Fall leaves make excellent compost – eventually. One way to accomplish this is to simply rake the leaves into a pile and then wait several months while they slowly decompose into leaf mold and then compost. Unfortunately, in the process some of the nutrients are leached away by rain and snow.
An even better compost may be made, and much more quickly, by using an Earth Machine compost barrel: just mix leaves with kitchen scraps, undiseased/unsprayed yard waste, and a compost starter. All winter, indeed all year round, you should alternate a deposit of kitchen peelings and leftovers with a spading forkful of leaves. Occasionally add some microbial/nitrogen starter and enough water to keep it damp. Turn the whole mass with your spading fork every few days to incorporate the new additions into the hotter interior.
My family uses two Earth Machines that we got at Bloomingfoods many years ago. When one barrel is almost full, we let it finish cooking while we fill the other one. When that one is full, the first one is Black Gold, ready to use, often in a matter of weeks. Compost will cook even in winter, though not as rapidly. Last February, with snow on the ground and an air temperature of 26°F, the interior of the ‘resting’ barrel was actually hot! In the photos, notice the plume of steam and the composting thermometer showing 108°F.
The precise ratio of brown (carbon) material to green (nitrogen) material is not really rocket science. Just use enough leaves to cover the kitchen scraps. Then keep it damp and stir occasionally.
Microbial/nitrogen “starters” help get it all going. Blood meal is a common source of nitrogen, about 12%; however, alfalfa meal supplies not only nitrogen but also triaconitol, a plant hormone that encourages rooting. Pillbugs, millipedes, and other creepy-crawlies also help digest the raw ingredients into rich, nutritious compost.
It’s a good idea to locate your compost barrel away from trees, or line the bottom with a piece of old carpet or landscape fabric to discourage tree roots from invading.
The Earth Machine composter is a superior product at a very reasonable price, vastly less expensive at Bloomingfoods than similar composters on the Internet. The parts fit into any car trunk or back seat and snap together easily. It is made in Canada from heavy-duty, UV-stable recycled black plastic, which stays warm in winter and hot in summer.
Bloomingfoods has acquired a limited supply of Earth Machine compost barrels for sale at the East Store Garden Center, where I will be happy to discuss your composting questions and how you, too, can turn your leaves into Black Gold!
By Chris Bobbitt, Bloomingfoods Garden Center