Composting: Yard Waste

The following article was published by the Daily InterLake in October, 2008. David Brown is a health researcher from Kalispell; his blog is Nutrition Science Analyst.

See also his comment to the post:  “Composting Author Wanted.”

Fall Composting of Yard “Waste”

by David Brown

October is a month of opportunity for gardeners as well as those who appreciate beautiful lawns and landscaping. Trees preparing for winter remove nitrogen from their leaves and store the nutrient in buds and stems to reuse when warm weather returns. This causes leaves to change color and eventually detach and fall to the ground.

Each leaf is a package of nutrients that can be used to enrich topsoil. Up to a third of a leaf is minerals. The remainder is carbon.

Instead of raking leaves into the streets for the city to pick up, shred them with a lawn mower, bin them for a year or so, and then fertilize fruit trees, flowers, vegetables, shrubs, and lawn.

I used to mix most of the leaves gathered each fall with grass clippings accumulated during the growing season. In Spring, with proper moisture content, it would take three weeks to a month for the leaf/grass mixture to compost to where it could be shredded, then spread on lawn and garden or tilled directly into the soil.

Spread on the ground around raspberries, strawberries, flowers, and shrubs, earthworms make compost disappear within a month or so. Sprinkled on the lawn, it makes the grass unbelievably green and healthy and eventually eliminates any problem with thatch buildup.

Leaves can also be binned for several seasons in which time they become riddled with earthworms, eventually turning into a rich, brown topsoil that is easy to till into the earth or spread as mulch.

The Compost Bin

Ideally, a leaf or compost bin should be no more than three feet in diameter or width. I like to make my larger storage bins out of 2 inch by 4 inch by 6 foot fencing material. Two foot pieces of half inch re-bar supporting five foot pieces of half inch electrical conduit are used for posts. Bailing twine is used to attach fencing to posts. A bin 3 feet wide, 6 feet tall, and 8 feet long, open at one end, will store an enormous amount of material, especially if the leaves are moistened as they are placed in the bin. 

Stone Mulching

Newly gathered or uncomposted leaves are great for stone mulching. This fertilization technique at least doubles the growth rate of fruit trees.

To stone mulch a tree, clear sod away from the trunk, cover the area with 5 or 6 inches of wet leaves, then cover the leaves with stones of whatever size suits your fancy. I use an assortment of stones 1 to 3 inches thick, enough to cover an area up to six feet in diameter. Leaves are replenished each spring as it takes about one season for earthworms to consume them.

See Composting Kitchen Scraps and Yard Waste for printable copy of this article (pdf, 96 kb)

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