With temperatures plummeting from the high 80’s last week down into the 60’s this weekend – there is little doubt that Fall has arrived here in Ohio.

It must be fall if the pumpkins are turning orange
It must be fall if the pumpkins are turning orange

And as that thermometer begins to drop, it’s time for us to start planning to take advantage of Fall’s bounty to make a great compost pile for next season’s garden.

With all of the available materials, Fall is the one time of the year that we can really concentrate on building some great compost piles to use in next year’s garden – and the best part of all – they are all free!

With a little work in the coming few weeks – we usually start a large pile that will have plenty of time to heat up and be ready to use in the garden next Spring to get our young plants off to a great start.

Leaves:

You can stock up and store leaves each fall for a free garden mul=
Leaves make a great addition to any compost pile

This is the no-brainer one for us!  In just a few weeks – as the leaves begin to fall in mass, a short trip around the neighborhood with the truck will yield us an endless supply of leaves for our compost pile.  Many times, they are already piled high or even bagged at the curbside for easy pick-up.

Although the 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 since they 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.

We use our home-made corn crib to store extra leaves we collect each fall.
We use our home-made corn crib to store extra leaves we collect each fall for use in next year’s garden and future compost piles

For the leaves we add to our pile – we first shred them with the lawn mower  – it helps to quickly speed up decomposition and make a hot compost pile.

With the extra leaves, we store them in our corn crib we built next to the compost bins. For us, it is a great way to have them on had next year to use in additional compost piles, or as a mulch for our garden plants.

Fall Decorations

It is amazing how much extra material you can gain for your pile simply from fall decorations – all the while helping to recycle!

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

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

Unfortunately, most of them end up in the garbage can when the season comes to a close. Most people are more than glad to give them to you when finished – and it’s a win-win for everyone.

For us, it started with picking up a few bales of straw from a friend’s house after he used them for a fall display – now we end up with quite a few bales, and loads of pumpkins and gourds from friends and family that make great additions to our compost pile.

Garden Waste – What We Use – And What We Don’t…

The fall garden clean up is also a great compost starter for us – but although most things from the garden are great to add – some are better to leave out of the pile.

One thing we do not compost - our tomato and pepper plants - instead we give them to the chickens to enjoy
One thing we do not compost – our tomato and pepper plants – instead we give them to the chickens to enjoy

Bolted lettuce and other greens, along with green bean, pea and corn stalks are all great additions to the pile. Once again, we chop them up with the lawn mower to speed up the decomposition process.

You can also add the scraps of your late fall kitchen canning and cooking projects  –  like apple peels, pumpkin rinds and more!

One thing we have never added to our pile are the tomato and pepper plants from the garden – the risk of passing on disease is simply too great with these plants – not to mention the loads of volunteer plants you get the following year coming up in the compost.  Instead – we simply feed the leftovers to our chickens for a late season treat.

The Chicken Coop Clean Out

One final and very important addition to our fall compost pile is that from our chicken coop!

Our fall chicken coop clean out yields us a bounty of composting material
Our fall chicken coop clean out yields us a bounty of composting material

Each fall, we do a final clean out of the coop before placing in a deep layer of warming straw for the winter. The mixture of finely shredded straw and manure from the summer season is the perfect source of nitrogen for our pile – and one of the huge benefits of raising our own back yard flock. (see : the benefits and ease of raising chickens).

All good compost piles need a source of Nitrogen to speed up decomposition – and chicken manure is an excellent choice. If you don’t have chickens – you can also use coffee grounds or green grass clippings in your pile for a great source of nitrogen.

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Happy Gardening,

Jim and Mary

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