Leave your leaves

Trees of all types fascinate me.  The pin oak and silver maple tree on my parcel have been in existence since our slab home was built in 1952.  Can you imagine the root system on these trees?  Tree roots penetrate deep excavating minerals.  Those minerals end up in the leaves.  Trees lose their leaves in the Fall . Fungus takes over and turns leaves to leaf mould, a wonderful mulch with valuable minerals.  So why are we hauling all of this to the curb?  You have a garden to feed and protect from the elements!20161126_102958

The picture above is one of many garden spots benefiting from mulched leaves.  Before adding the mulched leaves, I add aged horse manure.  Make sure you pull all weeds before adding manure/compost and shredded leaves.  No need to till, the leaves will break down fine.  You may have mulch remaining for your Spring plantings.

I’itoi Onions planted in September is pictured below.  This is a multiplier onion that over winters and will be harvested in late Spring/Early Summer.  The shredded leaves will hold in moisture, protect the roots from harsh winter weather, experienced here in Zone 5b, and will break down and feed the plants. Yes, there are some carrots in this bed as well.


Don’t have trees and have a need for leaves?  Right now is the time to be observant.  Keep an eye out for lawn bags on the curb and rescue them from going to the landfill.  I, personally, would ask before taking.  Do you know of someone who absolutely hates the chore of raking up their leaves?  Do it for them-payment in leaves!

Now shred your leaves into small pieces.  The smaller the leaves the quicker they will decompose.  I find running over a pile of leaves with a lawn mower is effective.  What better way to run the gas out of your mower at the end of the season? You can also buy a leaf mulcher/wood chipper, they range from inexpensive to way expensive.  If you have lots and lots of time on your hands, you can use your hands and crunch the leaves up.

Any leaves to avoid?  In my area, Midwest Zone 5b, I avoid walnut leaves. Walnuts contain a chemical called juglone which can inhibit growth of plants like tomatoes. I do not have any walnut trees on the property but if I were to rake leaves up for someone or take my neighbor’s lawn waste, I’d be aware of what’s being picked up.  That’s why it’s a good idea to ask before taking lawn waste, you’ll now exactly what you are getting.  If you choose to use walnut, just throw them in their own pile away from your garden to compost.  After a year or two the leaf mould should be safe to use in your garden.

Do a good deed for someone and your soil!

Take Out, Put Back

The goal this year is to compost all garden debris, keep the pile hot this Winter and have a nutritious finished compost for the upcoming year.   Fall is the best time to start a compost pile because of the amount of debris that can be collected.  You typically want a pile that is at least 3 ft x 3x ft 3 ft for it to properly heat up.  Ingredients for a successful compost pile include oxygen, water, nitrogen (greens), and carbon (browns).  I have t-posts and chicken wire laying around, so I used that for my bin structure.  A tarp on the top to keep excess moisture out and protect the pile from the sun drying the pile out.  The pile is located in the garden for easy access.IMG_0197
Above you see the beginning stages of the compost pile.  Spent plants are being chopped up and added along with weeds and straw.  The straw was being used as mulch this year.  The goal is to clean the garden of all debris and reincarnate as compost and to prevent pests from overwintering in the debris.  This pile was started mid-September.  The bottom layer, I added about 5 inches of straw (carbon).  Added a gallon of rain water to the top of that.  Next added spent garden plants (green), then added some rain water.  Next, added another layer of straw and some rain water.  I have access to chicken manure from my folks, so added a layer of chicken manure (green) and wetted it down with some rain water. Next browns then greens and adding rain water to each layer.  Add enough water to get the layers wet, not sopping wet.


A week later, the pile is reduced.  The temperature stayed around 130 degrees Fahrenheit.  At this time, it’s time to take out the manure fork and break the pile up (exercise).  Once you take your pile out, add some more straw for the bottom and add rain water.  Take what was the top of the pile and layer on top of the straw.  Take what was the bottom layer and add.  Add rain water, if needed.  At this time, if you have any more spent plants, add them now.  Then add the remainder of the compost, which will be the previous middle layer.  If you have the room you could just set up another bin and add your layers to it.  The idea is just to add oxygen and water if needed.  A week later we flip again.20171007_171930

Everything is breaking down nicely as seen above.  Just keep adding garden debris, rotating layers and your pile is going to retain heat and break down nicely.  You also get a great workout.

Greens used: sweet potato vines, spent fruit and vegetable plants, spent flower plants, hop bines, weeds, brewing waste, chicken manure

Browns used: Straw, dried bean vines, dead leaves

**Note:  Since I am in town, I compost fruit/vegetable waste, coffee grounds with some brown materials in a secured tumbler to not attract mice and other pests.  Once these scraps are rotted, I add it to the garden debris compost pile as a “green”.

Nothing is thrown out on the curb to be hauled away to a landfill – mission accomplished!

Happy composting!