Compost to protect the air and water and help prevent fall wildfires

Composting instead of burning leaves and other garden wastes helps to protect the environment, prevent wildfires and improve soils for healthier plants.

Autumn is a time for pumpkins, apples and harvesting the last of the summer’s fruits. Nuts hare falling and so are the leaves as they turning their classic gold, orange and red. People are raking them into piles and putting their gardens to bed. Some people compost their leaves and others think of burning them instead.

Choosing to compost can preserve air and water quality and reduce the incidence of wildfire in Michigan. Both fall and spring are times of frequent wildfires in Michigan. It is illegal to burn leaves  in many populated areas in Michigan that have over 7500 residents. There are many smaller communities with ordinances that also ban burning, especially in heavily wooded areas of the state. Check out your local city, village or township regulations before burning. There are new rules about burning trash in Michigan as well. Burning debris in piles and burn barrels are a major cause of wildfires.

If you don’t have a compost bin, now is a great time to begin one. If you are a composter already emptying out the finished compost from the summer onto the garden and refilling the bin with garden debris is an annual soil enriching event. If you are a leaf burner I encourage you to consider the alternative to burning: composting. You will receive many added benefits if you choose to compost, but more importantly, you have to think of the dangers of wildfires.

Wildfires cannot burn where there is no fuel. Keeping your yard clear of dead and dried lawn debris is important step in protecting your home. Then composting or removing that waste is preferable. Burning leaves and other yard waste can became the source of a wildfire. A wildfire is influenced by three main elements. These are weather, topography and fuels. Understanding wildfire behavior can help to protect your rural home.

Anyone can compost. All you need is a bin or pile located out of direct sunlight. Add two or three parts brown and dry items, such as dry leaves, straw, pine needles or shredded paper, to one part greens, such as grass clippings, weeds and kitchen scraps. Materials should be moistened and feel moist like a wrung out sponge, and warm to touch (except in winter months). The pile should be turned every few days to every few weeks so the outside layers are exchanged with the materials in the center of the pile. It is ready to be used when it looks dark and crumbly and few of the starting ingredients are visible. Larger items such as sticks and corn cobs may need to be put back in for a second go or broken down into smaller pieces so they will decompose faster.

There are many benefits to composting such as improving soil tilth, helping to reduce density of soil, adding organic materials and organisms, improving water holding capacity, buffering the soil pH, encouraging root growth through slow release of nutrients, acting as a mulch by reducing rain splash, and improving water drainage.

Composting is the best alternative to managing backyard waste and kitchen food scraps. It reduces the amount of waste you produce and provides a beneficial soil amendment product. Michigan State University Extension educators working across Michigan provide Michigan Firewise educational programming and assistance. For more information about composting and gardening visit Gardening in Michigan.