About a year ago, I started composting only after recommending this technique through this column for at least a year prior to that. Why did it take so long? The answer is, unlike most of humanity, I dont do change so well. However, I am finding that if I keep positive change on the forefront of my consciousness, it can be executed incrementally thus the adventure in composting began.
We have a stacked composter. Compost needs to be turned regularly to stay viable, some folks like rolling barrels, I like to see whats going on so I purchased a series of six inch high square, interlocking wall units. When stacked up, my composter reaches a height of about thirty inches, and I can move the composter by un-stacking it, restacking it next to my compost pile, and shoveling the compost into the newly stacked square unit thus turning the whole pile over, or more important, separating partially composted material from fully composted material (on the bottom). The fully composted material is dark, rich, soil like material, ready for distribution in the garden or use in compost tea, while the partially composted material is, well, just plain nasty if youre not into this sort of thing.
So heres the rub, after a year of composting household greens, there is not much compost to show for it. Granted, I have made regular withdrawals of composted material for brewing compost tea, but being an American, I want more! Many clients of my clients have been composting their leaves and missing the important turning the pile part of the composting process. They end up with stacks of dry, un-composted yard waste. Additionally, whole leaves are slow to compost. And require a good deal of space before they reduce to a manageable size. However, shredding the leaves with a lawnmower, or a mulcher will reduce the size of the leaves by ten to one.
Leaves added to a home composter like mine that is being used for kitchen green waste composting will break down much faster if shredded first, and when mixed with the existing green waste compost, will provide a much richer composted product than either kitchen waste of yard waste will on their own. A recent NY Times article on composting indicated that leaf compost is much higher in beneficial fungal content that helps roots absorb nutrients, while kitchen greens composting is much higher in nutrients particularly nitrogen. Composting the two together can yield an especially effective product if done in a balanced way.
There are way too many leaves on most of our properties to compost in this manner and we still contend that most leaves can be mulched into your lawn, or mulched and used as shrub and perennial topdressing, saving money in organic material down the line, not to mention breaking the insane energy wasting process of hauling leaves away for composting for re-distribution. If you are already composting, look at mixing it up. If youre not composting yet, start this fall. It will pay for itself in a healthier garden and you will be doing your part to start to create a culture that knows no waste.