There is no better time to get loads of compost materials than in the fall! Even better – with a little legwork, you can secure all of them for free!

A slightly used decoration bale still makes for a great addition to the compost pil
A slightly used decoration bale still makes for a great addition to the compost pil

Compost is a necessity if you want to keep the soil in your garden productive year after year (See: Composting 101). Along with cover crops, using compost in the garden helps to rebuild and re-energize your soil with the vital nutrients that plants need to grow strong each year.

So whether you’re a seasoned veteran of composting, or have always wanted to start your own compost pile, here are some of the easiest ways to finding free materials to start your pile this fall:

Leaves:

The mother-load of free material available for free every fall!  Just take a short trip around a few wooded neighborhoods, and you can have an endless supply of leaves for your pile.

You can stock up and store leaves each fall for a free garden mul=
You can stock up and store leaves each fall for a free garden mul=

Many times, they are already bagged at the curbside for easy pick-up. We collect as many as we can each fall and store the extra for use throughout the season.  It’s a great way for us to have a year-round supply for use in future compost piles or mulching garden plants.

Although leaves are plentiful this time of year – some are better than others.  Maple, Birch, Ash, Beech and fruit tree leaves are fantastic to compost. Oak leaves on the other hand should be composted in moderation.  Oak leaves tend to be more acidic – too many in the compost pile can result in compost that is less than ideal for most vegetable gardens.    A good rule of thumb  –  if oak leaves make up less than 10 to 20% of your total pile – you should be good to go. Another valuable tip – shred them with your lawn mower before adding them to your pile – it helps speed up the decomposition and composting process!

Fall Decoration Bounty:

Fall decorations are plentiful after the season.
Fall decorations are plentiful after the season.

As you drive around your neighborhood in the fall – ever notice all of those straw bales, pumpkins, gourds and corn stalks everyone is using for decorations?

Unfortunately, most of them end up in the garbage can when the season comes to a close. They can be yours simply for the asking – and are great additions for your compost pile.

Most people are more than glad to give them to you when finished – and it’s a win-win for everyone. Each year, we end up with quite a few bales of free straw and a slew of pumpkins and gourds from friends and family.

Garden and Yard Waste:

Apple peels and other kitchen scraps go great in compost piles
Apple peels and other kitchen scraps go great in compost piles

Cleaning out that garden is a great way to start your pile. Corn, bolted lettuce plants, green bean and other plant stocks are a great addition to your pile. The key again is to chop them up with a shredder or lawn mower to speed up the decomposition process.

You can also add the spoils of your late summertime and fall kitchen canning and cooking projects – such as scraps like apple peels and pumpkin rinds. A few words of caution – we do not add our tomato or pepper plants to the pile – it just seems to carry to much risk of passing on disease and loads of volunteer plants coming up from our compost from the previous year.

Think Outside The Box:

Beyond the traditional garden and landscape sources – think outside the box to get some great free additions to your pile. If you have a local breakfast joint or coffee house – they can be a great way to gain regular nutrient rich additions to your pile.

Many small breakfast and coffee houses will save their coffee grounds and egg shells for you
Many small breakfast and coffee houses will save their coffee grounds and egg shells for you

Coffee grounds, egg shells, potato and other vegetable peelings are a perfect choice for adding to your pile – and small breakfast and coffee shops are a great place to find them!  In fact, many coffee houses routinely save their grounds for customers.  Some bigger chains even create a list of customers to save grounds for –  insuring that the by-product of all of their brewing won’t end up in the local landfill.  Either way, you can get a great cup of coffee, breakfast, and free compost materials!  We have just such a place down the road from us – and they gladly save their coffee grounds and shells for us to pick up each week.

So what are you waiting for? Get that compost pile started! And if you don’t have a place to compost yet – you can check our article on how to build your own neat little compost bin on the cheap with pallets!  (See:How To Build Your Own Compost Bin With Pallets)

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Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary!

4 thoughts on “How To Start A Great Compost Pile This Fall – For Free!

  • September 1, 2014 at 8:54 am
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    Is it ok to add the soil from potted, store bought plants to the pile? It seems like a good way to add bulk to the pile and to recycle/recharge the potting soil.

    • September 1, 2014 at 9:00 am
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      Absolutely – it all helps to make great compost.

  • September 28, 2013 at 4:13 am
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    I hadn’t thought about leaves being different like that. We have a lot of water maples, but primarily sycamore leaves as big as dinner plates.
    I halfway compost-have a number of piles, but never get around to turning them.

  • September 24, 2013 at 12:32 pm
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    Starbucks is one of the coffee chains that save coffee grounds for customers.

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