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Composting After The Snow

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Larry Sagers Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved

The recent snow is creating a dilemma for many gardeners. What can you do with all of the leaves that the snow is now covering? The easiest action is to sit back in front of the fire, wait until next spring and worry about it then.

The difficulty is that if you leave the leaves on the lawn that excludes the sunlight that will likely kill the grass. The lack of sunlight also increases the susceptibility to different turfgrass diseases.

Leaves are excellent sources of organic matter. Collect the leaves in bags, rake them out of the gutters and sweep them up off of the lawns. Our soils are so deficient in organic that they need all the organic matter you can apply.

Since it is unlikely that the soil will dry out enough to allow you to till leaves in this fall, you have a couple of choices. The first is to spread out the leaves and throw some shovelfuls of soil over them to keep them from blowing away.

A second alternative is to save the leaves in the bags. You can make compost in a bag if you so chose. Take a bag full of moist leaves and add a shovelful of soil. Tumble the soil to distribute in among the leaves and then poke a few holes in the bag to let the oxygen into the bag.

Stack the bags together to keep them warmer and to speed the decomposition. The bag serves as a miniature composter and next spring the compost will be ready to go.

The secret of composting is to pay attention to the carbon/ nitrogen ratio. The ideal ratio is one part nitrogen thirty parts carbon. There is no easy way to measure this ratio for homeowners so follow these guidelines. When adding dry leaves or other materials to soil you must add nitrogen fertilizer to help brake down the leaves.

Add one pound of ammonium sulfate for each one-inch thick layer of shredded leave on 100 square feet of garden area. Double the amount if the leaves are two inches thick.

Avoid composting plants that have died of infectious diseases or those that have gone to seed. Unless you get the compost temperature up to 140-160 degrees, they will cause problems next season.

The secret for a good garden is good soil. Spend some time now and your soil will be better next season.

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