One of the reasons I’m attracted to gardening is that it allows me to use and reuse materials. This has a lot of appeal for a pack rat like me. It gives me a good excuse to hang on to things because I often find another use for them later. Nothing goes to waste in the garden.

A prime example of this is my compost bin. I can take material that I might otherwise throw out such as leaves and grass clippings and turn them into big dividends next year in the way of healthy soil for my vegetables and flowers.

Many people I talk with are intimidated by the whole process, but there is really nothing to composting. It is all about getting the mix right.

The recipe is simple. The only ingredients you need are organic materials such as autumn leaves, grass clippings, and raw vegetable scraps from the kitchen. Items to avoid are woody stems, weeds, diseased plants, cooked food, and meat products. These items either take too long to break down or have the potential to spread pests and disease. The final two ingredients needed for compost are water and oxygen.

CompostI find it works best if you layer green, nitrogen-rich clippings with brown, carbon-rich material such as the autumn leaves at a ratio of about 1 part green to 1 part brown. The nitrogen will help speed up the decomposition of the dead leaves.

You can further accelerate the process by adding a source of nitrogen in the form of granular fertilizer high in nitrogen or well-rotted cow manure. At one time manure could be obtained from a local farmer, but with the risk of ecoli and diminishing access to farms, I recommend using bagged commercial cow manure.

Combining all these elements generates heat, which is the final ingredient needed to create compost. When your compost heats up, you know it’s working.

It’s no surprise that weather plays a factor in how quickly your compost heats up. The process works best when outdoor temperatures are fifty degrees F or higher.

Of course, if you are starting your compost pile in fall when leaves are most abundant you won’t have this advantage. To keep your compost going strong through the cold months, there are a few things I recommend. Make sure your pile is at least three feet high, that it stays moist (not sopping wet) in dry weather and that you turn it about every two weeks. Covering it with plastic will also help to hold the heat in when it is cold.

By taking advantage of all of the garden trimmings and leaves available in the fall, you can have plenty of rich compost in about 6 months. Just in time for summer planting!

Good to Know: Fall Leaves

Wouldn’t it be nice if fallen leaves insulated grass from cold winter temperatures? Unfortunately leaves left on the lawn are not helpful and can actually be harmful. It is important to remove dead leaves because over time they will form a dense mat that smothers your grass. So get out the rake, add the leaves to your compost pile and keep reminding yourself all the great rich soil that will come from your efforts.