Fallen leaf compost

Autumn is like a great big party: beautiful while it happens, but then comes the clean-up. What are you supposed to do with all those red, orange, and yellow leaves once they fall off the trees and start turning brown? Compost.

The abundance of soggy leaf detritus makes autumn a perfect time for starting a compost pile. Composting, according to the Organic Consumers Association, is  “a controlled process of decomposition used to transform organic material such as kitchen scraps, yard wastes and paper products into humus. Humus, or compost, is a dark, soil-like substance that enriches soil with nutrients, increases moisture retention, improves structure and provides a good environment for beneficial soil organisms.”

To begin a compost pile with autumn leaves, you need a base mixture of 2 or 3 parts leaves to one 1 grass clippings. However, since it’s autumn, you’re probably not mowing your lawn very much and may not have the grass you need until spring or summer. Tara McKnight at the Texas Cooperative Extension recommends stockpiling the leaves without disturbing them until spring, at which point you can mix them with grass and kitchen scraps and begin your compost pile.

The reason you need both leaves and grass is because compost piles require a ratio of 2 or 3 parts high carbon materials to 1 part high nitrogen materials (see our previous composting blog).  The grass clippings provide the nitrogen necessary to speed up decomposition of organic materials, while the leaves provide the carbon. Other high carbon materials are loose paper, corncobs and husks, sawdust, and pine needles. Other high nitrogen materials are coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, and seaweed.

Got more leaves than you (or your community garden) can compost? Time to bag and turn them over to the municipal yard waste collectors. Some places have regular street collection and will pick it up with the rest of your trash. Other areas require you to bring leaves and cuttings to the collection center. Every municipality has its own guidelines, but the recycling website Earth911 lets you enter your zip code and the material you wish to recycle for resources in your area. The EPA Waste website also has tips on waste disposal and composting. Either way, stay eco-friendly by using Seventh Generation trash bags, made from recycled materials, or EcoProducts  biodegradable lawn and leaf bags made from corn, a renewable resource.

By Rachel Brown

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