Composting Leaves / What’s Compost
Not only do leaves make trees look beautiful, their importance in sustaining life on this planet cannot be understated. Their bright green appearance in the spring is a harbinger of the beginning of a new life cycle. In the summer leaves provide much needed shelter from heat and rain for wildlife and humans alike.
They also serve as the vehicle through which trees produce their own food. Their dramatic beauty in the fall is simply unparalleled. In addition to all of this, properly used as mulch or compost they provide outstanding organic matter and nutrients to the soil.
Composting, often described as nature’s way of recycling, is the biological process of breaking up of organic waste such as kitchen waste, dog poop, grass, food waste, newspaper, worms, and coffee grounds, etc., into an extremely useful humus-like substance by various micro-organisms including bacteria, fungi and actinomycetes in the presence of oxygen.
Actinomycetes are similar to fungus in the way they grow and spread, but its distinguishing elements are that the types of materials they are efficient at decomposing. The active nature in this microscopic bacteria and the sheer number present (about 10 million per 1 gram of soil), make them highly effective at breaking down materials like tree bark and other hard organic material.
Composting Leaves / Rake It Up
Leaving a thick layer of leaves on your lawn or garden can create conditions that lead to rotting of the grass or perennials beneath. So, the first step is to rake up the leaves into a pile. Once your leaves have been gathered, you have a choice between using them undecomposed, as mulch, or composting them before you put then in your garden.
But before doing that, it is extremely important to shred or mow them. It will hasten their eventual decomposition into composted organic matter. If you leave leaves large, they will mat together and turn into black slime instead of nice, crumbly compost. They can be composted either alone or with other organic matter.
Composting Leaves / Creating the Right Mixture
However, leaves can be used more effectively as a component in a compost pile that contains a variety of organic matters. A good balanced compost pile contains materials rich in nitrogen and others rich in carbon. Leaves can provide the carbon component of your pile. Nevertheless, fresh leaves are also abundant in nitrogen.
Their carbon abundance increases the more you allow them to dry out. The collecting of material for a compost pile is a year-around process, but autumn, with its abundance of fallen leaves and garden refuse, is an excellent time to start the accumulation (stockpiling).
Decayed leaves create what is called leaf mulch. Mulched soil is soft, texturally rich and fluffy, what is called tilth or humus. It is alive and well. Mulch helps to:
- conserve soil moisture
- control weeds and grasses
- reduce soil erosion
- prevent soil crusting
- eliminate lawn mower disease–damage caused by mowing or trimming too close to young trees
Trees are very good at taking up minerals, and these tend to concentrate in the leaves. In nature, the minerals return to the earth as the leaves decay. Thus, leaves are nature’s most abundant recycling resource and are perfectly complemented when composted with weeds, garden debris and household food waste.
Thank you for visiting the Composting Leaves page.
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