Are you throwing away what your garden needs?

November 16, 2010
compost for garden in Buffalo NY

Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

If you’re not using your leaves for compost, you’re throwing away a perfectly good supply of nutrients for your soil.

When you compost, you allow plant materials to decompose, which produces a dark material that is great for your garden soil.

Granted, some municipalities pick up the leaves and do the composting for you.

But as a gardener, you may want to try composting. It’s nice to have your own supply of compost on hand when you need it, and it can be convenient to have a place to throw your garden clippings. It’s also satisfying to know you’re keeping your carbon footprint smaller by using leaves and other plant material right in your own yard.

Composting can be as simple or intricate as you want to make it. Getting plant material to decay really isn’t that hard. After all, plant material decomposes on its own without our help every day.

However, composting can be defined as the “controlled” decomposition of organic material. The amount of control you want to exert determines how complicated composting will be.

The first question to answer is where you’ll put your compost pile, and what kind of container, if any, to use.

The simplest way to get started composting leaves is to rake them into one spot. Poof! You have a compost pile!

But how do you keep the leaves from blowing around your yard again? Many people build retaining walls  for their compost pile, or they a buy a bin.

I use garbage cans. An advantage of using garbage cans with tight-fitting lids is that I can also compost kitchen scraps without attracting mice and rats.

Besides these simple and inexpensive containers, there are many, many kinds of bins you can buy or make for composting. The type you choose depends on how patient you are, how much control you want to exert over the composting process and how complicated you want your composting to become.

There are two main areas that you may wish to control: weeds and speed.

  • Weeds. As the plant material decomposes, it generates heat. The Town of Amherst says it controls that heat enough to pasteurize the compost, producing compost that is free of plant pathogens and weed seeds. Controlling the heat complicates the composting process. An easier method of keeping weeds out of your finished compost is to simply not throw weeds or diseased plants into your compost pile in the first place.
  • Speed. If you’re patient, you don’t have to exert as much control, and the process of composting can be easier. If you’re in a hurry, there are many ways to speed up the process. We’ll discuss some of those in a later article.

Do you have tips on composting? Please share by leaving a comment below.

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