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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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