Don’t Waste Leaves this Fall

Birgitt Evans &nbsp&nbsp Demonstration of straining compost

Don’t Waste Leaves this Fall

It’s officially autumn now and while some people persist in blowing away the falling leaves, it’s so much healthier to use, not remove, them. In addition to the annoying and unhealthy noise, dust, and air pollution created by leaf blowers, they also disturb beneficial insects’ habitats and remove precious topsoil. In our beautiful Island City, built mostly on sand, preserving and creating fertile soil, especially as more of us see the value of growing our own food, makes good economic and health sense.

These once nitrogen-filled and now carbon-rich leaves, grass clippings, dry flower heads, and prunings from plants and shrubs can easily be turned into compost, “black gold” for the garden. By putting carbon into the soil, we are reducing the amount in the air. Every shovelful, every garden, every yard, every park counts and helps.

Compost is defined as decayed organic material. As such, it is teeming with microorganisms, bacteria, and fungi that break down the soil into elements that plants need and use. Compost added to soil improves the soil’s structure thereby dramatically increasing its ability to hold water, which is essential in our ongoing drought. Compost also moderates the soil’s temperature, helps balance its pH, and creates more nutritious plants. When used as mulch on top of the ground, compost helps retain moisture and control weeds.

Eventually, everything rots. Over time a pile of leaves, pine needles, grass clippings, and plant remnants will eventually become usable compost. But to create enough compost for more than a few plants on a balcony, patio, or deck, a more strategic approach is needed.

Compost can be purchased in bags or bulk from local nurseries. In addition, there are books, magazines, websites, and videos filled with instructions, do’s, and don’ts on composting and advice about equipment that can be built or purchased to create, store, and retrieve compost. Depending on one’s budget, time, and space, they all work and will likely speed up the decomposition process.

There are three basic ingredients for homemade compost. In a pile or a bin, layer roughly equal amounts of: Greens (plant remnants, vegetable scraps, fruit scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags, grass, and shrub clippings) and Browns (leaves, pine needles, dried grass, unseeded straw, shredded cardboard, and newspaper). Then add Water (enough to keep the layered pile wet like a wrung-out sponge). For more rapid composting, chop the greens and browns and then rotate, turn, or move the pile occasionally to aerate it.

So there’s the Why, Where, and How to create and use compost. The When is any time of year. But with the leaves falling now, and with more time on our hands and healthy air a growing daily concern, this is an ideal time to collect and use leaves for a worthy purpose.

According to Trevor Probert, a gardener who lives in Alameda and is an Outreach Coordinator for composting and carbon farming at StopWaste, “Compost not only builds healthy soil, but it also protects the health of the climate through carbon farming. Feeding compost to your soil kickstarts an amazing process where plants and soil microbes cooperate to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into stored carbon deep in the soil. All gardeners can make use of carbon farming practices!”

On Tuesday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. on Zoom, Probert will present “Carbon Farming for Home Gardeners.” He will share lessons learned from local urban farms, resources for residents to use to make sense of soil health and carbon farming at home, and tips on how residents can support carbon farming in their cities. For more information about this presentation go to

Alison Limoges    A stackable, turnable compost solution

Alameda Backyard Growers (ABG) is dedicated to teaching our neighbors how to grow food. During this difficult time, our education program has moved online. Visit and join the mailing list to receive timely gardening information. Visit ABG’s Free Seed Library at 2829 San Jose Ave. to pick up seasonal seeds. ABG’s Project Pick is always looking for fruit trees to pick and volunteers to help pick them so we can deliver more fresh fruit to the Alameda Food Bank. To sign up, email