By Duane Friend
Ah … fall … cooler temperatures, colorful scenes and falling leaves. What to do with all those leaves? One option is to compost them, turning them into a nutrient rich, organically stable product that can be used as mulch or soil amendment.
Materials needed for a compost pile must contain carbon, nitrogen and microorganisms. Good carbon sources include leaves, straw and sawdust. Sources of nitrogen can come from cow and horse manure, vegetable scraps, fruit scraps and green grass. Garden soil has all the microorganisms needed to get the process going. In addition, microorganisms need water and oxygen to function.
To get a good ratio of carbon and nitrogen, materials can be layered. Start with a 6- to 8-inch layer of brown materials, such as leaves or straw. Place a 1- to 2-inch layer of green materials, such as manure or vegetable scraps, on top of the brown materials. Then, place one to two inches of garden soil on top of the brown materials. Continue this layering process until you reach the top of your bin or pile. Mix the materials together, and let nature take its course!
Do not add meat, bones, oils, greases, pet wastes or dairy products to compost! These have two effects. One is limiting the amount of oxygen in the compost, leading to odor problems. These materials will also entice your local dog, raccoon, opossum and other critters to check things out.
Composting can be started at any time of year. Decomposition will slow or stop during very cold temperatures, but will rebound when temperatures warm back up.
For faster composting, turn the pile at least once a month except when temperatures consistently stay below 40.
For more information on composting, visit the U of I Extension website Composting for the Homeowner at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/.