Evaluating On Farm Leaf Composting Methods and the Impacts of Composted Leaves on Germination and Weed Suppression in Rye, Corn and Pumpkins

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2023: $24,916.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2026
Grant Recipient: Longmeadow Farm
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Project Leader:
Bradley Burke
Longmeadow Farm


  • Agronomic: annual ryegrass
  • Vegetables: cucurbits, sweet corn


  • Crop Production: cover crops, cropping systems, municipal wastes
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Pest Management: weed ecology
  • Soil Management: composting

    Proposal summary:

      The issue we seek to address is how to most efficiently utilize municipal leaves as an organic soil amendment at the least cost by comparing several methods of processing leaves into compost and then assess best methods to incorporate compost into our production routine by comparing the germination and growth rates of rye cover crop and two cash crops-sweet corn and pumpkins.  This project would assess two components: variety of low input composting methods, and the impact of composted leaf material on germination of cover and cash and weed suppression. 

    Readily available municipal leaves have been used on the farm in a variety of ways for over 20 years to build soil health and sustainability. Well finished leaf compost is easily incorporated into the soil and has many benefits, but it can come at a high cost in terms of farmer time, equipment and fuel.  Trials will quantify the economics of the various leaf composting methods.  Finally there will be a comparison of fall planted rye into a 2" to 3" compost layer  and the effect of the compost and rye cover on the plantability, germination of the vegetable crops in a no till planting situation.   Weed suppression will also be quantified.  The aim is to find a balance between input costs/results.

    Long time partner organizations The Foodshed Alliance and Urban Agricultural Cooperative have offered their enthusiastic support for this project and are committed to sharing our findings. In addition press releases and articles will be circulated to relevant publications.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to:

    1)compare costs of various low input methods of processing municipal leaves. 2)find a balance between the cost to bring compost to a completely finished stage versus  various intermediate stages of semi-finished leaf compost and the costs to incorporate those various stages as soil amendments, 3)determine germination and growth of rye cover crop and cash crops into surface applied leaf compost at various stages of "finish",  4) compare weed suppression of  rye cover crop planted into surface applied compost in various stages of "finish".

    Methods Overview:

    1. 4 leaf compost piles constructed to compare the rate of decomposition and cost to establish:  A. control pile no aeration,  B. pile with woodchip plenum layer for passive aeration,  C. pile with vertical perforated pvc pipes for passive aeration, and D. pile using active aeration with a blower and horizontal perforated corrugated polyethylene pipe in the base.
    2. It is anticipated that in the timeframe of one year the resulting compost would be: A. minimally broken down, coarse, mulch like; B. and C. partially finished smaller particles; and D. fine particles, stable finished compost. 
    3. Quantify the germination rate and growth of rye, corn and pumpkins in each.
    4. Compare weed suppression in each.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.