by Michelle Wallace, Consumer Horticulture Agent – Durham, NC Cooperative Extension
Fall is here! And look out, your average Joe Gardener turns into a modern day Super Composter. He is the new Super Hero, saving leaves as they fall, and preventing them from landing in the county dump. He makes it look so easy, blowing leaves with a single hand. Mounding them up in the back of his house. Then mowing them over with his super lawnmower mulcher with bag attachment, he pours them out into three 3’x 4’piles at a time. With his super watering wand sprinkles just enough water to moisten up the piles so that just a few droplets of water leave his hand when squeezing a handful of leaves. Ah, our Super Composter’s job is done. All that left is a once a month turn of the leaf pile with his super pitch fork and in 4 to 9 months time the super compost is ready!
Leaf composting is so easy and so beneficial. I am certain many of you will make an effort to become a Super Composter this year. Really, the microorganisms which already exist in the leaves do all the work to break down the leaves. Once broken down, the leaf compost has the look and texture of crumbly chocolate cake. Providing that the composting piles are regularly aerated and kept moist (but not water laden), the compost will have an earthy scent and no foul odors.
Leaf compost can then be incorporated into the existing soil, which improves the soil texture. This will greatly improve your ability to garden in our Durham clay soils. Clay soils, in general, contain a high nutrient content and a high water holding capacity. Improving the soil texture by adding leaf compost improves the soil’s ability to drain water, makes the soil more pliable, and improves the ability for nutrient uptake to occur in plants. Leaf compost is not a substitute for fertilizer. It is considered more of a soil conditioner.
If 4 to 9 months seems a long time to wait for super compost, it is possible to speed the decomposition process up by adding fertilizer. 5 ounces (about a ½ cup) of 10% Nitrogen fertilizer can be added to a 20 gal container of hand compacted leaves (The State of New Jersey, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS074). This increases the nutrient content of the leaf compost as well, however adding fertilizer in general is not necessary in order to create leaf compost.
So this year, become a new modern day super hero, a Super Composter, save leaves, save the environment, reduce waste, improve the soil, and save money. It’s all in a good days work.
For more information about composting and other garden related issues, call or visit the Durham County Master Gardeners office at (919) 560-0528 located at 721 Foster Street in Durham.
Want to learn more about composting?
November 4, 2-4 pm at Sarah P. Duke Gardens
Learn the basics of composting, including traditional methods, vermiculture and how to compost in your home garden. We will discuss temperature, composition, proportions, bin selection, troubleshooting and benefits. Presented by Master Gardeners of Durham County. Please see Extension website for complete program information: durham.ces.ncsu.edu. Free; pre-registration required. Parking fees apply. (919) 668-1707.
December 11, 6:30 – 8 PM at Sarah P. Duke Gardens
Solid waste specialist Rhonda Sherman will provide an overview of how you can put your garbage to use in the garden, and the benefits you will harvest. Free parking. (919) 668-1707. $10, free for Durham Garden Forum members.