Autumn is here and soon we will be putting our rakes and leaf blowers into action. Once the leaves are collected DO NOT BURN OR SEND TO LANDFILL!
Recycling Your Leaves Into Compost
by David Proctor
October 5, 2023
Urban Farm Lifestyle Magazine Published Weekly
Autumn is here and soon we will be putting our rakes into action.
Once the leaves have been raked up what do you do with them?
When I drive around and see all the large leaf bags at the curbside waiting to be picked up to go to the landfill, I cannot help but think, “What a waste!”.
I have two thoughts when raking leaves,
- Why rake the leaves, to begin with?
- Why are you trying to get rid of them?
I have always loved being out in the fall.
I enjoy walking through the leaves and enjoying the colors against an intense blue sky as a backdrop.
But, as the leaves fall we all feel that every last one needs to be picked up and disposed of.
Leaves, as it turns out, are one of nature’s best compost materials or compost gold for your plants.
They are dense in nutrients that have been collected by the trees that they fell from.
It is nature’s way of mining for nutrients deep in the earth through tree roots, which then travel up to the leaves.
The only thing the tree does not do for us is mulch the leaves!
Do not dispose of the leaves, instead, you should try to collect as many as you can.
Even take them from your neighbor if they do not want them.
You will never have enough.
Once these leaves are composted down, the volume will be a fraction of what they were when first collected.
I very seldom rake leaves, it just goes against my grain.
It’s frustrating that the pile of leaves gets bigger and harder to move as you rake.
Instead, I like to mow over the leaves and let them spread over the yard as a natural ground cover.
If you do this for a few years you will have fewer dandelions and crabgrass.
Use a grass catcher to collect and then dump the mulched leaves if you would like to save them for your garden and flower plots.
You will find that the pile is a fraction of the size of one created by raking, and they tend not to want to blow away like a pile created by raking and no mulching.
Another method is to use your leaf blower.
Instead of blowing the leaves, use the attachment that is probably still brand new (because you could not for the life of you figure out why anyone would use a perfectly good leaf blower), to instead suck the leaves up into a bag.
When the leaf blower is used in this fashion, it has a blade that will mulch the leaves before they go in the bag.
Take these mulched leaves and put them in an area that can be contained, such as a wire mesh or a walled-off area.
This way the leaves will not be disturbed by strong winds, but are still accessible to rotate.
This is for an open but contained composting method.
The leaf compost pile will need access to oxygen for the aerobic process to continue.
If you use a closed system, where oxygen is not accessible, that is called anaerobic.
Anaerobic is a process that I will talk about in a future article.
For now, we will look at the benefits of the oxygen, or aerobic, process.
The one thing that is really good to add to the leaf pile is coffee grounds.
Coffee grounds will add nitrogen and will help the plants ward off disease.
Coffee does not appear to add acidity as one might think.
This is probably due to most of the acids being removed during brewing.
So, save your coffee grounds for the leaf mulch.
The one thing I have not recommended for the leaf mulch pile is the kitchen scrapes.
Which we all think will be great for the mulch pile, right?
Hold on a minute!
Those kitchen scraps are not going to add much to the mulch pile.
You are much better off using them in a different mulch pile, preferably one that uses worms to break down the mulch or compost.
This doesn’t mean that you will not have worms in a leaf mulch pile, but if you are feeding worms for worm castings, then that is the place to put the kitchen scraps.
What goes in the front of the worm, comes out the back end, a very rich product for your plants.
The other counter-intuitive is to start a mulch pile in the fall.
One would think to mulch in the spring and have the warm weather help with the process.
The problem is that the leaves are still on the trees and the spring is when you want to be spreading the mulch as a nutritious plant ground cover.
Just an inch or two is all it takes to help hold moisture for your plants and simultaneously release nutrients to feed them.
Once the mulch pile starts to break down, the temperature will rise internally and help keep the process going.
Be sure to keep the mulch pile from drying out by adding water at least once a week.
Unless you are getting a lot of rain, then rotate with a pitchfork.
These types of mulching systems are open, where the material is on the ground in a pile.
It is easy to access for watering and rotating, but neighbors may not be too keen on the looks.
If you rotate the pile, you should not have any smells.
The next type of system is open-contained.
The containment may be a wire mesh, stacked blocks, or, something commercially obtained (which is generally plastic and has interlocking walls).
They all will work, it just depends on what you want to invest in.
Another system is contained but unsealed.
This way oxygen can still be used in the decomposition process.
The most commonly used product is barrels that open to add materials and can be rotated to mix content.
These barrels are normally pretty small and are not that easy to extract the materials from.
So, I generally use the open system.
I used to have a decently large yard, and the designated space to mulch was not very noticeable.
Mulching within a spot surrounded by trees helps, as well.
If you prefer a more manicured yard, you may want to look at the contained systems to build or purchase.
Hopefully, now you see why it is a good idea to keep those leaves instead of sending them to the landfill.
Now is the time to collect your leaf gold for your plants!
Check It Out!
Using Coffee Grounds:
• 10 to 20 percent of total compost volume
have been reported as optimal for compost quality and
effectiveness, while over 30 percent can be detrimental.
• Only small amounts of coffee grounds are required for
effective disease suppression. Therefore, I recommend
using no more than 20% by volume of coffee grounds in a compost pile. A diverse feedstock will ensure a diversity of microorganisms.
• Don’t assume coffee grounds will make an acidic compost; pH levels will undoubtedly change over time.
Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D.
MasterGardener WSU editor
Extension Urban Horticulturist
and Associate Professor,
Puyallup Research and Extension Center,
Washington State University
“Leaf Mold, Mulch and Compost | Planet Natural.” Planet Natural RSS. N.p., 04 Dec. 2012. Web. 5 Oct. 2023.
“US Composting Council Announces the 2016 International Compost Awareness Week Poster Contest – Call for Entries for Poster Design.”US Composting Council. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Oct. 2023.
“CERTIFIEDCOMPOST.COM.” CERTIFIEDCOMPOST.COM. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Oct. 2023.
“Register for Our E-newsletter.” Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Oct. 2023.