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Protecting Wisconsin Waters in the Fall - Benefits of Composting

Author: Rebecca K. Murray

Wisconsin's water is our most precious resource. And in Wisconsin, water means more than what comes out of the tap - it is part of our lives and heritage. Our beautiful lakes, rivers and natural areas are the places where our families go to swim, fish, boat, hike and just plain enjoy. One simple way to protect our waters is to compost your fall leaves.

"This time of year leaves make up the biggest component of landscape wastes,"

Derek Scheer, Water Policy Director of Clean Wisconsin said. "Leaves are one of the easiest landscape wastes to compost. A simple compost pile, can protect our waters, reduce waste in landfills and improve your plants."playing in leaves

Why Compost?

There are a number of good reasons to compost:-

  1. It reduces the amount of algae in our lakes, by lowering the amount of nutrient they can feed and grow on: Leaves contribute to our lakes turning green in the summer by fertilizing lake weeds and algae. When leaf piles sit, wind and rain carry them into storm drains and into our lakes, through the storm sewers. Even if the leaves are piled on your lawn, rain seeping through the piles picks up phosphorus and other plant nutrients that flow into the storm drains.
  2. It reduces the amount of waste filling up landfills: Nearly 30 percent of the wastes homeowners throw away each year can be composted. This keeps these wastes out of landfills and creates a product that adds valuable organic matter to the lawn and garden. Composting may be the easiest way for homeowners to dispose of them. Instead of clogging landfills, those leaves and fruit and vegetable peelings can be recycled as backyard compost.
  3. It improves soil structure, texture, and aeration and increases the soil's water-holding capacity: (Your plants will thank you for the compost by producing more.)

Fall is the perfect time to start a compost pile. Leaves, plants killed by frost, vegetable scraps and grass clippings --all these materials can be composted. The composting process will continue throughout winter and yield you rich soil for your spring planting.

Compost is one of nature's best mulches and soil amendments, and you can use it instead of commercial fertilizers. They're an easy and efficient way to use yard waste and will kick start your spring garden. Best of all, compost is cheap.

Setting up a Compost Pile

Composting can be as easy as digging an area in your garden, at least a foot deep, dumping leaves in the hole and covering it with the twelve inches of soil you dug up. Alternatvely, you could purchase a compost container or build your own. leaf collecting & playing in leaves

The compost pile should contain a mix of nitrogen and carbon-rich materials because both are essential for the micro-organisms that do the decomposing. Green, leafy wastes usually are high in nitrogen, while woody materials tend to be high in carbon.

Also include kitchen scraps such as egg shells, melon rinds, coffee grinds, banana peels, etc in your compost. Placing an empty ice cream pail in the kitchen cabinet below your sink is an easy way to collect the scraps.

You should avoid meat scraps and dairy in the compost pile. These typically attract rodents and other pests you don't want in your backyard. For a great list of what can and can't go in a compost pile, see: www.compostguide.com. They have an easy to follow chart listing common composting materials.

As long as the pile is large enough to insulate itself, it will continue to decompose throughout the winter. When warm weather returns in the spring, use a shovel to stir the pile (turning). The object of turning is to rotate the material in the pile. The pile should be turned once a week. The compost is ready to use when the pile cools and the material is dark, crumbly and sweet-smelling, like soil. Finished compost can be used next spring to mulch around shrubs or flowers or as a soil enhancer for gardens.fall leaves and stream02

If composting won't work for you, participate in your local or municipal fall leaf collection.

Call your local Public Works Department. Most cities, towns and villages have leaf collections in October, or citizens can drop off yard waste at specific sites. Call for the schedule. If your municipality picks up leaves, place leaves for pickup on the terrace between the sidewalk and the street. Put a tarp over the leaves on your terrace to stop them from blowing into the street. Bag your leaves only if your terrace is very narrow; bags must contain only leaves and be open at the top for easy emptying. Raking leaves into the street will carry them into storm drains and into our lakes, through the storm sewers. Please note that piles of leaves and bags of leaves won't harm your grass. By late fall, grass has stopped growing and becomes dormant until spring.

Other options to protect Wisconsin Waters from leaves:

  1. Use a mulching or regular lawnmower to chop leaves into small pieces that will breakdown easier and release 'good' nutrients into your lawn.
  2. Rake leaves over flower beds mulched with wood chips as a supplement to help reduce weeds. The decomposed leaves will enhance the planting bed and save money.
  3. Plant a natural landscape under trees. Using native wildflowers, ferns, and grasses will provide a natural place for fallen leaves.
  4. Set up a community or neighborhood compost pile.

For example, Eau Claire County no longer accepts yard waste at any of their collection sites. On the County web site, there is a yard waste directory. The directory lists homeowners who accept yard waste to compost.
children playing in leaves
Wisconsin's water is precious and it's our responsibility to keep it safe and useable. For more information on protecting our lakes, rivers and streams call Clean Wisconsin for their poster '30 easy ways to care for Wisconsin Water' or visit our web site www.cleanwisconsin.org.

About the author:
Rebecca K. Murray is the Public Relations Manager for Clean Wisconsin. She has over nine years of marketing, public relations and writing experience. She can be reached at
rmurray@cleanwisconsin.org.

 

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