Green Team: Turn Piles of Fallen Leaves Into 'Black Gold'
Compost those falling leaves, and eventually you can put them back to work in your garden. Written by Holmdel Green Team Chairperson Elizabeth Wilson.
Those beautiful autumn leaves will soon start to fall and piles of them will line our streets, waiting to be picked up by our town. Piles left on the grass for long smother it, and some leaves blow back onto your lawn or your neighbor’s.
Leaves left illegally in the street divert drivers to the middle of the road, and can block the view of driveways and clog storm sewers.
What’s more, it costs the town thousands of dollars to pick them up – a cost that eventually shows up in our tax bills.
“There are better ways to deal with leaves,” asserts Green Team member Janet Jackel, “especially once we see them as a resource rather than a nuisance."
A leaf pile that sits discreetly at the back of your property will decompose to yield the ‘black gold’ that can enrich the garden for next year’s flowers and shrubs.”
What to do with those excess leaves? The Green Team advises corralling those leaves in your back or side yard and allowing them to turn into garden-enhancing humus.
Earthworms and millions of microbes, naturally occurring with the leaves, decompose the leaves into the dark, crumbly soil enhancer sometimes known as “black gold.”
Janet Berk uses the simplest strategy, especially good for people who live in or next to woods.
She piles them in a heap at woods’ edge. The pile should be at least 4 feet in diameter and 3 feet high to reach the temperature at which the organisms work.
Some gardeners like to use three piles: one for newly fallen leaves, one which is actively composting, and one for finished compost. In a surprisingly short time the leaves ‘cook down’ like spinach in a pot of boiling water.
For those who prefer more containment of the leaves, an enclosure can easily be constructed.
All it takes are four 4- or 5-foot poles and some galvanized 3- or 4-foot high hex netting from the hardware store. One open or openable side permits easy access for filling and turning the pile. The pile should be kept moist for best decomposition.
Scott Goldstein hastens the composting process by running over the leaves with his mower. He likes to alternate brown leaves with green garden trimmings. The pile should be turned about once a month in warm weather, or right away if the pile gets soggy.
Bob Wilson humors his neatnik wife Betsy by feeding their leaves and other garden debris through a mulch grinder. The smaller sized particles decompose in just a few months. But by any of these methods, nature’s own recyclers will turn autumn’s leaves into summer’s compost .
There are many good sources for composting instructions. You can go to the Rutgers website for an authoritative discussion of leaf composting.
YouTube also has many entries on the same subject.