Composting Grass and Leaves
Well fall has certainly ‘fallen’ up here in Ontario. Not surprisingly many people are now raking up and bagging their leaves. As an avid composter, what DOES however never cease to amaze me as I drive around town, is the sight of countless bags of leaves waiting by the curb for pick-up.
I know I shouldn’t stress about it too much (or be surprised in the slightest) since we do have a decent municipal leaf composting program, but part of me wonders why more people don’t take advantage of this fantastic composting material now that its so abundant!
Here’s what ‘The Rodale Book of Composting’ (Rodale Press, 1992, p.95) has to say about leaves:
Because trees have extensive root systems, they draw nutrients up from deep within the subsoil. Much of this mineral bounty is passed into the leaves, making them a superior garden resource … Pound for pound, the leaves of most trees contain twice the mineral content of manure. The considerable fiber content of leaves aids in improving the aeration and crumb structure of most soils.
Fall leaves tend to be a carbon-rich material (C:N of 40:1-80:1) so you’ll definitely want to add a source of nitrogen. If you happen to cut your lawn with a power mower, why not simply collect some of your grass clippings during your fall lawn mowing sessions and mix these in with the leaves you rake up?
The ultimate technique (especially if you have a mulching mower) involves simply mowing the lawn (preferably when slightly damp) with the leaves still on the ground – this way you are mulching, mixing and collecting your materials all in one fell swoop. Its then ready to be piled and composted.
Mulching and moistening the leaves (if dry) is especially important if you plan on making a large active (thermophilic) pile. If you are simply using the leaves as fodder for your vermicomposting bin (red worms absolutely LOVE decaying leaves) these are not quite as critical for success (although moisture and decreased particle size always help accelerate the vermicomposting process!).
In colder regions compost heaps will certainly slow down or stop decomposing entirely during the winter months, but be assured – if you start composting grass and leaves now, by late spring you should still have a very nice rich material to spread on your gardens.
As for me, I have other plans in mind! You may recall that I’m hoping to fend off Old Man Winter this year (see Composter Update) so I’m currently in squirrel mode – gathering/preparing large quantities of the various materials needed to keep my composter ‘snug as a bug’ and well fed during the cold months ahead! Needless to say, I may resort to becoming a leaf thief during the next few weeks!
Anyway, be sure to try composting grass and leaves this year – and do stay tuned for another composter update soon!