Smart people rake, but smarter people mulch and compost! Once the gardening season has come to a close, it’s time to harvest another crop: fall leaves. Leaves are much more than a nuisance to be raked and bagged for disposal in your local landfill. They are a valuable source of organic matter packed with minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium that tree roots have pulled from deep within the soil. In fact, leaves contain twice the mineral content of manure.
Using Nature’s Bounty
The Old Farmer’s Almanac estimates that the leaves gathered from one large tree can provide up to $50 worth of plant food and humus. Once decomposed, leaves improve soil by lightening heavy clay soil and increasing the moisture retention ability of sandy soil. They even provide a source of food for earthworms and beneficial bacteria. Here’s how to put this resource to work for you by making compost.
- Gather leaves. This is the easy part – gather leaves as soon as they begin falling, when they contain the most nutrients. Keep in mind that some leaves – including maple, ash, beech, elm and fruit tree – are better than others for composting. Use oak leaves sparingly for compost as they are more acidic than other species. If you don’t have enough leaves on your property, you’ll likely have neighbors who are more than happy to share.
- Shred. Leaves for compost must be shredded. This allows microbes to break them down much faster, and prevents matting that keeps out air and water and delays the decomposition process. Shredding can be done with a commercial shredder or your lawn mower.
- Add nitrogen. To create compost, you will need to add a source of nitrogen to your shredded leaves to speed up decomposition. Freshly cut green grass is a great option. You can also use horse, chicken or rabbit manure. Mix these ingredients in a 5:1 ratio, using 5 containers of leaves to one container of grass clippings or manure.
- Gather, mix, turn. Create an area near your garden for a leaf compost pile. For the fastest results, your compost should be turned with a shovel every few days to encourage it to heat up and decompose. Make sure to keep the pile moist to further encourage composting.
- Wait. With regular attention, your pile will compost in four to six months, creating a dark, crumbly material that’s a wonderful addition to garden soil.
Keep Leaves Out of Gutters with a GutterShutter
Leaves are perfect for composting but only cause problems when they fall in gutters. Keep your gutter system leaf-free by installing GutterShutter. Not only is GutterShutter a highly effective leaf guard, it keeps out every other kind of debris. Water can get in, but everything else simply falls off the edge!