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Volume 16, Issue 48 - November 27 - December 3, 2008
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The Bay Gardener by Dr. Frank Gouin

Composting Leaves: An Autumn Recipe

Prepare your spring garden from fall leaves

Fall is a great time for starting a compost pile. For composting leaves, you need a compost bin that is at least five feet in diameter. The bigger the better. Turkey fencing that is four feet tall and has four-inch-by-two-inch openings makes an ideal enclosure for composting leaves. Turkey fencing bins are easy to assemble and can easily be stored when not in use. Southern States Co-op generally has this type of fencing.

Select an area that is well drained and out of the way. Place a layer of leaves about 18 to 24 inches deep in the bottom. If children are around, have them jump up and down on the leaves in the bin to grind them into smaller pieces.

Next spread a thin layer of LeafGro, Chesapeake Green or Chesapeake Blue over the leaves and water thoroughly, using a sprinkler can with at least one tablespoon of dish detergent per gallon of water. The purpose of the detergent is to reduce the surface tension of the water so as to better wet the leaves.

Repeat the layering of leaves and compost until the bin is full. Thoroughly water the compost layer each time. After you have placed the second layer, add additional water with a garden hose. I place a small sprinkler in the compost bin while I am collecting leaves. To hasten the composting process, sprinkle a cup of high nitrogen fertilizer over each layer of compost. The addition of nitrogen will improve carbon-nitrogen balance, resulting in more rapid breakdown of leaves.

As you fill the compost bin and add water, you will notice the layers begin to compress. Within a few days after you fill the bin, its center will settle sufficiently for you to add a couple of more layers of leaves and compost. The bigger the pile, the better the leaves will compost.

Sometime in January, open the bin and empty it. Mix the compost, breaking apart any dry clumps of leaves. Add water and refill the bin. Adding dirty dishwater during the winter months will also hasten the process. Mixing the compost will not only hasten decomposition but also will result in a more uniform compost.

It takes about one bushel of leaves to make a cup of compost, so watch that compost pile shrink. If you did a good job of mixing and if you added additional fertilizer, you will also note that the center of the compost pile will be warm: An active compost pile generates heat.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected]. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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