The weather has been beautiful — the weather has been rainy and cold. Welcome to Spring in Wisconsin! On those days that are beautiful, have you been cleaning out your gardens, lawns, and under your trees? All of those wonderfully dried leaves are just waiting to be turned into nutritious compost for your gardens. Compost provides the perfect amount of food for every plant — including essential nutrients not found in commercial fertilizers. Raking compost into your turf improves the structure of the soil under your lawn. If you think that plants need chemicals to survive, just look around you! The woods, plains, and wildflowers sustain themselves without any man-made materials.
It all starts with shredding those leaves! Whole leaves take quite a while to break down on their own, and tend to mat together. Whole leaves just sit there cold in compost piles. Not only don’t they help — they can actually prevent the composting process. Shred them up, though, and you create the perfect compost makings. Remember, though, that shredding decreases the volume by a factor of ten. In other words, 10 bags of whole leaves can be shredded down to the point where they can all fit in one bag.
There are a multitude of publications that help you with the dynamics of what to use for composting, how to compost, what to add, what not to add, etc. You can use commercially manufactured compost bins, fenced-in piles, garbage cans studded with drainage holes, or simple black garbage bags — all of these solutions and more work to create quality compost as long as you’re using the right ingredients! My favorite book is Mike McGrath’s Book of Compost, which is written in plain English in a light and humorous style. There’s even a chapter on vermiculture (composting using worms). [Note: for more information on vermiculture, see our previous post here.] Another resource is a pamphlet produced by the UW-Extension Master Composter program, which can be downloaded and printed here.
Don’t be afraid to start composting — it’s easier than it looks and you can start small. You don’t have to make enough compost for all of your gardens — just set a goal to make enough for your container plants, or for one container! Your lawn and gardens will thank you for the nutrition, and you’ll save the money you would have spent on expensive fertilizers.