Your enemy can be your friend

Published 7:20 pm Tuesday, October 6, 2015

By Biff and Susan Andrews

We are preparing for the “enemy” that is about to descend upon us.

Oh, it looks innocent enough at first — pretty colors way up high shimmering in the light and the excitement of the first crisp days of fall.

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But don’t be fooled by the charm of the changing seasons. You know the worst is yet to come, and you’d better get ready. We have assembled our arsenal of weapons and are prepared to take thousands and thousands of prisoners.

Rakes, blowers, tarps, bags, bins — ready! Fire away, fall! Give us your best shot.

We live under a lot of large, old trees. In fact, there are so many trees and so much shade we are not bothered with too much mowing in the summer. But when fall arrives, it is payback time.

What do you do with all those leaves? Burning is definitely out. Bagging them and sending them to the landfill — not the best solution. So, we take prisoners.

Our prisoners go to the confines of our leaf bin — or more accurately, bins — strategically located around the yard. The leaves are later mixed with grass clippings provided by our neighbor to create a batch mix in the compost heap.

What started as a little composting experiment has turned into a leaf processing industry. My neighbor and gardening guru, got us started. She can turn leaves and grass into gold for the garden in just a few weeks.

Together, we have become liquidators of leaves, moguls of mulch and captains of compost, all without adding to the landfill or harming the environment. In fact, we have turned the enemy into our friend, by using our compost to nourish the soil.

Good nutrition for the soil is good nutrition for your plants. In turn, the good nutrition in the soil is converted by the plants into good nutrition for you.

Composting takes just a little investment of time and energy and doesn’t cost a thing. Even if you compost only on a small scale, you can save money you might otherwise spend on commercial mulch, compost and chemical fertilizer.

There are a number of ways you can compost — you don’t necessarily need piles all over your yard. You can purchase a commercial compost bin or make your own. There are lots of examples of homemade compost bins that you can find on the Internet.

The basic thing is to have the right ratio of green to brown. Grass is green (nitrogen) and leaves are brown (carbon). The basic rule of thumb is two parts green to one part brown.

When these two get together — well, things start to heat up. A host of little microorganisms get in there and get to work breaking down grass, leaves, “spent” garden plants, fruit and vegetable peelings, stale bread, coffee grounds and “fuzzy stuff” in those forgotten containers from the deep recesses of your refrigerator.

Turning the pile or bin adds much-needed air to the mix and revitalizes the microbes that break down the ingredients. Just add a little water if it gets dry and mix it up from time to time. About once a week should do if you want to speed things up a bit.

Remember, your compost is strictly vegetarian, so no meat or dairy, and don’t even think about composting anything that comes from Fido.

Now, get out there and turn your yard waste “enemy” into your friend and you’ll be doing something good for yourself and the environment without even leaving your own backyard.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at