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Composting leaves
SUNDAY, November 05, 2006

I love fall foliage. I get excited at the prospect of turning crimson leaves into compost. To borrow a passage from a 1909 letter to the painter Claude Monet, his friend Octave Mirbeau wrote, "In the fuming heaps I see the beautiful forms and beautiful colors that will be born from it!" Placing leaves in barrels for curbside pickup in not an option for me. They are too valuable for the health of my garden for the next growing season.

I prefer to keep my golden beauties at home for my compost bins. I am a lazy composter and prefer self-sustaining methods that get the job done with minimal effort. Don't let the volume of leaves discourage you from keeping them in your own yard. There are several methods of sheet composting that can easily take care of your leaves. Sheet composting is a bin-less method of composting.

Leaves can be used as mulch under trees and shrubs. Keep the leaves a couple of inches away from the trunk as mulch will retain moisture. Partially-rotted leaves, known as leaf mold, is perhaps the closest thing in nature to pure humus. The leaves gradually break down, returning nutrients back to the soil while controlling winter weeds.

The most common type of sheet composting involves layering organic waste over a garden area. Leaves and other organic materials such as grass clippings, manure and limited fruit and vegetable wastes are spread in a 6-inch layer on the soil surface. This organic matter will decompose over the winter. Then you can work the finished compost back into the soil before planting.

A new approach to sheet composting is called Lasagna Gardening which results in a frame-less raised bed . Patricia Lanza needed an herb garden for her country inn but didn't want the trouble of digging up the soil. She perfected a method of layering organic materials over an existing lawn then letting it decompose before planting. Her book is available at the Library.

A couple of years ago I took the challenge and used the following method with great success:

1. Smother your lawn (or weeds) by placing overlapping pieces of cardboard or thick pads of black-and-white newspaper and water it thoroughly.

2. Add a two- to three-inch layer of compost or composted manure (bagged works fine).

3. Add a thick layer (four to five inches) of shredded leaves, grass clippings, seaweed, straw, rice hulls, or any other decomposable material you have available. Well-chopped kitchen waste can also be layered near the bottom of the bed. Coffee grounds from local coffee shops add a nitrogen boost.

4. Alternate layers of compost and leaves and grass until the beds are 24 inches high.

The layers will break down over the winter and by spring you will have rich soil that is ready for you to plant in.

Alternatively, follow the Lasagna Gardening method but only build only a few inches using soil as the top layer. Plant winter compost crops such as vetch, crimson clover or fava beans. These crops will fix nitrogen in the soil and you will have more fodder for your compost bins. I'd like to share one more simple method that I have vowed to try this winter: Compost in a Bag. The instructions are:

Fill a plastic garbage bag with leaves and some grass clippings.
Poke some holes in the bag and wet the leaves.
Scoop a shovelful of soil into the bag and shake it.
Shake the bag every few weeks and moisten the leaves if they dry out.

By next spring you should have dark, crumbly leaf mold! You can now download our four composting flyers: Backyard Composting, Using Compost, Compost Crops, and Earthworms are Easy from our web site. Composting questions can be left at 707 55-EARTH or through our web site.


All Batteries are banned from the landfill. Please do not put them in your garbage. You can recycle household batteries at VALCORE (38 Sheridan, Monday-Saturday, 9am - 4:30pm) or at Vallejo Garbage Service (2021 Broadway, Thursday - Saturday, 8am-4pm).

VALCORE Recycling Board Member Jane Bogner's "A Sorted Affair" is published every other week in the Times-Herald, Community Outlook Section. For recycling information call her at 645-8258 or visit www.VALCORErecycling.org.

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VALCORE Recycling, Inc.           38 Sheridan St.           Vallejo, CA 94590 
Phone:(707) 645-8258          Fax:(707) 553-2784          Composting Hotline: (707)55-EARTH 
E-mail: info@VALCORErecycling.org          
          Website: www.VALCORErecycling.org 
2003 VALCORE Recycling, Inc.