Maynard van der Galien
I’m always surprised by the many large brown bags filled with leaves and twigs that rural folks and those who live in small towns and villages put out by the road.
If you have a tiny property you don’t have many options but to bag the leaves. You’re not allowed to burn them. But I see huge properties with bagged leaves at the curb.
With all the talk of recycling, I can’t understand why homeowners don’t want to go to the bother of recycling their tree leaves and make wonderful rich organic soil.
Every autumn (and spring) I grin and shake my head when I see bags and bags of leaves by the road. Consider the energy used to produce the paper bags, collect the bagged leaves with large diesel burning trucks and the manpower required to truck it away.
I have large oak and maple trees all around my cottage and there are a lot of leaves to clean up every spring. What do I do with those leaves? I blow and rake them into huge piles, then I wet them down and stuff them into large containers, load them onto my pickup truck and bring them home to my compost pile. It takes numerous trips. I’ve been doing that for 40 years. I add compost to my garden soil every year. I have real organic soil and I have never bought any commercial bagged so-called soil products.
According to studies, nearly 35 per cent of the material dumped in landfill sites is biodegradable waste. Home composting can easily divert organic waste into useful fertilizer for gardens. Some towns and cities have waste diversion. Organic waste does not go to landfill sites.
I sometimes get asked by homeowners what they can do to their garden to get better results. A woman once asked me what is the best commercial product to buy to spruce up her little vegetable garden. She said it was diffcult growing vegetables because of large trees on her property. The soil, she said, was not meant for a garden and asked what she could do to improve the quality.
My first question was: What do you do with all the leaves that fall off your large trees?
“We rake and rake, bag them all and pay a guy with a truck to take them to the dump,” was the reply.
My answer shocked her. “Oh, no. Why do that? Why not compost the leaves and make black gold?”
I explained that most trees are deep-rooted, they absorb minerals from deep in the soil and a good portion of these minerals go into the leaves. The leaves of one large shade tree can be worth as much as $50 of plant food and humus.
Her answers also surprised me. She had no place to compost even though she has a large wooded lot. Paying someone to take the leaves to a landfill site was the best and easiest solution to the leaf problem.
My advice: You don’t need compost bins or a cement pad to make a compost pile. Make a compost pile in a corner of your property where it can get sunlight. It’s important to keep your pile together to allow it to heat up and decompose. And while the pile is “nicely cooking” you can add some of your normal compost pile trimmings to it. Coffee grounds, which are high in nitrogen, fruit peels and scraps and grass clippings make your finished compost even better.
Shred fallen leaves into a fine chopped mix with a lawn mower. The finer you shred the leaves, the better. It greatly reduces the bulk. Whole leaves won’t compost quickly if left alone on the ground – and especially in piles where they can bind together and become a soggy matted mess.
I had to frown when she asked if they could put their dog poo in the compost pile if they decided to make one. I stated emphatically: “No, No, No. You can put in dry cow dung, sheep, poultry, horse droppings in a compost pile but do NOT add meats or dog and cat poo.” Imagine, thinking a compost pile might be an ideal place to hide doggy poo. Yuck!
Maynard van der Galien is a Renfrew-area farmer and an agricultural columnist. His garden potatoes don’t turn black after boiling them like store potatoes do.
Zalige Kerst en Gelukkig Niewjaar! (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!)