University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Compost Leaves and Yard Waste

October 2, 1997

Leaves falling from the trees along with vegetable and bedding plants dying off as the season draws to a close means there can be lots of plant material accumulating around the yard. That makes now the ideal time for starting a backyard compost pile.

Backyard composting is not difficult. Backyard composting offers more than just a way to get rid of plant material. Compost is an excellent way to improve yard and garden soils, in particular the clay soils which dominate our area. Adding organic matter such as compost is the ideal way to improve clay soils. Composting is also an excellent project for kids.

Follow a few simple rules and the compost project should be a success. Start by constructing some type of bin to hold the materials. Bins may be as simple as poultrywire cylinders held up with a few stakes or elaborate constructed wood and wire bin systems. Piles need to be a minimum of about 3 feet cubed to function well. Bins also need to be constructed so air can reach the compost materials.

Mixing green and brown materials together is the basic rule to get the compost process going. Green materials, such as grass clippings or fresh green plant parts, supply nitrogen. Brown materials, such as dead leaves, are high in carbon. Mixing the two assures good conditions for microbes, which actually decompose the plant material. The smaller the plant materials are, the faster they will decompose. Shredding them before putting in the bin is helpful.

Moisture and air are also required for the composting process, and too much or too little of either one can cause problems. Compost materials should be about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. If kept too wet, compost piles become anaerobic and start to smell. If too dry, the pile "just sits there." Keeping the pile covered is one way to control moisture levels.

Assure adequate air by designing a sturdy bin and turning the pile frequently. Turning helps mix the materials well and also is a good way to monitor progress of the bins.

Tend to your compost pile often to keep the process moving. The finished compost product is worth the small amount of effort!


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