Every fall tons of tree leaves are raked up and hauled away. They were burned until it became illegal to do so. These leaves could be used to make compost. Compost is what is left after decay of grass clippings, tree leaves, weeds, hedge trimmings and garbage.
Applied to the garden, compost improves the physical condition of the soil, increases its ability to absorb moisture, supplies nutrients to plants and provides energy and nutrients for growth of important soil microorganisms.
In the spring people pay high prices for package organic materials which in many cases are not as good as the dompost they could make themselves.
There is an easy, uncomplicated way to make compost. An area of 80 square feet (8 by 10) can be surrounded with chicken wire. As the leaves drop, rake them up and put them in the enclosure.
Don't start by digging a hole to put the leaves in. Water could accumulate which might interfere with air reaching the materials causing them to give off foul odors. If the amount of moisture in the compost is below 40 percent, decomposition will be slow. But if it is above 60 percent, the air spaces will be filled with water.
When the layer of leaves is 2 feet deep, sprinkle 10 pounds of 5-10-5 fertilizer over it. It will help speed decay. Also sprinkle 10 pounds of ground limestone over the layer. It will help prevent the compost from being too acid. Then spread an inch or two of soil over all. The soil will provide the bacteria that will bring about decay. Wet thoroughly.
Add another layer of leaves, two feet deep, fertilizer, lime, soil and water.
Compost piles should be no more than six feet high so air can penetrate to the bottom while width and length may be adjusted for convenient handling. Excessive moisture cuts aeration and only partial decomposition take place. Intermediate microorganisms, able to live and grow where there is no air, are formed and many have offensive odors.
Poor aeration can be overcome by turning the heap.
Microbes produce heat as a byproduct of decomposition. The temperature inside the pile may rise to 140 to 170 degrees for two or three weeks, which kills insects, weed seeds and disease-causing organisms, except in the outer parts and the bottom of the pile.
The tree leaves will decay much more rapidly if theu are shredded. Some lawn mowers have this capability.
If grass clippings alone are used, they should be mixed with tree leaves (preferably oak), otherwise it may take a long time for them to decompose.
The compost should be ready for use in the garden in the spring but decomposition is very slow during the cold months of winter.