Leaves - Knowledgebase Question

Whitehouse, Te
Question by charliemille
March 2, 2011
I read that I should either rake and bag leaves that fell over the winter or turn them into compost. How do I turn them into compost?


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Answer from NGA
March 2, 2011

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You can use the leaves as mulch or you can compost them and turn them into a nutrient rich amendment for your soil. Begin by shredding the leaves so they decompose faster. I just rake the leaves into long rows and run the lawn mower over them two or three times. Once you have your shredded leaves, you can immediately place them in your garden as mulch. The shredded leaves will decompose over the winter months.

An alternative for your shredded leaves is to compost them, either alone or with other organic matter. The simplest but longest process is to place the shredded leaves in a wire bin. Leave them there for two years, turning them occasionally, and you will have a really nice product. Leaf mold is a special fungus-rich compost that can retain three to five times its weight in water, rivaling peat moss. The only disadvantage of using leaves alone for composting is you will find that you need a tremendous amount of leaves to produce any quantity of compost.

Leaves can be used more effectively as a component in a compost pile that contains a variety of organic matters. A good balanced compost pile contains materials rich in nitrogen and others rich in carbon. Leaves can provide the carbon component of your pile. Other good carbon components include straw, nonglossy paper, wood and bark chips. Good nitrogen materials include grass and plant clippings, uncooked fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds. Use your shredded leaves and other carbon materials to layer between your nitrogenous materials in a bin. Turn the pile occasionally to aerate it, and make sure that it is moist, but not soggy. The amount of time it will take to produce compost depends upon its size, composition and conditions. The process can take anywhere from three months to one year. My small compost bins take 6 to 9 months to produce a fully composted product. I cut the materials I am placing in the piles into small pieces, and I turn the piles about once every week or two.

I find reusing organic materials such as leaves for mulch and compost to be one of the most satisfying aspects of my gardening. I hope you will give it a try.

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