Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Now What Did I Do With All Those Leaves?

Wednesdays are devoted to sustainability.

I first came in contact with sustainability through organic gardening. As far back as I can remember, my mother had a very large and quite productive garden. She grew everything organically. One of my brothers had the daily chore of putting things in the compost pile. Every so often, my father would spend a Saturday moving the compost pile from place to another. There were discussions of good locations for the pile tempered by conversations about what comments the neighbors might say regarding our pile of nameless brown stuff in the yard.

A regular composting routine is essential to organic gardening. You do not want to spend hours of effort handpicking pests from plants or spraying plants with various organic anti-pest remedies. You want to build success into the equation from the very beginning. From the bottom, up. As you tend a garden, you realize that you often have lots of vegetative matter and nothing to do with it. Maybe it's weeds. Maybe it's straw. Maybe it's the leaves you raked of the ground from last fall. All of these things go towards composting.

Now is the time to start. As you rake your leaves up this fall, you need to find a spot for them to stay. Leaves are the secret ingredient, the magic potion of the whole affair. You can pile them up loose and cover them with a tarp. You can buy a special purpose compost bin or tumbler. Or you can build a quick conatinment system byt driving 4 metal t-posts in the ground about 3-4 feet from each other. Then you attach fencing material that doesn't have openings more than 4". Chain link, poultry net. Garden fence. Whatever. T-post clips are relatively inexpensive or you can recycle some wire coat hangers if you have a pair of wire cutters and pliers for twisting.

Now you can just leave the leaves where they are and next year you might have compost. But really you want is compost in the spring. So here is how you do it. Have another pile. When you put kitchen waste in it like fruit peels, squash innards, potato peels, etc., you add 30X that amount of leaves. That's right 30, not 3. Then at least once per week, you want to flip the pile. If you make a third compost bin, you can flip the pile between the two bins leaving the leaves where they are. Make sure the pile stays damp but not wet. About the dampness of a well-wrung sponge. You can use waste water from your dishpan for such a thing.

Optimally the pile should be a 3 or 4 foot cube in contruction size. This is approximate because as you know, piles don't come in cubic dimensions usually. At least at my house they don't. Also make sure the pile is not in the shade. When you walk up to it in the middle of winter and the pile is steaming, you know you are on the right track.
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