Steele: Fall a great time to make compost

I’m sad the flowers are finished but now leaves will drop and I can swing into compost making mode.

The temperature finally went below freezing at my place. I’m sad the flowers are finished but now leaves will drop and I can swing into compost making mode.

My fall composting routine began 25 years ago after moving from wonderful soil on the east bench of Oyama to bad soil in town.

The double lot our house had been on was subdivided before we bought it. When the house was moved to new foundations the excavation dirt obliterated beautiful gardens and all the topsoil.

Many times as I struggled to make new gardens, I mourned the waste of that good soil being buried instead of scraped aside for reuse.

With poor soil, I wanted all the compost I could make. The fastest sources of raw materials were my neighbours’ bagged grass clippings (I checked to make sure they hadn’t used weed and feed in the previous month) and fallen leaves. That first fall, I drove around the neighbourhood and asked people if I could rake their leaves and haul them away in my trailer. They likely thought I was crazy not to ask to be paid.

The next year, I got smart and cruised the back alleys to collect bagged leaves, always checking to make sure they weren’t walnut leaves which are toxic to some plants.

At home, I shredded the leaves with the electric mower. This reduced the volume to one third and made them decompose much faster.

To make compost, I alternated thin layers of shredded leaves and green waste, such as grass clippings. When I had manure it was also layered in. I made sure the whole pile was moist by adding water frequently during the building process. In the middle of the pile I placed a big ball of worms from an active compost pile (my dad’s).

The top was covered with a layer of soil.

Since then I have moved twice and am now gardening in sand and again need lots of compost. I’ve discovered I can make wonderful leaf mould with bagged small leaves by just spraying some water in and leaving them over winter.

Soaking a pile and tarping it also works but bags or tarp must be black or coloured. Clear plastic doesn’t work. The best combination is leaves that have been shredded when the lawn is mowed. I now shred/mow most of my yard waste before composting, or rake it back onto the garden beds. The tiny leaves from my Honey Locust build up year after year to form a no work natural mulch for plants underneath it.

For more information on compost and instructions on how to build various types of compost bins go to, click on the resources page, then on websites of interest, then on the pdf link to the Central Okanagan Regional District’s ‘Let’s Go Natural’ booklet.

Gwen Steele is executive director of the Okanagan Xeriscape Association.