My composter, the Compact ComposTumbler still needs more browns or carbon to finish the job of composting. The compost is still very wet from all the kitchen scraps that I have put in. In other words they need more shredded leaves because that is what I have saved in bags from the fall. But they need to be shredded to compost quickly and efficiently.
Yesterday was a perfect day to shred up some leaves that I had saved from the fall. It was sunny with a nice breeze so as I emptied the bags the leaves would dry out. It was a little hot so it was a hard job. My leaf blower/shredder worked great! It is a EMax EVB200W with a 200 hp motor that we bought at Wal-Mart.
I ended up with 3 black trash bags stuffed with shredded leaves. I have already been throwing them into the composters and the compost is looking better already! I do have a bag of old peat moss but I am trying not to depend on it because it presents environmental challenges. Mike McGrath says that you need a 4 to 1 ratio for compost making. 4 of carbon or browns to 1 of greens or nitrogen. So we need lots of shredded leaves to be successful with compost unless you have some other great carbon source available. Please post other sources and ideas in the comments below. In the meantime we are good. It is amazing how many bags of leaves can fit into 1 bag after you shred them.
UPDATE: 6/1/11 I turned the composter today and looked inside. It was giving off steam when opened. The compost is much hotter. So all those shredded leaves are doing the trick. I need to get a thermometer to see how hot it is. Any good advice on compost thermometers?? Please post below.
Complete Compost Gardening Guide is a Great Book
I learned about the composting method written about in this post from the book The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin. This book has a wealth of information about many different ways of composting and gardening in general. It is an invaluable addition to my gardening library. I really enjoy the authors’ approach to gardening. If you don’t do a compost pile “properly” and it doesn’t heat up then don’t worry about it too much because “compost happens.” It will just take longer. I like their laid back and relaxed attitude that things don’t have to work out perfectly because compost will happen eventually. This quote from their book sums it all up nicely:
“It’s amazing what you can learn when you put aside ideas about the way things are supposed to work and pay attention to what actually happens in your garden.”
We just need to trust in ourselves and our gardens!!
Composting Leaves Right On Top of the Garden
I now have about 15 black plastic bags and 3 mattress bags full of leaves collected for shredding. I decided to put part of my garden under “comforter compost” which I learned about in the book The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin. The idea is to layer browns and greens to create a thick, cushy “comforter” (like on a bed) over the garden. And I want to use shredded leaves for my browns. Shredded leaves can also be used as mulch anywhere around the garden. Composting leaves fast is also accomplished by the shredding process.
So I got out my leaf vacuum/mulcher and it works really great vacuuming and shredding the leaves. I bought it at Wal-Mart for around $40. It is a EMax EVB200W with a 200 hp motor. I haven’t seen it for sale on the internet so maybe it is not available anymore, though I did buy it this year. I shredded the equivalent of 6 black plastic bags of leaves. I covered about a 6′ x 10′ area of my garden with the shredded leaves. You can see the piles of shredded leaves in the above picture.
In Composting Gardening the authors suggest using cottonseed meal or rabbit food for greens to heat up a compost pile. I never thought of this but it is an amazing suggestion. These animal feeds are vegetarian, rich in protein and not expensive. I was hesitant to use rabbit food, which is made mainly from alfalfa meal, because it might attract hungry animals. So I decided to soak it first and then mix it with a lot of water, so it will not be edible. It absorbed the water easily and quickly. More greens were needed so I cut up my non-diseased plants left in the garden which are peppers, small sunflowers and some green beans. I also added soil and some finished compost to the “comforter” and finished it with a layer of straw.
Comforter Compost is Worked by Soil Dwelling Organisms
Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin, the authors of Compost Gardening Guide state that comforter compost is different from regular composting because it is worked primarily by soil dwelling organisms such as earthworms, beetles and different types of millipedes and centipedes. Regular compost is created through the work of microorganisms. Lastly I watered my comforter compost because the moisture is what keeps the organisms alive, healthy and working. First I watered with a handheld hose enjoying looking at the fruit of my labor and then I switched to a sprinkler. This compost must be kept moist. If it dries out then the critters can’t do their work breaking it down.
After being so excited about our new leaf blower/vacuum shredding leaves for composting, I found that there is a lot of controversy about leaf blowers. You can see from this picture that the mulching leaves feature of the vacuum does a great job of creating shredded leaves.
Leaf blowers bring out a lot of heated negative emotions in communities because they are so noisy and intrusive, they create and blow around a lot of dust and particles and give off fumes. Several communities in California and New York have banned them for at least part of the year.
Of course one could buy a shredding machine to avoid buying a leaf blower/vacuum. But garden shredders are noisy also and the one I looked at cost about 4 times as much as our leaf blower/vacuum. Though the shredder would mulch wet and dry leaves. We found that when we vacuumed right after the leaves had fallen off the tree the vacuum got jammed more often. I think it was because the leaves still had moisture in them. It worked much better a few days later when the leaves were drier.
It is certainly more meditative and healthy to rake leaves and sweep sidewalks. The difference between raking and using a leaf blower is like night and day. Gas driven models are noisier and usually more powerful than electric models. We purchased an electric model and it seems somewhat noisy to me.
So instead of using the vacuum for the whole job we rake the leaves into piles and then vacuum and mulch them. So we still get to rake. Because raking is fun. It is a way to experience the fall, breathe the fresh air, smell leaves and have fun. Kids love to rake and then jump in the piles.
So my conclusion is that I think we are stuck with some type of shredding machine. The leaves compost so much better when they are shredded. And we need the browns in the composter. More on the greens and browns in the next post.