Nov 2015

Videos

Prepping the Chicken Coop for Winter- Backyard chickens can adapt to winter conditions as long as certain measures are taken to keep them safe and happy. University of Illinois Extension

Transforming Leaves from Trash to Treasure - Each fall, nature rewards us with a bounty of leaves. Wondering what to do with all those leaves? Turn the trash into treasure by adding them to your garden, spreading them as mulch, or by making a compost pile. K-State Research and Extension

Harvesting and Storing Firewood- Graham Herbst, Nebraska Forest Service, tells how to cut firewood safely with proper equipment.

Test Forage for Nutrient Content

Nebraska Extension: Acreage Insights, November 2015. Testing Forage for Nutrient Content, http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-nov-2015#TestForage. By Lindsay Chichester, Nebraska Extension Educator - Livestock

With winter quickly approaching, now may be the time to test your forage.  Whether you put up your own hay or purchase hay, it is helpful to know the nutrient composition.  The forage test may also save you money in supplemental feed costs. 

Baled Hay
If you choose to sample an entire lot of hay, take samples from 15-20 bales.  Mix the samples thoroughly and send the entire sample in for analysis.  Be sure to properly label the samples with the correct lot number on it.  If you only purchase a few bales of hay at a time it may not be worth it to sample each bale individually. However, the person/retailer that you purchase this hay from may do a sample of the entire lot so they can pass this information onto individual customers, it is worth asking. When you send your sample in, you will need to indicate what you want it tested for, some good recommendations include moisture, protein, and energy.

Standing Forage
Forage sampling is not limited to baled hay.  Samples can be taken from standing forage when the animals are actively grazing.  These samples can be obtained by clipping the forage at the level the animal would normally graze.  Be sure and get a representation from across the field.  Again, mix all samples for one lot and submit it for analysis.  Freshly gathered field samples should be allowed to dry before being sealed and mailed.  A burlap sack works best for this.

If you need the proper equipment to take a forage sample or have questions, contact your local county extension office.  Some additional resources for forage sampling and testing include:

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Winter Care for Horses

Nebraska Extension: Acreage Insights, November 2015. Winter Care for Horses, http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-nov-2015#WinterCareForHorses By Monte Stauffer, Nebraska Extension Educator - Livestock

Cold winter weather can be hard on animals especially horses if they are not cared for properly.  Here are some tips to help your horse handle the cold conditions:

Provide easy access to a clean, fresh water source.  Horses can’t survive very well on snow and ice.  Switching the ration from pasture grass to hay increases the amount of water a horse must drink to maintain a healthy digestive system.

The energy requirements of a horse increases as the air temperature decreases.  Plenty of good quality hay should be fed.  Alfalfa hay usually has more energy than grass hay.  If a horse can’t maintain the proper body condition on hay, grain can be added to increase the energy level of the ration.  Many horses don’t require grain to meet their energy requirements.

Some shelter from the wind should be provided.  Blankets and stalls are not usually necessary if the horse has developed a dense hair coat.  This hair coat protects them from cold temperatures as long as it stays dry.  A wet hair coat provides less insulation.  Poorly ventilated stalls can cause respiratory problems if moisture and ammonia levels are high.

Allow horses to have some exercise.  This increases their appetite and reduces boredom, which causes chewing, biting, and kicking of facilities.

More information  on caring for horses in the winter can be found in NebGuide: "Winter Care of Horses".

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Septic Unsafe Disposable Wipes Cause Woes for Onsite Wastewater Systems

Nebraska Extension: Acreage Insights, November 2015. Septic Unsafe Disposable Wipes Cause Woes for Onsite Wastewater Systems, http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-nov-2015#DisposableWipes. This information was developed by the National Environmental Services Center (NESC) at West Virginia University and is used with their permission. To learn more about services offered by the NESC visit www.nesc.wvu.edu or call toll free (800) 624-8301.

With the help of well-crafted advertising, disposable wet wipes—a product once used mainly for wiping baby bottoms—are now increasingly being used on adult bottoms. Although they are frequently labeled as “flushable,” the problems adult wet wipes have created for municipal sewer systems are well documented. Their increasing presence in sewers has created a major surge in clogged lines and sewage pumps for municipal wastewater utilities. The effect of flushed wipes on septic systems has received less attention, but problems are also being widely reported.

Disposable wet wipes are one of many types of nonwoven fabrics, manufactured by entangling fibers in a sheet or web structure, and bonding them mechanically, chemically, or thermally. The fibers are not knitted or woven as conventional fabrics are. Nonwoven fabrics have many uses, of which wipes are just one. There are also many different types of wipes including baby wipes, personal hygiene wipes, cosmetic removal wipes, and household cleaning wipes for many types of surfaces. Besides disposability, one of their attributes is their durability—compared to paper products they are less likely to fall apart when being used. This durability, however, can create problems after disposal.

But the Label Says I can Flush Them
Things get confusing for homeowners because some wipes are labeled as flushable and some aren’t—baby wipes and surface cleaning wipes, for example, were never intended to be flushed. However, for those wipes that claim to be “flushable” or “septic safe,” it is debatable to what extent that may be true.

INDA, the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry publishes the document, “Guidelines for Assessing the Flushability of Disposable Nonwoven Products,” which provides the criteria that may be used to identify wipes that can be labeled as flushable. The guidelines use seven different tests to determine the compatibility of wipes with both sewers and septic systems. The guidelines have been subject to criticism, however. They only apply to INDA members and even for INDA members they are voluntary. As a result, there is no assurance for consumers that a product labeled as being flushable was tested using the INDA criteria.

Also, many wastewater officials feel the guidelines are not sufficiently rigorous. Analysis of clogs of sewers and sewage pumps show that the materials causing clogs are usually a mixture of different types of wipes—both flushable and non-flushable—plus other items such as paper hand towels and feminine hygiene products. However, these analyses also show that wipes, including those labeled as flushable, do not break up after flushing as often advertised, but tend to stay in one piece.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) agrees that the claim of flushability for some wipes has not been adequately proven. Under a settlement with the FTC, Nice-Pak Products, Inc., a manufacturer of wet wipes, agreed in May 2015 to stop advertising their wipes as flushable and septic safe until those claims could be substantiated. The FTC decided the tests that Nice-Pak used to determine flushability did not reflect real-world sewer and septic system conditions. Nice-Pak markets their wipes under in-store brand names at Costco, CVS, and Target, and other retailers.

The effects of flushed wipes on septic systems is not as well documented as they are for sewer systems. However, septic tank pumpers and service providers report problems as well. Wipes tend to clump into masses that can block the line to the tank or block the tank inlet. This can potentially result in wastewater backing up into the house—something no homeowner wants to deal with.

Wipes can also clog the vacuum hose that service providers use to pump the tank. Removing clogs, whether they are in the tank or the vacuum hose, makes routine servicing of septic tanks take longer. Longer service times means greater costs for the pumper—costs that naturally get passed on to the homeowner.

Service providers also report problems with wipes clogging septic tank outlets and effluent filters. Because the primary function of the tank is to allow solids to settle to the bottom, clogging of the outlet end of the tank calls into question just how well wipes settle in an actual septic system environment rather than in an artificial testing environment. People who service advanced onsite wastewater treatment systems also report problems with wipes. These include clogging of pumps, wipes that wrap around and cling to moving parts, and wipes that get deposited on the top of media filters, which affects how wastewater is distributed through the treatment medium.

A septic system, whether it is a conventional or an advanced treatment system, represents a significant investment for a homeowner. It is in the homeowner’s interest to prevent any conditions from occurring that might cause the system to malfunction. Manufacturers of wipes, with prodding from the wastewater industry, have been working to make wipes that are intended to be flushable more flushable and to more clearly label wipes that are not intended to be flushed. For homeowners, however, the safest, easiest course of action is to keep all wipes out the wastewater system—whether it is a septic system or a sewer system—by disposing of them with their regular solid waste.

For More Information
This Consumer Reports video shows how easily toilet paper breaks apart in comparison to flushable wipes: Are Flushable Wipes Flushable?

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Nitrates in Your Well Water? Effects on Humans, Crops, and Animals

Resources compiled by Connie Fisk, Nebraska Extension Educator – Regional Food Systems

Nebraska Extension: Acreage Insights, November 2015. Nitrates in Your Well Water? Effects on Humans, Crops and Animals, http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-nov-2015#Nitrates.

If you’re buying property with a well you’ve probably been advised to have the well water tested for nitrates (among other things).  Why do you need to be concerned about nitrates?  What effect will high nitrates in the water have on your family, irrigated fruits and vegetables, and livestock you plan to raise for personal use or sale into the local food system?  Here’s a list of online resources to help you evaluate the risk.

  • The acute health hazard associated with drinking water with nitrate occurs when bacteria in the digestive system transform nitrate to nitrite. The nitrite reacts with iron in the hemoglobin of red blood cells to form methemoglobin, which lacks the oxygen-carrying ability of hemoglobin. This creates the condition known as methemoglobinemia (sometimes referred to as “blue baby syndrome”), in which blood lacks the ability to carry sufficient oxygen to the individual body cells.  Infants under one year of age have the highest risk of developing methemoglobinemia, followed by older persons who have a gastrointestinal system disorder resulting in increased bacteria growth. NebGuide: Drinking Water: Nitrate-Nitrogen
  • Testing for nitrate should occur any time a pregnant woman, woman anticipating pregnancy or infant under 6 months old becomes a water user. NebGuide: Drinking Water: Testing for Quality
  • If testing reveals high nitrate levels in well water, you may want to switch to a public or municipal water source for your home or invest in a reverse osmosis water treatment system.  Reverse osmosis is effective at reducing several ions and metals, including nitrate. NebGuide: Drinking Water Treatment: Reverse Osmosis
  • Water with greater than 10 mg/L (10 ppm) of nitrate-nitrogen should not be used for drinking, but can be used for washing and rinsing produce.Testing Well Water.
  • Fruits, grains, and dairy products contribute almost no nitrate to people's diets.
Nebraska Extension: Acreage Insights, November 2015. Nitrates in Your Well Water? Effects on Humans, Crops and Animals, http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-nov-2015#Nitrates.
  • Nitrate-nitrogen commonly occurs in well water, and by knowing the amount present, it can be accounted for, thus potentially reducing fertilizer input costs.Water Testing.
Nebraska Extension: Acreage Insights, November 2015. Nitrates in Your Well Water? Effects on Humans, Crops and Animals, http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-nov-2015#Nitrates.
With high nitrate levels in irrigation water perennial fruit trees and vines may continue to grow vegetatively late in the season reducing fruit yields, delaying maturity, lowering sugar content, and making plants more susceptible to cold damage.
  • Nitrogen in the irrigation water has much the same effect as soil-applied fertilizer nitrogen; an excess will cause problems, just as too much fertilizer would (over-stimulation of growth, delayed maturity or poor quality).  Since nitrogen is present in many water supplies, it is recommended that the nitrogen content of all irrigation water be monitored and the nitrogen present included as an integral part of the planned fertilization program.  Sensitive crops may be affected by nitrogen concentrations above 5 mg/L.  For example, grapes are sensitive and may continue to grow late into the season at the expense of fruit production; yields are often reduced and grapes may be late in maturing and have lower sugar content.  In many grain crops, excessive vegetative growth produces weak stalks that cannot support the grain weight, resulting in severe lodging and difficulties for machine harvesting.

With high nitrate levels in irrigation water perennial fruit trees and vines may continue to grow vegetatively late in the season reducing fruit yields, delaying maturity, lowering sugar content, and making plants more susceptible to cold damage.

Nebraska Extension: Acreage Insights, November 2015. Nitrates in Your Well Water? Effects on Humans, Crops and Animals, http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-nov-2015#Nitrates.
Test irrigation water for nitrates and subtract the amount provided from your nitrogen fertilizer application.
  • High nitrogen water can be used as a fertilizer early in the season. However, as the nitrogen needs of the crop diminish later in the growing season, the nitrogen applied to the crop must be substantially reduced.  Blending or changing supplies during the later more critical growth stages should be helpful.  Another option is to plant a less sensitive crop, such as corn, which can utilize the nitrogen from the irrigation water more effectively.  For crops irrigated with water containing nitrogen, the rates of nitrogen fertilizer supplied to the crop can be reduced by an amount very nearly equal to that available from the water supply.

Test irrigation water for nitrates and subtract the amount provided from your nitrogen fertilizer application.

  • Ruminant animals are sensitive to nitrogen and heavy applications to pastures used for direct or indirect livestock feed may cause excessive quantities to accumulate in the forage.  This may be hazardous to the animals’ health.
  • Mature livestock can tolerate higher concentrations of nitrate in their water supply than can young livestock. In the case of calves, however, much of their fluid intake is derived from nursing and very little nitrate is secreted in milk.  Livestock drinking well water are not likely to experience nitrate toxicity. Nitrate toxicity from water is more likely to occur when livestock drink water from ponds, road ditches, or other surface impressions that collect drainage from feedlots, heavily fertilized fields, silos, septic tanks, or manure disposal lagoons. NebGuide: Nitrates in Livestock Feeding
  • Annual testing of private drinking water supplies for nitrate and bacteria is recommended, but not required. Drinking Water Testing.
  • Drinking Water Testing for Home Loans
  • Water Sample Test Kit Request Form

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Community Crops Harvests More than Food

Nebraska Extension: Acreage Insights, November 2015. Community Crops Harvest More Than Food, http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-nov-2015#CommunityCrops. Written by Ben McShane-Jewell of Community Crops, for the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum

“We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of our time: How much is enough?” Aldo Leopold

It may be hard to tell, given how warm it has been these last weeks, but we are nearing the end of another garden season. “Putting up” the year's bounty is, perhaps, the most crucial moment of the gardening endeavor because it forces the home gardener to reflect on the question posed by Aldo Leopold: “How much is enough?” After a long season of carefully tending tomatoes and peppers, fighting back the weeds, bugs and rabbits, to then wash and preserve your produce and realize that it only half-filled your pantry is a very sobering moment. It's not hard to understand why so many new gardeners throw up their blistered, cracked hands and head to the nearest grocery store to stock up.

At Community Crops—a non-profit organization with more than a decade of experience in creating opportunities for Lincoln residents to grow food for themselves—we are constantly working towards a better understanding of how much food is needed to feed our city and how it can be done as close to Lincoln as possible. We are training beginning farmers to start their own operations and to sell directly to Lincoln consumers; we work at five Lincoln Schools, where we've helped build gardens that serve as dynamic learning spaces to enhance students' experiences and get them thinking about food at an early age; and, most visibly, we manage community gardens that convert unused land into productive, beautified landscapes where food is grown.

Our community garden program provided space at 11 sites for 240 Lincoln families (about 900 people total) to grow some of their own food this year, and to get hands-on experience with the many trials and tribulations that come with food production. Collectively, our community gardeners had a tremendously successful year, growing more than 30,000 pounds of food in about an acre and a half of space.

In addition to the fresh produce, gardeners get to meet new people and share tips and techniques; they get some exercise, without having to pay for a gym membership; and, importantly, they can turn off their cell phones, step away from the computer and get a mental break from the hectic demands of daily life. 

Even if the average gardener struggles to find time to get to the garden to pull weeds, or loses most of their lettuce to the rabbits, they have a different perspective when they go to the store in January to buy a tomato. In my mind, that is the major benefit of community gardening: planting the seed of curiosity in each gardener, a seed that is renewed each time they step into the garden or the grocery store. In reality, we will never grow enough food for all of Lincoln in the community gardens, but if we can get more people to understand the importance of a more localized food system, all of us who believe in community gardens will have done our job.

Nebraska Statewide Arboretum is a nonprofit that works toward sustainable home and community landscapes through initiatives in education, public gardens and the environment. Plant and landscape resources athttp://arboretum.unl.edu.

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The Beauty of Bark

By Justin Evertson, Nebraska Forest Service

Nebraska Extension: Acreage Insights, November 2015. The Beauty of Bark, http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-nov-2015#Bark.

Anyone who thinks trees lose their interest when the weather turns cool and the leaves fall off is missing part of the show. Winter is actually a great time to appreciate the amazing variation in bark from one tree to another. This year, take some time to head outdoors and pay a little more attention to what’s right there at eye level. 

Though bark is essentially a protective element for woody plants, the visual variety goes far beyond simple survival. The interest and beauty of the species below may surprise you.

Birch: Several types of birch trees have exfoliating bark. Paper birch, which is native along the Niobrara River, has a chalky-white bark that peels into thin paper-like layers. River birch, common in eastern Nebraska, has an orange to cinnamon-brown bark that peels freely when young.

Coffeetree: Few deciduous trees match the leafless beauty of coffeetree. Its coarse outline and stucco-like bark make it an eye catcher in the winter landscape.

Hackberry: The corky ridges and wart-like projections on the trunk and bigger branches of hackberry make it an easy tree to identify.

Persimmon: Persimmon has a thick, dark (almost black) bark deeply divided into very distinctive small blocks that resemble an alligator’s back.

White Oak, Swamp White Oak: These two similar species of oak are relatively easy to identify with their flaky, grayish-brown bark patterns.

Bur Oak: The winter silhouette of bur oak can be breathtaking.  Many specimens reveal their thick, corky bark that helps make the species fire-resistant.  

Quaking Aspen: The smooth greenish-white to cream bark of quaking aspen is a real treat in the western Nebraska landscape. The bark is especially attractive against an evergreen backdrop or dark-colored home.

Shagbark Hickory: Like its name implies, the bark of this hickory exfoliates in long, shaggy strips. There is no mistaking this tree in Nebraska's eastern hardwood forest.

Sycamore and London Planetree: These two trees are very closely related and both have smooth bark that exfoliates to expose gray, brown and creamy-white layers in a mottled patchwork pattern.

Yellowwood: The gray bark on mature trees is very smooth and gray.

Ponderosa Pine: The bark on older trunks is a great mixture of buff, brown and cinnamon-red scaly plates divided by deep nearly black fissures.

Lacebark Pine: As its name implies the bark on this tree exfoliates (much like sycamore) in a smooth patchwork of lighter and darker shades of gray and gray-brown.

Redcedar and Rocky Mountain Juniper: On older trunks of both trees, the bark is a handsome reddish-brown that peels away in long strips.

The Nebraska Forest Service strives to enrich lives by protecting, restoring and utilizing Nebraska's tree and forest resources.

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Winterizer Lawn Fertilizer

Nebraska Extension: Acreage Insights, November 2015. Winterizer Lawn Fertilizer. Fall colors are a signal that the turf needs a little snack before going to bed for a long winter nap. Photo credit: John C. Fech, UNL. http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-nov-2015#WinterizerLawnFertilizer.
Fall colors are a signal that the turf needs a little snack before going to bed for a long winter nap. Photo credit: John Fech, Nebraska Extension.
By John Fech, Nebraska Extension Educator - Horticulture

Put your lawn to bed for the winter with an application of fertilizer.  This is the primo time of year to fertilize, because all factors are working in our favor.  The lawn is not growing vertically now, which means that the applied fertilizer will be used by other plant parts, not the shoots and leaves.  The majority of the value of the application will benefit the root system, which will continue to grow until Thanksgiving, in most years.  This is great, ‘cuz the bigger the root system, the better.

What should you look for in a winterizer product?  The ratio is the key.  Look on the front of the bag.  There will be 3 numbers in order, with dashes between them.  Typical spring or summer formulations will be in the ratio of 4-1-0 or 5-1-1, with typical numbers of 25-3-3 or 24-2-6.  These products are mostly nitrogen, which is fine, as that is what is primarily needed in spring and summer. 

In winter, look for a ratio of 1-0-1 or 1 - 0 - 0.5, with typical numbers of 21-0-20 or 19-2-13.  This will provide an equal (or at least higher than normal) amount of potassium along with the nitrogen.  Studies at several leading land grant universities have revealed that potassium aids the turf in tolerating stress.  In winter we have stress and in summer we have stress.  Stress in winter is due to cold winds and low temperatures that dry out crowns and thin turf stands.  Stress in summer is due to excessive heat and the drying of the root system.

From time to time, university recommendations change.  New research studies come to light which indicate that best management practices are in need of revisions.  Such is the case with winterizer lawn fertilizer.  In the past, our recommendation was to load it up with extra fertilizer, and that the lawn would use some now, while the balance of the application would be stored in the crown and rhizomes and be utilized the next spring for growth.  Though the spring usage remains highly likely, the studies indicate that another portion is likely to be lost to the atmosphere and/or run off into water bodies.  Thus to provide the turf what it needs and to minimize pollution and nutrient loss, the new recommendation is to use 0.25 to 0.5 pounds of nitrogen and potassium per 1,000 sq. ft. instead of a full pound or the formerly suggested 1.5 pounds.

The recommendation for formulation has changed also.  Previously, we’d have recommended that a slow release form be applied; now we’re recommending a quick release form of nitrogen such as ammonium nitrate, ammonium sulfate or urea.  The goal is get the plants what they need for quick growth of the roots, but not enough to carry over to spring or to be wasted and/or cause pollution.  All in all, with a winterizer application, your lawn will thank you, and you’ll love the look of it in the spring.

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Clean Garden Tools Before Storage

By Nicole Stoner, Nebraska Extension Educator - Horticulture

Nebraska Extension: Acreage Insights, November 2015. Clean Garden Tools Before Storage, http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-nov-2015#GardenTools.

With fall here and winter on its way, we need to begin cleaning up our gardens. Fall cleanup does not end in the garden, for longevity of our gardening equipment, we need to clean them up, too. And prepare them for winter storage. If we take the time to clean up our equipment and store it in the best locations, our tools can be an investment to help us in the garden for many years.

Remember to clean up your vegetable gardens when you are done with them for the year. Remove tomato cages and clean them up for storage in a garage or shed to help them last over more years. Remove all plants and compost them or put them in the trash if they had problems with insects or diseases this year. Till up your garden this fall and incorporate manure or compost to help with organic matter next year. After tilling, cover the bare soil with some type of mulch to avoid wind erosion of topsoil, grass clippings or straw will work well for this and they can be tilled into the soil next spring.

When completed with hoses for the year, be sure to drain them of any water. Then coil the hose and hang it on a hook or in a hose reel station for the winter months. You can always get the hoses back out during the winter on warm days to water trees and shrubs if the winter is dry.

When finished using any tools, be sure to clean all debris off of them. Scrape off caked on mud with a wire brush or steel wool. Sharpen pruning tools so they are ready to go next spring. Apply a light coat of an oil to prevent any rusting from occurring. These tools are best kept in a garage or a shed and out of the harsh winter elements to help them last longer.

For sprayers used during the season, the best cleanup is a triple rinse. Rinse out sprayers three times with water to remove any pesticide residue from the container. It may also be a good idea to clean nozzles and screens with soapy water. If the pesticide sits in those nozzles over the winter it will be difficult to clean them out next spring so that the equipment may be used again.

Pesticides and fertilizers can be stored for future use. Store all pesticides in their original containers with the label still attached. Store them in a cool, dry location where they won’t freeze, as this can be harmful for the product and the container.  Do not allow granules or other dry pesticides to get wet.

As for power equipment, be sure to follow instruction manuals on care and servicing requirements. As a general rule, clean out grass clippings and other debris from underneath the lawnmower deck and clean all caked on mud from the tiller prior to winter storage. Also, sharpen lawnmower blades and check to see if the air filter needs to be changed your mower is ready to go next spring. Be sure to turn off the equipment and disconnect the spark plug prior to any work done to avoid injury or other accidents.

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Fall Leaves – Put Them to Work in Your Landscape with Bag Composting

Nebraska Extension: Acreage Insights, November 2015. Fall Leaves - Put Them to Work in Your Landscape with Bag Composting, http://acreage.unl.edu/enews-nov-2015#BagComposting. By Sarah Browning, Nebraska Extension Educator - Horticulture

Our tree leaves are coming down, but don’t throw them away - put them to work for you.  We’ve talked about creating a traditional compost pile in the past, but if you only have a small amount of yard waste consider bag composting.

Bag Composting
Perhaps the easiest way to compost is by putting fall leaves in black plastic bags.  Keep in mind this is a passive composting method, so the leaves will break down more slowly, but it also requires much less work from you. No turning materials with a pitchfork, as you would with a traditional compost pile.

As with other types of composting, shredded leaves work best.  Smaller pieces of leaves break down faster, so run over the leaves and collect them with your lawn mower. Then fill 30-40 gallon sized, black plastic bags (3 ml. thick) with leaves. 

In each black plastic bag add in about ½ cup high nitrogen fertilizer or two shovels of manure.  Fertilizer or manure provides nitrogen microbes need to breakdown high carbon tree leaves. Add two shovels of garden soil to provide the microbes needed for decomposition. Finally, add about 1-2 quarts of water to each bag.  Composting microbes also need water to be most active at breaking down you leaves.

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Bag Composting
You have a choice with bag composting to create either an aerobic or anaerobic condition. Aerobic decomposition requires oxygen, greater than 5%. The advantage is that there are no bad smells, since methane is not generated during aerobic decomposition.  And your materials will break down faster; approximately 4 to 6 weeks.

Anaerobic decomposition, with less than 5% oxygen, does generate methane and is slower.  But there is no maintenance once your bags of leaves are put together. Material in the bags will require 6 to 12 months to decompose.

With either method, materials will break down more quickly if the bags are placed in a heated garage during winter.

Aerobic Bag Composting
There are two methods that can be used to create aerobic decomposition in a black plastic bag.  Whichever you choose, fill the bags as mentioned above, adding fertilizer or manure, soil and water. The two methods below differ in how oxygen is provided during the composting process. Your finished compost should be ready in approximately 4-6 weeks.

Method #1 - Punch 12 to 15 holes in the side of each bag once they are filled and closed. Turn the bags every few days to remix the materials inside.

Method #2 - A second method is to leave the bags undamaged, but open them every other day to check moisture levels and allow oxygen to enter. If the materials are too wet, leave the bag open for a day or two to allow some moisture to evaporate. Turn the bags every few days to remix the materials inside.

Anaerobic Bag Composting
When putting your bags of leaves together, add the soil, fertilizer and water mentioned above, then also add 1 cup of hydrated lime. Lime helps counteract the acidity created during anaerobic composting. Tie the bags closed and place them in an out-of-the-way corner of the garden for 6-12 months. You won’t need to add anymore water during the composting process.

Use Leaves for Winter Protection
Leaves in the process of composting can also be placed in plastic bags and used around tender plants to provide extra winter protection. In bags, the leaves are protected from moisture so they don’t become matted or compacted.  Place the bags around plants that need protection from winter wind, such as roses or broadleaf evergreens. 

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