Saturday, October 20, 2012

It's Compostable : Autumn Leaves

Okay, this one seems like a really easy one but for most people leaves are often overlooked as a compost addition in large part because there are just so many of them. Most home compost bins cannot handle the incredible volume of leaves, so they wind up either in the trash or some curbside leaf recycling program. Both are a lot of work and require burning of fossil fuels to get to their destination. I have two solutions that really reduce the amount of work and volume of the leave litter.

Lost Red Leaf The first uses some fossil fuels but since its part of a multi-tasking effort the net effect on usual gardening behavior doesn't really increase.

After walking the lawns to remove any sticks and anything else that may become a projectile I simple mow the lawn, leaves and all, bagging it as I go along. The lawn has to be mowed anyway so I really am multi-tasking, and since everything is being cut together there is a nice mix of green and brown material. If some of the chopped material isn't picked up I just leave it on the lawn unless there is a large clump, over time the leaf and grass shreds will break down and enrich the soil.

The bagged grass-leaf combo then goes into the compost, usually followed by a quick toss with the pitchfork to incorporate the material already in the composter. The balance of the grass-leaf shred is then spread over dormant flower beds, over the vegetable garden, and around the foundation plants as a winter mulch that, for the most part, will break down significantly over the course of the winter. A usual surprise comes if a second "leaf mowing" is needed in a few weeks, that original batch most likely will have broken down and reduced in volume so much so that more material can be added to the compost. Come spring any remaining leaves that are in the way get raked up and go into the composter with spent hyacinths, daffodils, and tulips.

The other solution for the leaves? Make a major pile in a back corner of the garden or even layer it over the vegetable garden. I'm always surprised at how soil beneath this sort of sheet composting improves over the course of winter.