Leaves that have fallen after the fall foliage season of colors, whether collected and composted during the fall or spring, are a great food source for your organic garden. By recycling them and turning them into compost, you have a constant source of natural plant food.
In this article you will learn how to compost leaves if your are fortunate enough to live in an area where you have deciduous trees that shed their leaves on a seasonal basis.
1 – How to Pick a Spot for your Compost Pile
Pick an area with adequate drainage
First you have to pick a place on your property for your compost pile that has adequate drainage, which would be an area with higher ground. You want it to be in a place where water does not pool in your yard, so watch what the water does the next time you have a fairly heavy rain.
When you’ve picked your spot, you can gather your leaves with a rake or leaf blower.
2 – How Big, Large or Tall Should a Compost Pile be?
Not too small, not too large
A – Not Too Small – At the very least, your compost pile should be approximately 4 feet in diameter x 3 feet high. It has to be large enough to hold just enough moisture to help fuel the bacteria and/or organisms that break down the leaves. This process causes the compost pile to heat up inside as it decomposes. The heat from decomposition is essential in the making of compost in order to break down the leaves and kill off the seeds from weeds that may be in the pile.
B – Not Too Large – Don’t make your pile larger than about 10 feet in diameter x 5 feet high. The compost pile needs to “breath”. Enough air has to get to the center of the pile for proper decomposition. A compost pile that is decomposing properly will not smell like rotted leaves. If you need a lot of compost, you can make more than one pile using the guidelines above.
3 – How to Contain Your Compost Pile
So the leaves stay in one place
When you make one or more compost piles from leaves, you are going to need a way to keep them from blowing away and keep the pile looking decent since it is going to be on your property. There may be more concern about this in a residential area than on property that has a lot of land.
One inexpensive way to do this is to use wooden slat fencing which can be purchased by the roll. It is self-supported and allows for free flow of air.
4 – What to add and NOT to add to Compost
You can add:
- Grass Clippings (mix in when adding)
- Soft trimmings from shrubs
- Peels from fruit and veggies
- Clean egg shells
- Used Coffee Grounds
DO NOT add:
- Diseased vegetation
- Grass clippings treated with weed-killing herbicides
- Most Animal Waste
Small Compost Bin and Waste Collecter Pails and Containers
To keep in the kitchen for scraps appropriate for the compost heap.
My grandparents always saved all of their kitchen fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells and coffee grounds for composting in a small container that sat on the counter next to the sink, and emptied it each morning or evening.
5 – How Much Water to Add to a Compost Pile
Not too little, not too much
If there is little rain, you are going to add water as needed, not too much and not too little. This video does a good job of explaining how much and why, and has additional helpful information about composting.
Please note he didn’t say what food scraps NOT to add to compost, don’t add the things mentioned in the list above….and be careful when considering adding animal waste.
TIP: Your compost will break down more quickly if you use shredded leaves, you can use a mulching leaf blower/vacuum like one of the items offered above for this, or some mow their leaves with a power mower before adding.
6 – How to Speed Up and Increase the Composting Process
If you want to use plant food, use food that is 10% Nitrogen. A rough calculation as to how much to use would be about 1/4 a cup in the amount of leaves that would fill a 20 gallon can. This will help encourage decomposition.
Leaves will decompose naturally if you don’t add anything, but many like to increase the natural process. Some suggest adding limestone, or adding soil to the leaves. These steps aren’t necessary.
You can also buy compost accelerators and follow the instructions that come on the bottle. They should contain all natural nutrients, enzymes and more to aid in speeding up the composting process.
7 – How and When to Turn a Compost Pile in Hot and Cold Weather
More when outdoor temperatures are hot, less when cold
In areas where the weather is warm in the late spring, summer or early fall, or for those who live in warm climates year round, you will want to turn your compost pile with a pitch fork each month so that leaves on the outside of the pile are moved to the center so they will decompose.
When the weather is cold (late fall, winter, early spring in climates with cold winters) do not turn your compost heap so it will remain hot and decompose in the center. If you have a nice warm pile, you’ll notice it may steam during cold months, and snow will thaw on it more quickly than other places on your property.
8 – What is the Ideal Temperature for a Compost Pile?
Taking your compost’s temperature
9 – What does Compost Look Like when it’s Ready to Use?
Dark, rich, crumbly
When the compost looks dark and rich and crumbles in your hand it is ready to be used. The process takes 5-9 or 10 months, depending upon temperature and moisture conditions.
TIP: If you have more than one compost pile, start one a few months before the other, staggering the time when the piles will be ready to use so you always have a supply.
10 – How to Use Your Compost
Does it contain enough nutrients?
- Use it as Mulch in place of straw or peat-moss
- For 1000 square feet, use 25-30 bushels of compost, work into top 6-8″ of soil
- After adding compost to the soil some suggest adding 1 lb of 10% nitrogen fertilizer to the soil for each 3 bushels of compost
- Compost adds organic content to the soil, and makes some soils easier to cultivate, but does not necessarily contain high amounts of nutrients.
- In spite of what “some say” above, you’ll see a great improvement in your garden when you add compost
- Add it to the soil you will use in your planters if you do container gardening