Compost for Spring: Leaves, Used Coffee Grounds, & Garden Waste (Leaf Compost)


I decided to take a different approach to our fall/winter compost pile this year. Last October, I built our first fall/winter pile before most leaves had started to fall. And without leaves as a carbon source, I instead relied on aged wood chips. Come spring, I was very happy with the quality of the compost, but I did have to work very hard to sift out chips that didn’t finish breaking down over the winter. I was concerned that if I didn’t, they could potentially tie up nitrogen. So, this year I waited until early November, when there’s an ample supply of leaves, to build our fall/winter compost pile. The leaves will definitely break down by spring. I’ll continue to use aged wood chips in compost, but reserve them for occasions when I won’t need the compost for about a year. I decided to build the pile in a location where I’ll be adding a new raised bed in the spring, but first had to remove this trellis and the remnants of two butternut squash plants. The squash vines and undeveloped fruit became the first layer in the pile. I was so happy with the Geobin I purchased earlier in the year that I decided to get a second one. These bins are 3 feet tall and have a diameter that is adjustable up to 3 ½ feet, which is the perfect size for a hot compost pile. They’re also inexpensive, durable, portable, and easy to store. I placed the bin over the remnants of the squash plants and fastened its two ends together with 5 of these keys. I then added a bag of leaves to the pile, and spread them evenly around the circumference of the circle to ensure the bin retained a nice cylindrical shape. Leaves are a brown, or carbonaceous, compost ingredient, and I’ll be alternating brown and green compost ingredients as I build the pile. Next I chopped up about half of our sunchoke stalks and stacked them in a crisscross pattern. This will trap air in the pile, which is needed by the aerobic bacteria responsible for hot composting. I then added a bag of used coffee grounds, which are rich in nitrogen and therefore a green compost ingredient. I like to use about a 3 to 1 ratio, by volume, of leaves to grounds. In my experience, leaves and used grounds are a combination that reliably gets a pile cooking and produces great compost. Sufficient moisture is an essential ingredient in a hot compost pile, so I watered the first few layers before moving on. Over time, I’ll want the compost to have the moisture of a wrung out sponge. Next I added another bag of leaves, keeping up with the pattern of alternating brown and green ingredients. You may notice that these leaves aren’t shredded. Though they would definitely break down faster if they were, I won’t be using this compost until April or May, and I know from experience that this is more than enough time for leaves to decompose in hot compost. As before, I spread the leaves evenly around the circle to ensure the bin retained its cylindrical shape, and then watered the pile. I then added the remaining sunchoke stalks, some green garden waste, and watered the pile. When composting leaves and green garden waste, I like to use roughly an equal volume of both. Finally, I topped the pile off with another bag of leaves, and then a bag of leaves and green yard waste before giving the pile one last watering. When the compost heats up, its volume will reduce significantly. As it does, I’ll continue to top off the bin with alternating brown and green layers. I prefer to turn compost as little as possible, so my rule of thumb is to turn only when it reaches 150 F or hotter. As temperatures fall this winter, red wigglers and native earthworms from the surrounding area will migrate to the pile for food and warmth. In a few weeks, I’ll build a small hoop house over the pile to keep the compost cooking longer and to provide a safe haven for the worms. Even with last winter’s record cold, this approach kept our compost from freezing all the way through to spring, and the red wigglers in the pile survived. In the spring, I plan to build a raised bed around the pile and simply remove the bin and spread the compost to fill the bed. We’ll plant our perennial tree collards here, and hope to grow them outside year round here in zone 5, with the help of a cold fame and a hoop house. Well, that’s all for now. Thank you very much for watching, and until next time remember you can change the world one yard at a time.

85 thoughts on “Compost for Spring: Leaves, Used Coffee Grounds, & Garden Waste (Leaf Compost)

  1. I like your system (especially the geo bin). Sometimes I use a weed wacker to mulch the leaves a bit. I have even stuck the weed wacker inside a plastic bag. You can reduce a pile of leaves by about 1/3 by doing this. I keep this tool pretty close to the centre to avoid damaging the bag.

  2. As usual, great information Patrick!. I put in two new raised beds since I have returned home and I plan on doing one more in the spring. I should do something similar and place the compost pile where I plan to put the third raised bed.

  3. I am planning spiral swales on my property and will be building compost piles of salt grass, rubber rabbit bush, date fronds and goat manure using 3 foot by 6 foot wire mesh pieces that I tie into hoops.  This video is great for helping me decide how to layer everything.  Thank you so much.

  4. Nice video and compost bins…I've been unhappy with the results from my wood pallet bins. It may be time for an upgrade.

  5. Interesting video, I only started last Autumn collecting leaves for compost but this year I'm fully committed,I have around a dozen large trees in my front garden that produce a huge amount of leaves. I reckon this year I will have collected well over a 100 wheelbarrow loads  of wet compressed leaves. It is just too big a job to turn them but I find they all break down fine and I end up with some fantastic compost.

  6. What can I do about lady bugs eating all my Swiss Chard. They almost cleaned me out. I don't want to spray anything.

  7. I have just went around my one raised bed at home with a plastic garden fence, which is about two feet tall and staked it using garden stakes.  I added leaves and I add our daily coffee grounds to it.  I will have to add water and try to get other garden greens as I have no greenery in the garden now.  We have spent flower stocks and leaves from hostas, but I don't know if they would work with the leaves as compost.

    Thanks for the info Patrick
    Cheers
    Harold

  8. Excellent episode my friend!  Your pile looks a lot nicer then mine 🙂 I have had to add an additional 3 bags to my pile already as its been cooking nicely! 

  9. Great idea building the compost pile where you are placing a raised bed. The less work the better! I didn't see you mixing any rock dust into the mix????(-:

  10. What do you say to coffee shops to encourage them to save the grounds for you? Most probably just toss it out so even though its not a big deal, the boss would need to get everyone on the same page to remember to save them. Thanks Patrick.

  11. I was pretty impressed with the geo-bin too.  My little plastic garden bins (36 letres) have to be stirred way too often for my liking. 

  12. Good stuff, Patrick! I'm working on my compost pile for next year myself. I like to use my mower with a mulching blade, and bagger. Great way to get them off of the grass, and make great compost at the same time!

  13. Great mix, Patrick. I do the same with stalks to help provide aeration. I don't build a hoophouse but do cover the bin well with plastic.

  14. Should I say first lol.
    Like the compost bin Like the idea of putting it in the place for the next bed. Nice pile.

  15. Thanks so much Patrick for all you share! Last week I amended my front garden bed with compost and then covered it with leaves from a neighbor's house, he was sweet enough to let me have his leaves, in return we cleared is yard….lol.  I moistened the leaves as you recommended in a video. Do you think I should cover the bed or leave it to the weather? Appreciate any advice you can give. Thanks.

  16. I love the compost thingy you have there Patrick. Is that pvc pipes you are using for the hoop house? What would be a cheaper alternative to use for the hoop houses?

  17. Doing the same thing here.  New raised bed in the spring, where the compose pile is now.  I don't turn mine or cover it and it worked well last year, even with our cold, cold winter.  

  18. Hooray! I've started a fall/winter compost pile too! Unfortunately, I don't have materials to build a hoop house, but I will cultivate compost!

  19. Good video, but the pile seems way too dry. I recommend hosing the leaves more as you add them to the pile. I add about four to five inches, then hose, stir, hose again, stir, add more leaves and green material, hose, stir, hose, etc. so everything is evenly moist, but not too wet. Actually, I use sprinkling cans now, with rainwater because city water (as you know) with chlorine in it kills microbes, bacteria, and fungi in the compost. Mixing is key, as water just runs off of leaves no matter how ground up they are.

    Another tip to speed things up dramatically:
    I pick my leaves up with my lawnmower, which has a mulching blade. Then I empty all the bags out on the grass and spread them out, about 3" deep, and run the mower over them again a second time, bagging them up. This is much faster than putting them through a chipper/shredder or using one of those hand-held, noisy, vac-and-sacks, and the result is the same, or better. I use my chipper/shredder for branches only. Amazingly, about 10 bags of leaves fits into three bags when ground up a second time. The smaller particles will break down much faster in your compost pile. Another technique is to blow all the leaves onto the driveway and run the mulching mower over them repeatedly with a mulching plug in the mower discharge shoot.

  20. Can you use pine needles in your compost?  Is there anything to worry about the acidic nature of pine needles in a raised bed garden?  

  21. It is my goal to someday heat a greenhouse with hot compost through the winter.   Right now I have 2 piles, one of which is 4x5x3.5, the other is 4x8x4, so I am making A LOT of compost.  But every year it seems like I could use more which is why I built the new bigger box this year.  It makes THE BEST soil amendment ever.   The bigger pile I am trying to keep cooking hot compost through the winter and the second smaller pile I am trying to keep red wiggler worms alive through the winter.  I insulate both piles with bags of leaves all around.  I collect leaves in the fall enough to compost all year long.  Rock on you guys keep gardening and sustainable living!!! 

  22. I've watched this one but see I had not commented. Great stuff Patrick. Whats the little tree to the right of the screen? Also, I bet you get some healthy volunteer squash next year.

  23. Love it im happy i found your channel before i mixed up my soil for this springs outdoor grow. I was gonna get rock dust and biochar but after watching your other vids ima have to introduce leaves to my soil mix instead.

  24. Help! My main source of compost was an aging pile of grass clippings which had been there for years. The gardeners that cut the grass on our property have been piling it up on the empty lot next door. I used it for mulching on top of my cardboard layer. Did I do the right thing? It was a very hot pile and had a lot of gray/white powdery layers. I asked some friends about it and they said it was not a problem, that it was just a sign of the grass breaking down. As I am digging out my beds ready for sifting and planting, I am seeing a lot of worms, which I did not see last summer. The ground was so hard and dry and I saw only one worm when I did some digging to even out the terrain. The soil looks nice and brown and rich, but is full of stones and half decomposed potatoes ( a farmer friend offered me topsoil which was from his potato fields and is full of potatoes so I may get some volunteers!) Could that hay pile cause problems with bacteria? I'm now understanding composting better but it is all rather scientific with the thermometers etc for little old me. Please advise. Thank you. DEB

  25. Please do more composting videos! I'm obsessed with compost and I can only get so much action from mine alone

  26. Patrick, I'm thinking about purchasing a few geo-bins. I've noticed the older versions come with stakes to hold their shape, but the stakes look like a burden to install. Did you have a problem keeping your bins working without stakes? It's my impression from the product reviews I read that some folks may have left them half full.

  27. Do you think only leaves, grass clippings and coffee grounds (probably a helping of lime too) would produce a decent compost in a tumbler only, with no worms? The vinegar flies that food scraps attract weren't much fun.

    I also need to break up or even sieve the coffee before putting it in next year, because there are still puck-sized clumps visible 7 months later. I'm thinking of emptying out the tumbler on a tarp, breaking it up and mixing it up, then putting it back in the tumbler to finish off. Then again all beds are full right now so I don't really need the compost until after the growing season.

    My lawn gets pretty bare looking over winter. There's probably no reason, other than the visual aspect, I couldn't put an open compost like this on it over winter. But I'd want it ready by spring. We don't get -18C here or snow like you, we have generally cold nights and many clear sunny (but far from warm) days. A layer of clear plastic would really make it cook.

  28. Patrick, love your videos.  I've started my first compost pile ever, using a lot of info you provided.  But now I have a question; My kids just finished carving their pumkins for Halloween, and I was wondering if I could add the guts, including the pumkin seeds to my compost?  I'm worried if I do do the seeds may actually germinate?  I live in Zone 8A.  I know it's a strange question but we have started using most of our scraps from the kitchen and our garden. Thanks in advance, Mark N.

  29. Nice one Patrick. I have to admit that one of my failings is not watering compost sufficiently, thanks for the reminder to make sure its moist enough. I hate to impose seed lists on other gardeners but another plant I grew successfully many years ago and continues to flourish in my father's garden is dioscorea batatas (the Japanese of hardy yam). I'm frustrated that I remain full of cold when there's so much to do in the garden. Who says it's a Summer activity?

  30. I dont know how many times I've watched ALL your videos waiting for spring! lol its only December. I've made a leaf/coffee grounds compost bin (5×6 feet). I do not own a thermometer yet so I'm unsure of the temp, but when I dig into it just a little bit I see and feel the heat! Thank you for posting videos!

  31. when u say 3 to 1 ratio of leaves per coffee does that literally mean three inches leaves and 1 inch of coffee grounds on top? appreciate an answer thanks

  32. Good information. I am much simpler in my approach. Since the acreage is available, I picked a spot well away from the house and just pile all the random yard waste there. No particular order, I don't water it or anything fancy. Usually produces decent compost the next season. Mostly compost hedge clippings, grass, leaves and that's about it.

  33. Do you continue to water the pile time to time to keep the "wet sponge" dampness of just when you build the pile or add to it? My pile is about 140 degrees and with that heat I'm concerned with it drying out over time.

  34. OH! THANK YOU!!!
    3:1 ratio of leaves to coffee grounds by VOLUME!! That is what I've been looking for for a long time!

    But, what is the condition of the leaves when you measure them for the compost pile? Are they whole or chopped into fine pieces? Are they packed hard or fluffy bags?

    Should I be able to "store" coffee grounds by dumping many 5 gallon buckets of them on top of my large compost pile that needs a lot more coffee grounds? That would be the easiest way for me to store and stir them in when the compost stops "cooking". It has gotten up to 140 degrees.

    I started an 8' x 4' x 3.3' (40") foot compost pile (made with pallets) with just leaves and coffee grounds. I started with a goal of 3:1 ratio by dry weight, not volume. That is very different than by volume. I may need a LOT more coffee grounds! 5 gallons of damp coffee grounds weighs 40 pounds. A large paper bag of mostly whole leaves can weigh between 10 and 30 pounds depending on how they are packed.

    Approximately 7.5 gallons fit in a cubic foot.
    My 8 x 4 x x 3.3' foot compost pile holds 107 cubic feet.
    107 cf = 802 gallons.
    So a ratio of 3:1 will require 200 gallons (40 five gallon buckets) of coffee grounds.

    I hope people keep drinking a lot of coffee at my favorite coffee shop that gives me all of their grounds for free.

  35. Patrick,
    Yesterday, I moved some wet cardboard I had thrown on top of my Geobin Composter, and it was full of red ants!!! With a nest underneath…

    HELP!!!

    I've NEVER had ants in any of the Compost bins. I'm currently rebuilding all the compost bins and don't have any idea what to do to get these ants out. They're right on top..

    P.S. I got some unfinished chicken poo for the first time, and rebuilt Geobin #2 with alternating layers of leaves, chicken poo, and some veggie peels. As the pile starts shrinking I'll keep topping it with leaves, coffee grounds and peels. I'll give a report when something happens.

  36. Would "green", fresh cut grass work as a green? Many of the coffee shops around me will NOT share coffee grounds. Since my wife is pregnant and i don't drink coffee, i don't really have a source for coffee grounds.

  37. Hey Patrick, when you fill a new raised bed with compost like that, are you able to plant right in the composted material without doing anything else or do you add anything to complete the soil before planting? Thanks!

  38. Hi Patrick! Great videos! I'm watching them obsessively. One question: In a zone 5a area, is this hot compost something I can start now (October). If so, will it be ready in the Spring? We get very cold winters and a lot of snow here NB Canada!

  39. Believe me I'm not techie at all. I'm trying to order the Geobin and some other things from Amazon but I don't know how to use your link. Can you give me better instructions on how to do that?

  40. Question do I have to turn it around at a certain temperature or can I just leave it and turn it maybe 1or 2 times a week I’ve seen other videos where they leave their compost for almost 4 days undisturbed then mixed it on the 5th day . What’s the better way to approach when it comes to making your own compost ?

  41. Looking for your input here, I started my first compost bin last spring with a geobin, put in roughly 75% brown to 25% green in layers as I filled it up to the top. I did not put any cover over the bin to keep water out, however, I did sprinkle water over the layers as I built it. I also did not turn the pile. I just dug into the pile yesterday, and to my surprise there was absolutely no decomposition from top to bottom, everything still was recognizable that I put into the pile, only that the pile had settled and compacted much more and was very soggy and matted together. I just now turned the pile into second new geobin and cut a piece of plywood to cover the bin, because I'm thinking that maybe the pile was just too wet and compacted with no air infiltration. Very disappointed because I was really looking forward to using some new compost this spring. What is your diagnosis?

  42. A perhaps very naive question, as I’ve never done this before: how’s the smell? I’m thinking about starting a compost pile this fall, but I also don’t want my neighbors to hate me.

  43. OYR Frugal & Sustainable Organic Gardening
    – Nice video and all.
    But have you noticed the incoherence?
    At 0:33 you pile up the leaves and trow away the paper bag… LOL 😉

    Just add everything to the pile, it´s compost raw material anyway. No need to waste.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Cheers

  44. I would have added a few handfulls of soil with each layer to add some of those critters that help break stuff down faster.

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