Fall is a great time to start a compost pile with fallen leaves, grass clippings, shrubbery trimmings and other yard waste.
In addition to reducing the amount of yard waste entering landfills, K-State Research and Extension horticulture agent for Johnson County, Dennis Patton, says compost started in the fall can be used to improve the structure and moisture retention of garden soils in the spring.
“Because in our typical Kansas heavy clay soil, that organic matter compost is the best thing we can apply, work into the soil,” said Patton, “To help loosen up that real tight bonding compaction of clay so we have a better soil to garden in.”
Compost materials are layered and should be turned about once a month – even during the winter months. Patton says a good compost pile includes greens and browns.
“You may want to create, you know, six to eight inches of dry, brown leaves,” he said. “For the green layer, just repeat, repeat, repeat.
“The other thing that’s helpful as you’re building those layers that first time to create the batch of compost is to have water handy so we can wet down all that material. Because just as humans need water, so do these micro-organisms.”
As compost is added, the pile begins to bake. If done right, that pile should heat up to about 110 to 150-degrees within a week to ten days. Patton says active composters typically turn the pile once a month, while passive composters tend to let nature do the work.
“And the bottom line is, both processes make compost,” Patton stated. “But the real question is, do you want it in three to six months, or do you maybe want compost in a year? Because the more you manage the pile, the quicker you get the compost. The less inputs you put into it, the longer it takes, but it’s all nature.
“Everything in nature that’s organic eventually breaks down,” he explained. “It’s just all about how you want to manage that pile.”
To check the moisture content of the compost pile, squeeze a fistful in your hand. It should feel moist but no excess water should drip out. It’s also important to compress the pile as much as you can because excess air can slow the composting process.