Turning leaves into an asset is great exercise, and your garden benefits too.
Hit Pay Dirt
Empty the shredded leaves into a slatted bin. Find one like this at your local garden shop, or order one from Gardener's Supply Company. They offer an inexpensive wire model or one made from cedar
| Credit: Van Chaplin

Autumn's hidden bonus is bountiful exercise. Give your body a treat and your spirits a lift with an easy cleanup task. And by spring, your leaves will have turned into rich garden gold.

Do It Right
It's true: Raking is terrific exercise. You get a good upper-body workout, and you burn calories. But don't stop there; shred those leaves. For compost, leaves decompose faster when shredded. There are several ways to do this, and you will fit in some good exercise at the same time.

Use a leaf blower equipped with a vacuum setting. Look for one with a built-in shredder that chops the leaves and funnels them into a bag or an accompanying trash can. While you're at it, you are bending, stretching, and improving your mobility.

Or put the bag attachment on your lawn mower, and run it over the leaves. The blade shreds them finely and adds green grass clippings to the mix which provides important nitrogen. Pushing a mower offers aerobic exercise, and emptying the bag works back, arms, and shoulder muscles.

A New Leaf
Composting requires a few basic steps and some inexpensive equipment.

Air and water: The bin you choose takes care of these two necessary elements. Purchase a ready-made slatted model, or make one out of sturdy wire mesh. Air circulation keeps the composting process active, and rainwater will escape from the bottom.

Nitrogen: Left alone, leaves will break down into compost. With a little help, though, the process speeds up. Place a layer of leaves about 1 foot deep in the bin. Sprinkle manure, grass clippings, or kitchen waste (all provide nitrogen) on top, and then add another layer of leaves. Continue this process throughout the fall, adding the natural nitrogen as you go.

Turn it over: Several times during the winter, use a garden fork to turn the compost. This aerates the pile and aids the decomposition process. It also makes for great winter exercise.

"Hit Pay Dirt" is from the October 2007 issue of Southern Living.