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Wheeler: Composting: Greens, browns combine to form black gold
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We are getting into the best of year with cooler weather and crisp days that give a bit of excitement because it feels like college football and fall festivals. Even though it is the end of the growing season, everything from plants to animals seems to enjoy a break from the oppressive heat.

Growing up on Montrose Drive in Gainesville, my Saturday mornings were filled with the distant hum of leaf blowers throughout the neighborhood as everyone tried to “dig out” from all the fallen leaves. I remember in the backyard that the leaves would get 7 or 8 inches thick and spent hours trying to corral them to the bottom of the hill.

Pushing them to the bottom of the hill or out to the road or a ditch is one way to deal with the annual leaf drop, but there is also another way to wrangle them in to submission. Composting is a cheap and easy way to deal with the “leaf problem” we all experience in the fall. 

There are really only a few things to compost; a lot of browns, a bit of greens, moisture and time. So what do I mean “browns?” Well that is the bulk of what you want to compost, and in this case it’s leaves. The greens are your grass clippings or pruning material. If you add all of that in the right combination, eventually you will have what a lot of gardeners call black gold, or compost.

You also need a good out of the way place to have your compost pile. I have composted material just by heaping leaves in a pile and letting it sit for a few months. I have also used hog-wire fencing to make a hoop in order to compost.

The great thing about the hoop method is that one, it is cheap, and two, it is very easy to move and manage. If you take about 9 feet of fencing, that will make a hoop that is about 3 feet in diameter. 

In order to speed up the composting process, you need to turn the pile every so often, say every three to four weeks. This will introduce oxygen to the middle of the pile and that will kick-start the process again.

If you are using the hoop, just simply pick it up, move it over to the side and pitchfork the material back in to the hoop. If you do this enough, you will end up with black organic matter because all the leaves have been broken down and turned in to compost.

Compost is a great amendment for flower or vegetable gardens. In our clay soils, it is the best way to break up and loosen the soil, add long term nutrients and improve water infiltration. All of these factors make it easier for plants to grow and put down roots. A deep and intensive root system on a plant is the best way to ward off disease, insects and environmental stress like drought.

So make use of the free source of soon to be organic matter that Mother Nature provides every fall and compost your leaves this year. The rewards will continue for years to come. 

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293. His column appears weekly and on

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