Once the trees slow their carpet bombing runs, I will be ready for the next step in my compost process. I need my trusty pitchfork, the garden hose, and a bag of fertilizer. I prefer 10-10-10 (or 13-13-13) and avoid the combo products with weed killer + fertilizer. I need a source of nitrogen which could come from manure, if it is available. Rabbit is best. Cow is second best. Horse comes in a distant third. Avoid cat and dog waste. Political manure, while widespread, seems to offer no benefit to gardening or any other aspect of life.
I will turn my leaf pile over and restack it, adding water and a sprinkle of fertilizer as I build upward. Think of making stew, compost stew.
If I have dirt available or pots that need to be emptied for the winter, I sprinkle the dirt in the pile.
I trickle water into the mix.
The result is a neat pile I can ignore for a few weeks. Composting is already in progress and the pile will shrink in size over the coming weeks.
Most gardeners have a secret compost formula, and that’s OK. You can have it your way. The important thing is to get in the garden.
Make the compost pile
I build my compost pile on a warm day in late winter. The sunshine feels great and the fresh air is always a treat.
- Pitchfork and rake.
- Garden hose.
- Dirt (or manure, or even last year’s compost).
- Vent pipe – 2” schedule 40 PVC with 1/4” holes drilled randomly.
- Bright red suspenders to prevent a wardrobe malfunction that might frighten neighbors.
I need to construct a layered leaf pyramid. Yes, I can buy or make expensive compost bins but they are not necessary.
The recipe is simple.
1. Add a layer of leaves (3” thick) around the vent pipe.
2. Sprinkle a light layer of soil (or old compost) over the leaves. One shovel is adequate.
3. Wet the pile thoroughly. How much water do I add? Think of a damp sponge.
4. Repeat until all leaves are served.
The result is an organic stack. The vent allows air to reach the center of the pile where hungry microbes wait to devour tasty leaves. On very cold mornings I may see steam rising from the pipe. Something is surely happening down there!
If the spring and summer are unusually dry I can insert a garden hose into the vent to wet the mix. I may use the pitchfork to stir the pile once or twice during the summer, especially if I am suffering from Writer’s block, also known as constipation of the brain. Turning the compost provides a change of pace and time to think.
Mulch from this pile can be used as needed during the summer. By the start of the next leaf season, I have a juicy pile of compost. If I do not need it on the garden at that time, I can move it aside. Compost consumes less yard space than leaf piles.
My neighbor, Mr. Robin stopped by to inspect the finished pile and grab any loose worms. An organic yard brings many visitors.
On my 1/4 acre estate I find there is always a shortage of compost. I have no plans to donate my leaves to the city!
Give this a try and let us know what improvements and innovations you make.