A great question came in from a curious gardenerd this week:
“Just started composting! I have a composting tumbler in my yard as there are many animals I would need to keep out of a pile eg. deer raccoons, etc. I have a separate bin where I plan to collect autumn leaves to have available for adding to the composter with the green material. Is this acceptable? I have read elsewhere that it’s better not to use dead leaves as your main brown source. Also if I run out of leaves is it okay to use straw or hay ? (I would have to purchase it separately) I’m concerned about running out of appropriate brown material. Thanks so much! –Fern”
Thanks for writing in, Fern. Leaves are a great source of carbon for your compost bin. The only reason (that I can think of) why you might not want to use them as your main source is that they can mat down and form a barrier that prevents air flow and water penetration.
To combat this problem, mix dried leaves with scraps from your home: shredded office paper, used paper towels and tissues, or that straw you mentioned. BTW – Hay often has seed included in the bale, which means weeds sprouting in your garden. Stick with straw. You can also use thicker, chunkier material like wood chips that will break down more slowly and give microbes something more to feed upon as leaf material disappears.
Many people suggest avoiding the use of pine needles or eucalyptus leaves in composting because they are acidic and/or naturally anti-microbial, so it creates a more challenging environment for the critters (fungi, bacteria, insects) to do their job breaking down your compost.
Oak leaves apparently make the best compost material, so if you have oak trees in your neck of the woods, gather some here and there. Just be sure to leave some for the tree. It’s how they recycle nutrients.
I hope this answers your question. Happy composting!
Hey gardenerds! If you have a favorite “brown” that you use, share it with us here.