to keep the shred in piles precisely because it takes to long to break down. We have clay soil and rock, so the shred helps when planting new stuff. Plus, the worms start working it from the bottom of the pile. (Larry prefers to spread it all out so it looks nicer. It also breaks down much quicker.)

What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back, with a hinge in it. Charles Dudley Warner
Name: Yardenman
Maryland (Zone 7a)
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Yardenman
Nov 3, 2016 9:21 AM CST
I shred my leaves with my regular mower. A few passes and they are all just leaf shreds in the lawn (some mowers are better than others). And I leave them there. The grass likes it, the trees like it. Free nitrogen by Spring.

That why deciduous trees drop their leaves. They get the nutrients back through the roots in Spring and don't have to feed them all Winter.

THe same with lawn clippings BTW. The grass uses the decaying tops for food. And that isn't what causes thatch.

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