Samantha Snyder Extension Educator, Horticulture Oklahoma County OSU Cooperative Extension Service 930 N. Portland OKC, OK 73107 405-713-1125 October 10, 2008 Make your own garden gold It happens every year. Thousands of homeowners head out to the yard, rake up all of the freshly fallen leaves, put them in the ‘special’ blue bags and put them on the curb to be taken away. They might as well be wadding up a few hundred dollar bills and slip those into the bags while they’re at it. Fall leaves are one of the most valuable resources to be found in the landscape. I’ll bet you a dollar that the very same people will also head out to the garden center in the spring to purchase a nice bag or two of compost. So they threw away all of the ingredients to make compost, but then turn right back around and purchase compost… something isn’t quite adding up. Now I know that in today’s fast-paced society time is money, but it also seems like there might be less of that money part running around each of us. When the money gets tight it sure is amazing how quickly we can come up with the time. Composting lawn waste does not have to take a lot of time – really, it doesn’t. And the result will be free compost to be used as a soil amendment in flower beds and vegetable gardens, and it also makes one of the best mulches to be used around plants. Compost can be produced as fast as a person wants to make it. The great thing about composting is that all of the components required can be manipulated by the gardener – that’s us. There are definitely different types of composters in the gardening world. These different types of people can be likened to varying degrees of television viewers. At one end of the spectrum there is the individual that simply wants to watch TV and isn’t too concerned about the picture as long as they can make out faces and places. At the opposite end of this you will find the person who needs everything HD, Dolby, surround sound, Bose, fiber optic and whatever else can be added to enhance the viewing experience. The point is that a person can get as involved with the compost pile as they wish, and there will be no adverse effect other than the amount of time it takes to get results. Certain tweaks to the compost pile can speed up the process. With regards to fall leaves, the biggest thing that can be done to hasten composting is to reduce the particle size. This means to chop or shred the leaves into smaller pieces before adding them to the pile. This not only saves time for the microorganisms that will continue to break them down, but it greatly increases the volume of leaves that you can compost. Some sources say that by chopping or shredding leaves, what was once ten bags of leaves can fit into only one bag. Leaves can be chopped up using a mulching lawnmower. Mow over the leaves several times before collecting them with the bagging option. I checked with my local mower repair shop and they verified for me that this will have no adverse effect on the equipment – so chop away. For more specific information on constructing a compost pile contact the OSU Master Gardeners at 405-713-1125. The next key to speedy compost is oxygen. As a compost pile begins to break down and settle the particles become smaller and there are fewer pockets available to hold oxygen. The microorganisms that are creating this garden gold need that oxygen to continue to function normally and efficiently. In order to keep the compost process at top speed the pile should be turned. Think of this as good exercise for yourself. Turning is done by using any type of pitch fork (a shovel may work also if has a pointed tip) to restack the pile. By moving all of the materials around the pile is reinvigorated with fresh oxygen and the areas that were on the outside of the pile are moved to the inner part where the action is happening. If a vegetable garden is already in place, chopped up leaves can also be incorporated into the empty garden and allowed to break down over the winter. This is called sheet composting, because a sheet of leaves is tilled into the top few inches of soil. Additional nitrogen from a synthetic source or bloodmeal may need to be added to the soil as well. The microorganisms that are responsible for degrading the leaves feed on nitrogen while carrying out their important work in the soil. Something unexpected that happened to me when I first started composting was the reward that came along with the black gold at the end of the process. The awareness that I diverted biodegradable waste from the landfill and created something of high value for the landscape was a far greater sense of accomplishment than seeing the giant pile of trash bags waiting at the curb. Contact your local OSU County Extension Office to get information about composting in your own backyard. # # # The following workshops will be held at the OSU Extension Center, 930 North Portland, OKC unless otherwise specified. They are free and open to the public. Questions – call 713-1125. Tree Establishment and Care, October 16th, 1:30-3:00pm ##### Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating. The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, disability, or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer.
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