February 17th, 2010

Malcolm Beck says, “To understand Nature, walk into the woods and meadows and allow your five senses to feed your brain.” In the woods you can “hear” the leaves crunching beneath your feet, “see” the accumulation of dead plant material breaking down into soil, “smell” the richness of the humus, and if you reach down beneath the leaves you can “feel” the soft moist earth being replenished. Our aesthetic training has taught us that we don’t want our back yards to have the layers of decomposing leaves and branches present in the woods, but we can simulate that process through composting.

Compost is a mixture of decomposing and rotting debris which can be used to add fertilizing elements to the soil. Have you ever wondered why you pay your municipality to carry away your yard waste, and then pay to buy topsoil to refresh your yard?

What good is compost? Leaf mold has a miraculous ability to hold moisture. To compare, subsoil holds a mere 20 percent of its weight in water and good topsoil holds 60 percent. Leaf mold can retain 300 to 500 percent of its weight in water.

This time of year one of the best items for composting, leaves, is readily available in most home landscapes. Most leaves compost faster and more thoroughly if they are shredded before being added to the pile. If you don’t have a shredder, pile the leaves in a row in your yard and cut them up with a rotary lawnmower. Rake the chopped leaves and add them to the compost pile. Shredding greatly increases the total surface area of any material. The conversion of raw organic material into colloidal humus is accomplished by a series of fermentations. These fermentations comsume plant residues like a living fire. The finer the particles, the faster they will be consumed. The faster a compost is made, the better it is because there is less time for the dissipation of valuable gases and the leaching out of essential elements.

How To Get Started Composting

  1. First you need an enclosure. This can be a trench dug into a remote corner of the yard, a home constructed bin, or a commercial unit. An easy way to construct a bin is to nail three wooden pallets together in a “U” shape.
  2. Add leaves in a three layer formula:
    • 10 to 12 inches of leaves
    • one inch soil
    • a handful of nitrogen fertilizer.

    Repeat layers to a three foot level filling the compost bin. Grass clippings and healthy plant debris can also be added.

  3. Add moisture and stir. The compost material must be stirred, or turned, on a regular basis to add oxygen and moisture. If the season is dry you will need to add water, but just sprinkle, don’t soak.

It may take up to three months for a compost pile to be complete, so be patient. The sooner you start, the sooner your compost will be ready for use.