Autumn leaves for summer gardens

We’re all thankful for the leaves of shade trees during the summer. They help keep us cool, which means a lot around these parts.

This time of year, as we begin to pull sweaters out of our dressers, the leaves of summer are already beginning their transformation from green to gold, and, in many cases, deep shades of amber. They’re also making their way from branches to the ground.

Leaves are rich in minerals, so don’t throw them away and definitely don’t burn them. Instead, recycle them. Making compost from leaves is free but is valuable to every gardener. In fact, just one shade tree’s leaves can be worth as much as $50 of nutrient-filled plant food.

Here are some tips to successfully compost leaves:

Grind ’em up: Once you’ve raked or blown your leaves into one area, use a leaf shredder or a lawn mower to chop the leaves into smaller pieces.

Layer upon layer: Start with about six inches of leaves and then top the pile with a couple of inches of nitrogen-rich material such as manure, green weeds or grass clippings.

Flip it around: Turn the pile at least every three weeks and keep it moist but not soggy. The more you turn the pile the sooner it will be ready to use.