When leaves fall, it’s best to compost

Most of central and western Oklahoma froze this last week so we are watching tree leaves fall all across our state. One of my pet peeves is seeing boxes and bags of these deceased but still beneficial leaves raked up and sent off to our over used landfills. This is a terrible waste of natural resources when we send used leaves to the dump. With a goal of sustainability and making the best use of our resources and not using more than we need, we continue to rake up this free and readily available organic matter and send it to a wasted life in a landfill pyramid.

I understand when we are nestled in urban neighborhoods with nearby neighbors there are safety and appearance issues where you may want or even need to rake up and collect your fallen leaves. Instead of throwing them away consider buying a compost bin, making your own or simply just creating a compost pile. You can contain it with wire or wood fencing, concrete blocks or just start a pile in a corner of the yard.

Composting natural vegetation involves the microbial decomposition of organic matter and produces a great soil amending compost of dark, partially decomposed material ready to add organic matter to your soils after 4 to 9 months in the pile. As microorganisms decompose the leafs and organic matter, temperatures can reach 150° F at the center of the pile. These high temperatures inside the pile kill most weed seeds and disease organisms. Locate the compost pile where there is good drainage and no standing water. To reach the right temperatures the compost pile should be at least 4’ in diameter and 3’ tall when you start. Moisten the leaves periodically after you put them in the pile so they won’t blow away and to speed up the composting. To insure good availability of oxygen in the pile do not make your compost pile over about 5’ high and 10’ in diameter.

You can also add fresh vegetable trimmings and some grass clippings. Too much grass can cause an anaerobic reaction that can get smelly as grass clippings can draw all the oxygen from the pile. The microorganisms cannot function without water so make sure not to let your stack get totally dry. You can speed up the process by adding ½ cup of 10-20-10 type fertilizer for every 20 gallons of organic matter but this extra nitrogen is generally not necessary. Some folks like throwing a thin layer of garden soil on the pile to weight down the leaves and to add more of the natural microorganisms to help compost the pile. It is best not to compost diseased plants or weeds in flower or seed. During warm weather turn the pile about once a month or anytime the pile smells like ammonia or gives off other offensive odors.  

Try a compost pile or barrel to recapture these leaf nutrients and this wonderful organic matter instead of sending it to the dump this fall.

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

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