Brown and Black Gold: Use it or Lose it!

Roy Thomas
Adams County Master Gardener

Some suggest that the most arduous task of the autumn season is gathering all the leaves which fall in our yards. This is especially exasperating if many of those leaves come from neighboring yards brought by the season breezes. But, we who recognize the promise that these leaves have for next year's gardens and landscapes think otherwise!

Why collect nature's "waste?"

There is good reason to believe that saving, storing, and composting fall's discard is of immeasurable value for your property. Rather than putting leaves in those black bags we see so many of this time of year, consider the following:

  • Save the leaves, discarded plants and vegetables of summer, and add them to a compost pile which provides wonderful mulch and enrichment to your soil. Grass clippings, hedge clippings, potting soil and coffee grounds can all be used to build a healthy compost pile.
  • By refraining from adding black bags and their valuable refuse to our landfills, you are helping our environment. In addition, you can save money by using these spent materials rather than buying soil amendments from the local nurseries or other markets.

Some Basic Principles of Composting

  • Just digging or tilling some fresh fall leaves into your garden will result in better soil come spring. If you have a chipper available, running them through this first will assist the decomposition process.
  • Start a compost pile to retain additional leaves, small twigs, and garden wastes. A cubic yard or more of chicken or heavier wire will suffice- just compress your materials as much as possible to maximize use of space.
  • Add grass clippings and other "green" materials to your pile and mix them in with your then "brown" leaves. Even during winter months, egg shells, coffee grounds, vegetable peelings and other kitchen wastes can be added to your enclosure.
  • Some materials should not be added to your compost pile. Fatty materials such as meat or bones should be avoided since they attract rodents, raccoons, dogs and cats. Do not add diseased plants or plants such as morning glory or English ivy since they may likely not decompose during the compost process.
  • When you save your leaves, you can mix them with your kitchen scraps in order to have a balanced composting diet.
  • The four things needed to make compost are: Carbon (leaves), Nitrogen (grass or kitchen scraps), Air and Water. This is the reason for saving your leaves for the winter and spring season to make that "black gold."

In order to learn more of how to mix and make compost, you are encouraged to attend a compost training class and receive a free Compost Bin. Call the Adams County Extension Office for the times and date of the sessions at 717-334-6271.


So, don't cast away that brown and black gold. Compost it! Save it in containers and add it to your gardens and landscapes. You will be so pleased with the results of your efforts!

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