Go Brown to go Green: Turn fallen leaves into compost

Sunday, November 11, 2012
A selection of compost products at Sunny Hill in Cape Girardeau. A SpinBin and Geo Bin are two options for your compost materials. (Laura Simon)

Everywhere I look, I see signs that say "Go Green." This fall I would like to change the slogan a little to "Go Brown to Go Green."

Let me explain.

I was in my front yard a few days ago, complaining to myself about all of the leaves that I was blowing to the woods. What a pain to rake/blow leaves two or three times each fall.

Duh! Then the light bulb went on. These brown leaves are a gift if we just think about it. When they are composted, they can be used as a soil amendment, a needed addition to our area's soils.

Every experienced farmer and gardener knows that organic matter is an essential component of productive soils. If added to a clay soil, organic matter/compost, improves the soil structure. It makes the soil crumbly. A good crumbly soil increases the water infiltration rate and water holding capacity of soil. If added to a sandy soil, the water and nutrient holding capacity are also increased.

So instead of raking the leaves to the curb, burning them, or taking them to a dump site, why don't you compost them?

Add the compost to your landscape soil next spring and watch your landscape plants or lawn grow profusely.

Here are some directions on composting: Place a 6 to 12 inch layer of leaves in a pile. If you like, you can make or purchase a compost bin to place the leaves in. Next add a thin layer of soil over the leaves, and then sprinkle compost maker, lime, and fertilizer such as 11-15-11 over the pile. Then start another layer of the components just listed. You can add up to 4 or 5 layers to the pile.

Compost maker is a combination of microbes that do the actual composting (breaking down the leaves). The fertilizer provides nutrients that the microbes need to do their work. Lime keeps the pH of the compost pile close to neutral so that the microbes can access the nutrients from the fertilizer.

After you have made your compost pile, water the pile to activate the compost maker. The pile should stay moist, but not soggy. If no rain occurs, apply some water when the pile gets dry.

On an occasional basis, turn the compost material using a compost turner or a pitch fork. You do this so the pile does not get too hot. Too much heat will slow down or stop the composting process. You also want to make sure oxygen permeates the pile to enhance decomposition.

If you find it too hard to turn the pile, you may want to invest in a compost tumbler. You place all of the ingredients mentioned above into a barrel, and depending upon the kind of composter you purchase, you either roll the barrel or rotate the barrel to "turn" the compost.

You know the decomposition is finished when the color of the pile becomes black to dark brown. When this happens, the compost is available to layer and work into your landscape or lawn soil.

The leaves in your landscape when composted are a gift we have been given to benefit plants in our landscape. Composting also reduces trips to a landfill, or eliminates CO2 from being released into the environment. It is a great way to turn "brown to green."

Send your gardening and landscape questions to Paul Schnare at P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, MO 63702-0699 or by email to news@semissourian.com.

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