Seeking Feedback on Composting and Mulching Dilemmas

Maynard, MA

I'm seeking your feedback on a new approach I might take to composting and mulching.

The problems we are trying to address: We get a lot of leaves each fall and haven't been able to use all of them; our composter tumblers have taken a long time to produce small amounts of compost; we both have physical disabilities so the process needs to be as easy as possible; we are low-income and don't want to buy mulch. (We have veggie and perennial gardens, though I am thinking of cutting way back on the veggie gardens to only a couple of beds, and mostly doing perennials.)

The new approach we are considering:

1) Shred some of the leaves and use them as mulch. (Un-shredded, the leaves are too big to direct where we want them. Also, they don't stay flat enough and they blow around onto the neighbors' more well-raked lawns. I assume I can lay down shredded leaves more easily, hope that they will blow around less, and like that they will decompose more quickly.)

2) Consider ditching tumblers for a Thermo-Star composter. This could hold a larger amount of leaves and perhaps compost them more quickly than our tumblers are doing, not only because of their construction, but also because even as we add new kitchen scraps and more leaves to the top, composted materials could be removed from the bottom. We are not sure if our kitchen waste-leaf ratio would be too low, or if that would really matter so much as we shift from a larger veggie garden to more focus on perennials. (But if there's not enough kitchen waste, we would need something in addition to leaves to get them to start composting, right??)

(BTW, we already leave the leaves in place where they fall under trees, and throw more from the lawn back there, too. But they don't decompose quickly, and since the fallen leaves greatly outnumber the non-lawn space for depositing them, that area is just turning into leaf piles, which isn't what we want.)

Your feedback/suggestions would be much appreciated!

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I can't address shredded vs whole leaves blowing around: I don;t have much wind OR leaves to mulch with.

>> (BTW, we already leave the leaves in place where they fall under trees, and throw more from the lawn back there, too. But they don't decompose quickly, and since the fallen leaves greatly outnumber the non-lawn space for depositing them, that area is just turning into leaf piles, which isn't what we want.)

I may not understand, or you may have different kinds of leaves than I've had. In my experience, the only difference between a leaf pile and a compost pile is how fast they turn to compost.

Any pile of leaves I ever had, if deep enough to stay moist, always had a layer of finished compost at the bottom of the pile.

That compost might have taken a few years to accumulate.

Maybe some grass clippings snuck into my old piles, or some leaves fell with a little green nitrogen still in them. But only the pile that was 100.0% pine needles ever resisted composting for more than a few years. (Now I add greens, and have few leaves, but any browns I add do break down fast.)

If you pile up the leaves under the trees into deeper piles, make sure they are moist every week or two, and add SOME source of nitrogen, like coffee grounds or green clippings or fruit-stand-throw-outs or kitchen waste, those leaves OUGHT to break down in a year or so.

Oak and black walnut leaves: yeah, they might be harder and slower to compost.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

ShaynaPearl, I know what you are talking about, I am also frustrated by slow leaves.

DO NOT buy a composter that says you can remove finished compost from a door at the bottom. IT DOES NOT WORK.

For years, a friend and I have used Earth Machine, same idea. If you do get the compost finished, it is so compacted at the bottom that you struggle to dig out a small amount. You can't reach in, and it is not loose and crumbly and falling down to you. The only way to really harvest from this is to pick the whole thing , set it aside, fork all the dry stuff into the new placed bin, and then gather some compost.

Shredded leaves do work as a mulch, they break down, and they do not form slimy mats as whole leaves in a bin might. I suggest shred as many as you can, or as much as it takes to mulch all your beds. I have done this for vegetable beds, and then planted tomatoes into it in spring, it really cuts down on weeds because the weed seeds are not exposed.

Maynard, MA

Thanks to both of you for your feedback.
Yes, Rick, they are mostly oak leaves, and probably not moist enough.
Anne, thanks for the encouragement about mulching with shredded leaves.
I've decided to keep it simple by just shredding all the leaves, which I hadn't been doing, and using them as mulch. If I have leftovers...well...I'll figure it out when I get there.

Virginia Beach, VA

As I had posted on previous posts I use trash cans three of them as composters. I empty them in spring only and all goes to my veggie garden. I have another place for just leaves and grass clippings. My husband mulches the leaves so it helps.

Yes it takes a long time to disintegrate.

Hamilton, OH(Zone 6a)

I mulched my perennial beds with shredded leaves for the first time this year. I have been completely satisfied with the results.

Kirkland, WA(Zone 7b)

Shayna: may I offer a couple suggestions that may or may not be practical for your site & abilities?
Because the Seattle area tends to have wet autumns, making the leaves slimy & unusable for mulch, then packing down too much, I tried the following:

1. Shredding leaves without a shredder: place leaves into a metal garbage can about half-way, insert weed-whacker, turn it on & move it in a stirring motion. This works quickly! I found it quite efficient for heavier/sturdy leaves.

2. Overwinter the leaves in large trash bags: punch quarter-sized holes on one side of the trash bags; fill each about 3/4 full with leaves; throw in a few worms & close up the bags. I did this in November - placed them in an area out of view & on top of soil that I would be working the following spring. The worms did their customary superb job, ready for use in mid-March. It was efficient & saved me time in the autumn when there were other tasks to accomplish. Especially useful when you have an abundance of leaves & no extra time or desire to experience extreme frustration..

Tabor, SD(Zone 4b)

Can I ask what kind of container you use for your worm composting? I have seen tubs that were purchased at WalMart or Menards and had holes drilled into them in different areas, just small enough that the worms couldn't get out. I would like to try this in my basement, but we had a fuel leak a few years ago and I don't know if that would affect the worms. It still smellls down there but not enough that it would hurt a human. Just wondering how touchy worms are. if anyone can give me directions, I would appreciate it.

Hobart, IN

I use a worm tower with 4 bins. While initial instructions show using one bin at a time, I use all 4 at once and restack them every week because they don't seem to migrate upwards into an empty bin for me. Can't answer your question about the fuel odor. Since the forums have changed, you might look at the thread history and see if you can find one regarding worm composting and tag on to that with your question.

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

If you have a lawn and can get some of the leaves on to it:
A bagging mower shreds the brown leaves, mixes in the green grass clippings, and if you place it where it will get some moisture - you have the beginnings of a compost pile that is a nice compromise bettween fairly quick and not a lot of physical effort.

Virginia Beach, VA

Composting in our household is no big deal!!!

South Florida, FL(Zone 10b)

I also use a bagging mower for the leaves and it works great. They stay in place fairly well when used as mulch and compost much quicker when added to the pile. If using for mulch, wet it down good with a shower after you spread it.

I also like the mower because some grass mixed in the compost is good too, just not too much. Be careful if adding The fresh grass as mulch though. A pile of fresh grass heats up hot enough to damage plants if too close.

Tabor, SD(Zone 4b)

Thanks Cindy,
I'm going to try it. It doesn't smell too bad down there anymore. I have my potatoes there which is about all there is as far as storage. Too many spiders and damp in the spring. That shouldn't hurt the worms if it's damp. I just have to remember to go down there and feed them every couple of weeks. I checked on them yesterday and they were happily munching on some tomato cores.
Is there anything you wouldn't feed them?

Hobart, IN

No meats, oils or citrus. They do love banana peels. In summer I do avoid too much fruit, trying not to attract fruit flies.

Tabor, SD(Zone 4b)

I didn't know about the citrus. Thanks! I would have given them peels.
Gonna have to go out and buy some bananas once in a while.

Hobart, IN

You can save your citrus peels for your garbage disposal (if you have one).

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