If you show me yours, I’ll show you mine . . .

Compost that is.  What did you think I was talking about?  At my suggestion in a recent comment, Carol at  May Dreams Gardens asked if we would show our compost bins. I’ve shown RDR’s dirty underbelly before, and I’ll be glad to do it again if only to impress upon everyone that compost is the most important, basic structure to good soil.

If your native soil looks something like mine above, you need compost and lots of it.  Compost is easy to make.  You can work very, very hard at it if you want, or you can take the laissez-faire approach.  I do a bit of both, but first, let’s talk about why that nasty red clay and sandstone needs compost.  It’s as simple as nature.  In forests, leaves fall to the ground and decay bringing nutrients to the forest’s understory, the ferns and other plants which grow in the shade of the trees.   Compost isn’t only regulated to grand forests though.  America’s beautiful prairies rely upon composted material to keep growing more beautiful year after year.  Grasses and other prairie plants are both ideal for winter decay, and also, fire.  Both created rich soil and attracted farmers to the plains.  In Oklahoma, the fertile prairie isn’t deep though, and over-tilling, along with a severe and continued drought, caused the dust bowl of the 1930s.

My composting practices evolved over the years, starting with a large wired enclosure, which wasn’t  very practical because the compost was difficult to turn.  I moved on to black plastic bins, which I still use and like, but two of them don’t make enough compost for such a big garden.  Organic Compost Tumbler also sent me a wonderful compost tumbler, but I need a new spot for it near more water.  It is such an enclosed system, and our summers are so dry, that I can’t efficiently use it where it is.

It was my friend, Wanda, who turned me on to shredded leaf piles,and they remain my favorite form of compost.  She also lived in a woodsy area in suburban Edmond, and she had two or three five foot tall wire enclosures where she put her shredded leaves and those of all her neighbors.

This is where I actually work for compost.  My leaves fall in an interesting way.  We are in our third leaf fall of autumn, and we need to again run the giant leaf vac over the grass.  I will also use it to suck leaves out of some of my flower beds.  This may sound easy, but it’s hard work.  My dear son, HH and I all work like Trojans on leaf days.  We have so many leaves that after two sweeps of the lawn, the giant container is packed full.  One of us then takes the tractor and dumps the leaves into a pile.  I don’t have wire containers because my crew would mutiny if I add even one more step.  We repeat this process three or four times in the fall and then once in the spring because some of the oaks hold onto their leaves until then.

Why go to all this trouble?  After six months of sitting, the leaves crumble in your hand, and earthworms crawl throughout the pile.  This is pure, black gold and requires no screening.  My other compost does.  I also use the shredded leaves as mulch, and they are a great seed starting medium.  Again, just think of walking through the forest and that springy soil under your feet.

Composted leaves, nature’s free gift.

In my other bins, I place all of my kitchen refuse, the things in the fridge which don’t get eaten and the salad leftovers, excluding any dairy or meat. I also collect my eggshells, crushing some of them, but also reserving some for tomato planting time.  On top of the kitchen scraps, I place a layer of shredded leaves, and there is no smelly compost.

Like Carol wrote, if you have homemade compost, you will reap the rewards of your efforts.  It doesn’t matter so much how you make it, just find a method which suits you.


  1. LaDonna says:

    I haven’t looked at your blog in a while. WOW! You have really changed it. This was a great post. I remember Wanda’s compost piles, they were huge. I’m thinking of buying a leaf vacuum/blower to shred all my leaves. Do you think it’s better to compost them first or just add them like mulch to the daylily/perennial beds? I’m going to be reading some of your older posts. Great Job! P.S. my soil looks like yours, pretty scary!

  2. Like the post. Put it on the Charleston Parks Conservancy page. http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/CharlestonParksConservancy?ref=sgm
    thanks for the great info.
    .-= compostinmyshoe´s last blog ..The Lady on Indian St. =-.

    Why thank you so much. That was nice of you.~~Dee

  3. Nice post, Dee. We are under an avalanche of leaves right now, especially in the front garden, where my plants collect all the neighbors’ unraked fall. I don’t mind; their loss is my gain in the compost bin. In fact, I’ve been known to go around and ask them to give their bags of leaves to me instead of throwing them in the dumpster…all that bounty makes for good veggie beds.

    What I most wanted to say, however, is that I’ve never tried shredded them before. I am intrigued by this and am going to give it a try this year, per your suggestion. Maybe I’ll do one bin with shredded and one without and see what happens. Thanks for the tip!
    .-= Susan Tomlinson´s last blog ..My new garden tool =-.

    Susan, I’m glad you’re going to give them a try. Let me know what you think.~~Dee

  4. I like the video and can still remember my grandparents talking about the dust bowl and then my dad talking about what they did to enrich the soil. Your carex is pretty and such a nice color this time of year. Glad you didn’t show me something I’d have to smack you over.

    Anna, (LOL) you want to smack me? My grandparents also told me stories about the dust bowl. Living in Oklahoma, I think about it a lot and how we got to that point. I don’t think we ever will again. Farming practices changes and folks figured out that much of Oklahoma is better rangeland than farmland.~~Dee

  5. Gail says:

    Dee, I really liked the slide show…especially the dust bowl shot and who wouldn’t love the compost happy zinnias! I get the best results from leaf mold. I do have a small composter that the city gave out a few years ago….but it is awkward to use. I could use that leaf vacuum you mentioned! gail
    .-= Gail´s last blog ..Mr I~ Tear Down This Hedge* =-.

    Thanks Gail. Me too!~~Dee

  6. VW says:

    I couldn’t figure out a good, permanent place for a compost pile/bin in my yard. But I finally got tired of waiting and started dumping all the clippings/leaves in a big pile in the area that will eventually be the focal point view from the living and dining room windows. It’s not very attractive 🙂 but I feel so happy to be keeping all that good stuff in my yard instead of sending it off in the green waste bin. I’m looking forward to more leaves in the future. Since I planted honey locusts, flowering cherries and crabapples, all with small leaves, I’m hoping that many of the leaves can just stay in the beds and rot there. Will have to wait and see how that works when we finally dig out all the beds.
    .-= VW´s last blog ..Mugshots: 2 Mauve-Pink English Roses =-.

    Me too, VW. Now, the rest of my waste goes to those chickens, and I don’t have too much waste to feel guilty over. You’re right about the small leaved plants. Their leaves will be great for the garden in situ.~~Dee

  7. Cindy, MCOK says:

    The garden obviously thrives on the diet you feed it! I’ve run out of room to hide compost bins and the yard police get snarky if I put them where they might be seen. I continue to cogitate on what I can do. I’ve considered forming a community compost collective but again, finding space somewhere is the issue.
    .-= Cindy, MCOK´s last blog ..Three for Thursday: November 12, 2009 =-.

    Thanks Cindy. I love your idea of a community compost pile. It sounds so English, you know, those allotments and all.~~Dee

  8. Robin Ripley says:

    The zinnias photo at the end made me laugh. I had the most beautiful coleus growing from my compost pile this summer!

    .-= Robin Ripley´s last blog ..The Indignity of Being a Plain Chicken =-.

    Yes, aren’t they grand!~~Dee

  9. Yay for compost! I took up the challenge too, Dee.
    .-= Kylee from Our Little Acre´s last blog ..The Dirty, Decaying Detritus of My Garden =-.

    Good for you Kylee. I’ll head right over.~~Dee

  10. Leslie says:

    I’ve always mixed my store of leaves with other additions all year…maybe this year I’ll try leaving one pile alone and see how that works here. My practices have changed over the years also…maybe this will be another change.
    .-= Leslie´s last blog ..L’Orto Botanico di Roma =-.

    Leslie, I just do a bit of both, but I love my leaf piles best.~~Dee

  11. Ah, yes, another leaf mold fan – it is marvelous stuff. I’m still doing the wire bin thing. I was supposed to get a compost tumbler this summer, but I never got it ordered. Maybe next year, but I’ll keep in mind your advice about having it not far from the water spigot.
    .-= Mr. McGregor’s Daughter´s last blog ..The Joy of Leaf Mold =-.

    Oh, how funny MMD, we both wrote about leaf mold. Yes, it’s dear to a gardener’s heart.~~Dee

  12. Mary Delle says:

    Compost is gold. I, too, shred the leaves and use them as mulch. My place is too small to have a compost heap, but I recycle most garden waste to mulch, after shredding. I have no lawn, mainly leaves. Loved your account of your composting.
    .-= Mary Delle´s last blog ..Perfume Plant =-.

    Mary Delle, you’re absolutely right. It makes excellent mulch.~~Dee

  13. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    P.S. I too like the surprises that the compost coughs up. That red clay and sandstone is scary.

    Lisa, you should try to dig through it. Tough.~~Dee

  14. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I will have to see if I have a photo of my poor delapidated compost pile. It is quite full right now actually. I could get out there and spread some around.

  15. Dee, your red clay soil was frightening to see. But all that compost you are making, in nearly every way you can, sure makes a difference with all the beautiful flowers you have growing in your garden. Thanks for the inspiration to go out and make more compost!
    .-= Carol, May Dreams Gardens´s last blog ..More Thoughts On Composting =-.

    Thank you for getting me to write about it.~~Dee

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