Friday, October 27, 2017

45 bags of leaves... and then some

All that's left in the garden is carrots... and leaves!
One evening last week, I was the only witness to a clandestine transaction in a dark parking lot. T. brought a trunkful of (once) green stuff and transferred it to E.'s vehicle. Sworn to secrecy, my lips are sealed as to identities and the whereabouts of this occurrence.

Of course it's all a joke, though it's a true story. A friend of mine who has more leaves than she knows what to do with shared some with another friend who composts. We Master Composter/Recyclers often laugh about MCRs' strange autumn hoarding habits!

For example, in the last two weeks of September, my engineer hubby designed and constructed a leaf stockade (or corral, if you prefer) and we raked up what I would guess to be about 20 bags of leaves from under our oak/elm trees and stockaded them (to reduce our use of plastic bags). Later, Mom and I raked up six more bags at my parents' home that were dumped into my corral so that we could reuse the emptied bags for the next raking. The corral was almost overflowing. And the leaves just keep on falling.

The leaf stockade/corral
Since then, several neighbours have generously contributed to my hoarding habit. Brian was out raking and gave me a dozen bags one Sunday morning, and on my trip home with our car stuffed full of leaf bags, I noticed that Dan, our local retired pastor, had another huge pile just waiting for the garbage guys. Five minutes later I drove back to see if Dan would mind me taking them. I rang the doorbell, but I suspect he and his wife were at church. Not wanting to see all that good stuff get trucked out of the city creating more fossil fuel emissions when I could make perfectly good use of it here, I loaded my car again (twice) -- another 23 bags, and phoned Dan later that day to make a confession. He laughed and said, "I wondered where they went! Go in leafs and sin no more."

Since then, I've collected another 10 bags from my dad. And there are probably another ten out in my front yard again that I'll try to fit into the corral now that the original leaves have settled somewhat. Will it ever end?

Yes, it will, and that's the whole point. I'm "gathering carbons while I may." Composting through spring and summer requires a lot of carbons/browns (leaves, dead stalks, wood shavings, ashes, or newspaper) to be mixed with nitrogens/greens (vegetable peelings, fruit remnants, grass clippings (if you don't grasscycle, but most people I know do!), green stalks, vines and other garden leftovers) as well as water and air to produce the rich dark organic soil amendment we call humus or compost. And in order to compost most of my garden waste through the seasons, it takes a LOT of carbon that can be easily collected in the fall, but is hard to come by in other seasons. To make compost the ratio of carbon/browns to nitrogen/greens is 20:1. In the past year, I composted 55 bags of leaves, and now it looks like I have enough to start all over again.

Composting is as easy as making a layer of leaves, adding some garden leavings or kitchen scraps (no meat, other proteins, or bones, though, as they get smelly), repeating the process until you have a good pile (1 m or 3 ft cubed is optimal in my books), watering it well, and stirring it every two weeks or so. Having walls or fencing around the pile helps to keep it tidy. I like to add our composting worms -- Red Wigglers -- in the summer (they live in an indoor bin in the winter) because they speed up the composting process by eating their weight in waste every day. In the cold months, when I take my extra kitchen scraps (that don't fit in the worm bin) out to the compost pile, I always fill the bucket with warm water so that it can help to kickstart the aerobes and other life in the pile for at least a little while. Frozen stuff piles up outside, but come spring, when everything melts, it's just a matter of stirring it up and reducing odors by adding more leaves -- of which we now have plenty!

45 bags and then some should last me until next September, I hope! In fact, I might even have a few extra to share...

If you want to learn more about composting, check out Compost 'S cool here in the City of Edmonton. Elsewhere, check your local library for helpful information!

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