Sunday, January 21, 2018

Lazy Man’s Leaf Composting

I have 3 basic types of leaves available to me in abundance:

There are Live Oak leaves in the Spring, and though I don’t have any Live Oak trees, my neighbor does. He bags them up and puts them out by the curb. He lets me take them. I use them in two ways. I spread them on the ground where the summer sun bakes the ground (the Bermuda grass then slowly infiltrates up through this ground cover and I only use a fraction of the water watering this section). For the second use, I keep the bags upright and standing next to each other and I slowly dole them out as I put them atop our food scraps in my Black Soldier Fly bins [Soilsaver Classic Composter] where the larvae eat the scraps. [I use LINKYO Compost Bucket to collect scraps in kitchen. After dumping each time, I put several inches of water in the bucket and start collecting new scraps. The water keeps the process moving along nicely. Note: I also dump in grease.]
By keeping the scraps covered with a layer of leaves, house flies are unable to lay eggs on them (whereas the Soldier Flies lay their eggs on the leaves and the larvae crawl down to the food). The larvae exit the bin when they are ready to pupate / and provide nourishment for birds, lizards and toads.
Because I dump the scraps in the top center of the pile, I keep the center of the pile moist. The larvae thrive and the Live Oak leaves steadily decompose. 
I have two such bins. One for fresh food scraps and leaves, while the other simmers for another year as the coarse leaves finish decomposing.
Note: Live Oak leaves are tough and thick and do not decompose easily. This quality suits my needs.

The second kind of leaf is from Cedar Elms. The leaves are small and decompose reasonably well. I use them mostly as ground cover where the shade keeps the grass from growing. The rest I put in a ‘wire compost bin’. Each year I put the bin reasonably close to a different tree. When I remove it, I simply take and spread the new compost around the tree (though my wife takes what she needs for her container grown plants).

The third kind of leaves are large easy-to-mulch oak leaves from Schumards and Chinquapins. All of these we use a leaf vacuum to gather. The shredded leaves go into a wire compost bin. I use a light three foot length of cedar board fencing material to repeatedly ramp them down into a compacted mass. I’m able to reduce their volume to 1/4 of what it would be if they were simply tossed in.

Note: I do not bother stirring the contents of my piles. There’s no need to. I don’t add grass clippings, because my mulching lawn mower returns them to the yard as I mow.

I keep all of the gathered leaves moist during the times of year when I have to water my yard. I always hand water my grass and trees, so it’s convenient to dose my composting leaves at the same time.

Note: We also have what I’ll call the ‘twig pile’. When a tree limb or bush is trimmed, simply shear off the smaller branches. Then take them to a separate wire bin and use hand shears to cut them into 3-6” lengths (letting the bits drop into the bin). As the layer thickens, grab leaf material from the leaf bin and mix into the twig bits. You create a finely tiered mound that will hold its shape if you need to remove the wire bin for use elsewhere (since this pile will be years before becoming useful, meanwhile, earthworms love it). [OR simply allow the twig bits to fall on the ground as you chunk up the branches.] The thicker branches can be cut into proper lengths for building fire pit fires, chimineas, etcetera and the ashes mixed with the compost before putting in pots.

When I first moved into my house on a limestone hill twenty-five plus years ago, some parts of the yard were bare limestone. After blocking the high side runoff causing the erosion, I’ve been able to create a yard with several plus inches of topsoil. 

I now have three types of grass: St. Augustine, Bermuda and Zoysia japonica. They each have taken over the parts of the yard that they thrive in.

Additionally: My neighbor has chickens and several food places nearby have messy dumpsters, both of which create a housefly problem. 
House fly larvae look distinctively different than Soldier Fly larvae. I have verified repeatedly that my bin doesn’t produce House Fly hatchings. Plus, the effluent slurry from the Soldier Fly larvae repels house flies. Plus, any eggs laid on the food scraps would be eaten.
The following is my solution:

Additional fun reading:
‘Raising Soldier Flies’