Last week I talked about what you needed for your compost pile. Compost is composed of the following elements: green plus brown plus water plus air over time = compost. The green component is your kitchen waste. The leaves are the brown component. But you don't just need a little leaves, you need a lot of leaves. A huge amount. Tons. 30 parts for every part green. But I don't have that many, you say. Can I use something else? Please.
Okay, enough begging. I'll tell you what I know. Straw works well. Brown, woody stems from perennials work best in the spring after they've wintered over. Wood mulch or wood chips from a shredder can be used.
Make sure you rake up as many of your own leaves as you can. If you can shred them before using them, then you will have speedier results when everything else is equal. If you don't have enough, you could borrow your neighbor's or your whole street's leaves. On your way to or from work, take the road less travelled and go through neighborhoods where people like to bag up their leaves. Go ahead. Pick those bags up from the curb. The garbage men will thank you.
If you use straw for anything, like mulch, to grow potatoes, or for autumn hayrides, hang onto it. Keep it somewhat dry or let it dry out. Or you could volunteer to take your neighbor's chicken laying box straw. Last resort, you could buy a square bale of straw from a variety of places. The last option works well if you do not have too much to put into your compost pile. Make sure the straw you are using doesn't have nasties in it like Bermuda grass.
Some perennial stalks to use could from day lilies, cannas, cone flower, bear's breeches, coral bells or sedum. Of course they are many options in this category. You are not actually completely confined to perennials. You could also use corn stalks and sunflower stalks left over from the winter. You would probably prefer to shred or cut them up first. Plan ahead and be sustainable. When you plan your flower beds, make sure to include taller perennials with stems and brown matter you can use. As you do your fall or spring cleaning in your flower beds, set the brown stuff aside in its own pile for later use.
As you trim and prune your trees and bushes in the spring, you can take the wood and shred it. A shredder for branches no bigger than two inches in diameter should be sufficient for what you need. Be frugal in your purchase, as well. There is no need to purchase the biggest, baddest Tool Time super-mega-horsepower shredder for this. A good used one will do. Shred right into your brown bin.
A little pre-planning and ingenuity will go a long way toward good soil when it is time to mulch. You want to use compost before anything else. A healthy plant means less disease, less pests and more fruit. Good Luck!
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