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Compost those leaves

By Jeremy Williams

Extension News

According to the calendar, fall is officially here, and with the temperatures that are forecasted for at the time of this writing, it’s going to feel like autumn soon. With those falling temperatures, comes the falling leaves. One way to put those leaves to good use is by composting. Composting is a great way to dispose of leaves and other yard waste and also help benefit your garden in the future.

By composting those unwanted leaves, and other yard debris, such as small tree limbs, a microbial process will take place and convert them into a more usable product. The finished compost product will improve soil structure in both gardens and flower beds. Using the composted product will also hold nutrients in the soil and reduce water runoff and erosion. You can also use the finished compost as a mulch that will help reduce weed problems, cool the soil temperature and control the soil’s moisture.

When composting, if you add weeds, make sure they are free of seed heads. Placing pruned vines and small limbs in the compost pile are a good addition. Also, if you decided to place grass clippings into the compost pile, just mix them in with the other materials. When using grass clippings, make sure that they have not had a herbicide applied to them.

Place your compost pile on a site that is well drained that could possibly benefit from the nutrient run off from the pile. If you are just starting, layer your materials. This will allow proper mixing and aid in decomposition. It’s best to alternate layer leafy material with brush or woody items. When finished, with the layering process your compost pile should be about one cubic yard in size.

If you only have leaves to compost, just simply add the leaves as you collect them. When the leaves are dry, add some moisture. This will aid them in the decomposition process. Mixing some grass clippings into the leaf compost pile will allow the pile to break down properly and quickly.

To allow good aeration and drainage, occasionally apply some coarse plant material like small twigs. This will allow air to travel through the pile.

About once per month, turn the compost pile. If the center of the pile becomes hot, turning it more often may be needed. The more often you turn the pile and allow air to circulate through the pile, the more quickly you will have compost. When the compost stays at the same temperature and fails to heat, it is then usable.

During the process, check the pile to make sure that it has plenty of moisture. It doesn’t need to be saturated with water but needs to be damp. If you can squeeze a few drops of water from a handful of material, it is in great shape. During dry periods, you may need to add some moisture and during wet periods, you may need cover the compost pile.

For more information, contact the Harlan County Cooperative Extension Service at 606-573-4464.

Jeremy Williams is the Harlan County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.