|Properly composting leaves|
Leaves are often referred to as "Gardeners' Gold". Their bright green
appearance in the Spring is a harbinger of the beginning of a new life cycle. Their presence in the summer provides much needed shelter from heat and rain for wildlife and humans alike, as well as being the vehicle through which trees produce their own food. Their dramatic beauty in the Fall can beunparalleled. In addition to all of this, properly used as mulch or compost they provide outstanding organic matter and nutrients to the soil.
Unfortunately, to use leaves effectively as mulch and compost they still must be raked or blown from your gardens and lawn so that you have control over where they are used. Leaving a thick layer of leaves on your lawn or garden can create conditions that lead to rotting of the grass or perennials beneath. So, to start with rake the leaves up into a pile.
Once your leaves have been gathered, you have a choice between using
them undecomposed, as mulch, or composting them before you put then in your garden. Regardless of how you are going to use them, the first step is to chop or shred your leaves. This will save space if you are placing them in a bin, it will minimize their blowing around and matting if you are placing them in the garden, and it will hasten their eventual decomposition into composted organic matter.
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, non-glossy paper, wood and bark chips. Good nitrogenous 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. It is not necessary to add commercial compost starters or fertilizer to a compost pile to start it "cooking" but doing so may hasten the process. 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 suburban 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 3 to 4 weeks.