Composting Pile

Patricia M. Arledge, Sharpe, Kenneth W.  |  12/2/2015 1:17:50 AM

News Article for November 23, 2015:

Lots of early dry weather and then heavy rains are causing leaves to fall. Unfortunately they are not the vividly colored leaves we see in the magazines from New England or the mountains but we still have to deal with them.

Composting is by far the best option for dealing with leaves. We are recycling nutrients for soil improvement and conserving precious landfill space. The result is a great soil amendment that can be used to help make our clay soils easier to work. The additional organic matter improves aeration, allows the roots and water to penetrate deeper into the soil and helps to reduce crusting in silt loam soils.

The theory behind composting is very simple, we allow naturally occurring bacteria to break down organic matter.

You do not need a kit or a purchased compost bin, just use materials you have on hand and construct your own. You do not have to have a huge pile but it does have to be big enough to make it work. Usually you need your compost pile to be at least 3’x 3’ to get it to decompose properly.

Shape does not matter either. Your bin can be constructed in any shape so it can be used in any available space that you have. I have seen them round, square, rectangular and triangular and they all worked just fine.

This is definitely the place to use repurposed materials. No need to go buy new just use what is available or if you do not have available materials, use what is least expensive. I have seen compost bins made of woven wire, old wooden slat fencing, cement blocks, bricks and all sorts of scrap lumber. You can use any method to confine the leaf pile. Just be sure to allow air in and out of the pile, so leave spaces between boards or other building materials on the sides for good air movement.

Once you have a structure in place, start your compost pile construction by placing a base layer of 8 inches of organic matter, such as leaves, grass clippings, vegetable peelings etc. If you are going to use dried leaves that have fallen, your pile will compost faster if you mow or shred the leaves first. Next, moisten the leaves to get them damp but do not soak.

Sprinkle some high nitrogen fertilizer over the top of the damp leaves. Use 1 cup of 13-13-13 per 25 square feet of surface area. The nitrogen will help to feed the bacteria that will break down the organic matter.

In order to get the bacteria add a 1” layer of garden soil to help start the process.

Repeat the layers until you get as high as needed but stop at 5 to 6 feet.

You can speed up the decomposition process by turning or mixing the pile. During the warmer months you can turn the pile with a pitch fork or garden fork once every week or two initially then once a month. In the cooler weather turning is not necessary. You should turn the pile anytime when you smell a strong ammonia odor or any other offensive odor.

You will know the pile is ready to be added to your garden when the pile is reduced to about half its original size. The finished product will be a dark brown or black soil with a real earthy smell. It is hard to tell how long the composting process will take because it is dependent on the time of the year and the materials you are composting.

For more information on these or related topics contact Kenny at 225-686-3020 or visit our website at
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