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Composting coast live oak leaves in dry Southern California

 
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Hi folks,
I live in Southern California, somewhat inland so it's pretty dry, although we get a little winter rain.  Most of the plant material available to us for composting is Quercus agrifolia, the coast live oak, a classic California oak tree.  Of course, the leaves are quite tough and we don't get a lot of water.  We have some chickens and can add some manure, but we can't get the compost pile to heat up.  we have TONS of leaves though and could build a bigger pile.  Anyway...has any one seen success composting live oak leaves in Southern California.  Share tips please?
thanks
Codi
 
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Besides the lack of water, the biggest impediment is probably the crispy, leathery structure of the leaves. Can you chop them up, with a lawnmower or shredder? That will help water penetrate and get the manure into the increased surface area.
 
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A trick I learned was to immerse the brown material in buckets of water until they are completely soaked before putting them in the pile. Then it is much easier to keep humidity high with less watering.
 
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Hi Cody!

I bet that those oak leaves are not only low on moisture, but also low on nitrogen as well.  Definitely chop them up as has already been mentioned and get them soaking wet. But then add in some type of high nitrogen composting agent as well.  I typically use grass clippings, but just about any green material (minus root and seed) or coffee grounds will work.  Actually, used coffee grounds are about the perfect compost agent, holding just the right amount of water, air, carbon and nitrogen.

Last tip:  I said get the leaves soaking wet, but you don’t really want them to stay soaking wet.  Rather, you want just enough moisture to support decomposition and not so much that oxygen gets displaced.

I have also tried piling up leaves and they stay leaves for a long time unless I do something to speed their decomposition.

Good Luck and please keep us updated!

Eric
 
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Phil Stevens wrote:Besides the lack of water, the biggest impediment is probably the crispy, leathery structure of the leaves. Can you chop them up, with a lawnmower or shredder? That will help water penetrate and get the manure into the increased surface area.




yes I have an old lawnmower and a 55 gallon oil drum I was considering making a DIY leaf shredder with
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:Hi Cody!

I bet that those oak leaves are not only low on moisture, but also low on nitrogen as well.  Definitely chop them up as has already been mentioned and get them soaking wet. But then add in some type of high nitrogen composting agent as well.  I typically use grass clippings, but just about any green material (minus root and seed) or coffee grounds will work.  Actually, used coffee grounds are about the perfect compost agent, holding just the right amount of water, air, carbon and nitrogen.

Last tip:  I said get the leaves soaking wet, but you don’t really want them to stay soaking wet.  Rather, you want just enough moisture to support decomposition and not so much that oxygen gets displaced.

I have also tried piling up leaves and they stay leaves for a long time unless I do something to speed their decomposition.

Good Luck and please keep us updated!

Eric




thanks for the tips, and to everyone else too.  we have a food composter (encased in concrete to keep bears out) and it is worm-rich and has lots of decomposed food, so perhaps I'll try combining that with oak leaves and see what happens, plus add whatever other leaves around the property I can find, which are rare.
 
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I also live in CA and have lots of oak leaves.  I also try to avoid the work involved in deliberate composting and try to minimize the amount of time I spend handling stuff like this.  And they must be taken up for fire suppression, along with the pine needles which are the other main item.  Some end up under the sheep in their night pens, but that only needs so many.  Every year I completely dig out one of my 30 foot raised beds, setting the soil off to the side.  This allows me to look at the mesh and plastic in the bottom and be sure that no rodents, tree roots, or bermuda runners have encroached, and then I begin to refill the bed, layer by layer, and add in all the leaves, as well as any other garden cleanup stuff.  I cut up cardboard and put it in there too.  When a layer of this stuff is six or eight inches deep, I pour urine on it for a couple of weeks, then add a layer of the soil back, and start again.  By spring planting time the bed is topped up to the brim and all the rakings and garden prunings and sheep manure and humanure and livestock slaughter scrap and everything else compostable is down in there.  As time goes on it all composts, down there while I'm irrigating stuff over top, and since I have three such beds it will be three years before it's dug out again, at which time all the stuff has become fluffy soil.  This process gradually increases the volume of the soil in the beds, but that is fine since I've been slowly adding more beds elsewhere!  I long ago gave up trying to mulch on the surface of the soil, like I did when I lived in the South.  The stuff never breaks down, it's a fire hazard, and it seems to make an instant habitat for large numbers of earwigs, millipedes, pillbugs, and slugs.  My conclusion is that in the dry West, mulch really belongs below the soil, not on top of it.  Compost happens by default, without direct attention.
 
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