Torfaen Libraries' blog: Autumn

Food scraps and decomposing plants from your spring and summer garden are fantastic compost material, but there’s something else–something better–that we’ve been missing all along: tree leaves. At least twice as rich in minerals than manure, the composted leaves of most trees can save you cash, not only on what you would spend on plant food and humus, but also on sanitation bills.

Some of you may be thinking, Well, I already save on bills by burning my leaves. But think of the carbon footprint you create when burning that organic material. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as they grow, storing the carbon dioxide in plant material that is rereleased as the plants burn. Even though composting also releases small amounts of carbon, much of it is contained in the decomposing plant matter. A major contributor to climate change and airborne pollutants, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect, which adds “insulation” to the earth, making our planet warmer.

During extra hot summer months that often go unaccompanied by rain, your mineral-rich leaf compost will improve depleted and dry soil, helping your garden reach its full potential. Plant material from trees, ranging from leaves to pine needles, are high in mineral content such as calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, and phosphorus–many of which make up your average bag of garden compost or potting soil. This is because most trees are deep-rooted, absorbing minerals from deep within the earth that travel through the tree and into the leaves. The structure of these leaves as they decompose, known as humus, facilitates mineral filtration, soil consistency, and overall plant and soil health by aerating heavy soils, preventing sandy soils from drying, and balancing water levels in the soil.

In order to successfully compost leaves, one must do a bit more than rake them into a pile and check on the pile come springtime. Adding nitrogen—such as manure—to the pile will allow the compost to heat up and give the bacteria in the compost something to break down. Next, attempt to grind or shred your leaves. This will make handling the compost much easier, as the humus will be more broken-down. Turn the compost pile every three weeks and, come spring, use your new compost as mulch for a healthy garden and healthy harvest!

For more information on other things you can use for compost, check out this detailed composting chart that lists materials ranging from dog poo to algae.

Contributed by Christine St. Pierre

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