As temperatures have risen this summer and watering times have been reduced, many trees and bushes are dropping their scorched leaves. The carpet of brown leaves covering planting beds and dead lawns makes it seem as though fall has arrived early.
I've been experimenting for the last two months with starting a smaller, 3' x 3' x 2' high, compost pile to turn dead leaves and all the kitchen waste into compost. I maintained a huge (6' x 6' x 6') compost pile at the back of a large garden for years, and I wanted to have a smaller, more easily workable pile closer to the house.
The weekly addition of several gallons of kitchen waste (fruit and vegetable peelings, unbleached coffee filters and coffee grounds, tea leaves, crushed egg shells) changes the formula that is recommended for the rapid composting method somewhat. The rapid composting method suggests using equal volumes of brown material (carbon) along with green materials (nitrogen) with a carbon/nitrogen ratio of 30 to 1. The brown materials break down much more quickly than the green, so the 30 to 1 brown/green ratio equalizes rapidly. In this experiment, the kitchen waste is the only nitrogen source — no grass clippings, no weeds.
Theoretically, I'd need to add 30 gallons of dead leaves to each gallon of kitchen waste. The first problem with this new pile is that the kitchen waste is much heavier and more dense in structure than the dead brown leaves or grass clippings or weeds.
The decomposition rates are not similar, although both types of materials lose recognizable form within a week or 10 days in the summer heat if the pile is turned every couple of days and if it is kept moist, but not wet. A 10-minute slow soak of water from the hose every couple of days keeps it moist. I also add unsalted leftover pasta water, dog bowl water, and the water used to boil the morning eggs.
The second problem has been the smell of rotting waste that attracts flies. That has been solved by keeping a second pile of dead leaves that is spread to cover each new addition of kitchen waste, 2 to 3 inches thick.
The rapid composting method also recommends not adding any new materials to the pile for two to three weeks, after which the entire pile becomes compost ready to amend the soil in the garden.
Like many gardeners, I enjoy cooking with fresh fruits and vegetables and fill a half-gallon compost pail in one or two days.
There is fully decomposed material, black and sweet-smelling, within this first pile, but I'll need to start a second in order to let the first continue to decompose uninterrupted by the addition of new materials.
I'll also need to make sure that the kitchen waste is chopped up into small pieces, 1/2 to 11/2 inches in size. No putting entire squishy old eggplants into the pile anymore. If this slightly different application of the rapid composting methods works, I should have several buckets of finely-textured, nutrient-rich compost ready next month to turn into the fall planting beds.