Can You Compost Acorns: Tips On Composting Acorns

Can You Compost Acorns: Tips On Composting Acorns

By: Anne Baley

Oak trees will alternate between heavy and light years, but they’ll drop acorns on your yard every fall. It’s a treat for the squirrels which bury them with abandon, but can be annoying to any homeowner with a landscaping plan. Acorns sprout easily and quickly, and within a month you’ll see dozens of baby trees poking up from the grass, which must be pulled by hand. Getting rid of them is a priority, so you may be wondering can you compost acorns.

Not only do acorns compost, but they add an important ingredient, protein or brown compost layers, to the complete compost mix. The secret to successfully composting acorns is in the way you prepare them ahead of time.

Acorns in the Compost Pile

In order for compost ingredients to completely decay into usable compost, the pile must contain four things: green ingredients, brown ingredients, soil, and water. Green ingredients are those with more moisture, such as grass clippings or kitchen waste. The brown ingredients are drier types like branches, shredded paper and, of course, acorns.

Each ingredient adds different nutrients to the compost. When combined, they make an almost perfect soil conditioner and plant food. For a mix with a lot of green ingredients, a layer of acorns in the compost pile is an important addition, as maintaining a proper balance between browns and greens is vital.

How to Use Acorns as Compost

Using acorns as compost begins with breaking down the shells. The tough outer shell of the acorn takes years to break down naturally, but you can speed the process along. Gather all the acorns from your yard and spread them over the driveway. If you have a small amount, smash them with a hammer to crack them open and expose the meat inside. For larger, more normal acorn harvests, run them over with the car a few times until all the shells are cracked and the insides start to mash. Scrape the resulting mix from the driveway to add to the compost pile.

Wait until you have a good layer of green ingredients on top of the pile, then add the mashed acorns on top. Spread them out to make an even layer, and add other dry ingredients, such as fallen leaves and shredded newspaper, to make a layer about 2 inches (5 cm.) deep. Cover this layer with about two inches of soil and water the pile.

Let it work for about a month, then turn the pile with a rake or shovel to allow air into the center of the heap, which will help the pile to heat up and decompose faster.

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Read more about Compost Ingredients

Q. Sweet Gum Balls in the Garden/Compost

I got some bags of leaves from a neighbor and then realized that they had alot of spiney sweet gum balls in with the leaves. . . will they decompose in the garden and/or should I put them in a long term compost bin. . . how long will they take to bread down. . . . I don't want them in my garden if they won't break down.

They will only break down if you have a "hot" compost pile. If your compost pile stays cool, the seeds will not break down and you should not place them in the pile. A hot compost pile is one that is turned and watered regularly and gets to an internal temperature of more that gets above 100F.

Return acorn nutrients to the soil by composting or mulching them. Because acorns are hard shelled, smash them first to boost decomposition. Some people collect acorns in a burlap bag, toss the tied bag onto the driveway and then drive back and forth over the bag before adding acorn meats and shells to their regular “hot” compost pile. Another option is starting a separate “slow compost” bin or pile for acorns, along with conifer cones, nut shells, twigs and thick, glossy leaves. Or use smashed acorns as “bottom mulch” around oaks and other trees, adding pine straw or another more attractive mulch on top.

  • Many homeowners decide to remove acorns from their lawns, for various reasons, including the simple fact that lawns get lumpy and hard to walk on when the grass hides countless acorns.
  • Some people collect acorns in a burlap bag, toss the tied bag onto the driveway and then drive back and forth over the bag before adding acorn meats and shells to their regular “hot” compost pile.

You can also grow new oak trees as a family, classroom, 4-H, scouting or service club project, especially if they are native oaks that can be used in habitat restoration and ecosystem rehabilitation projects. Growing and planning native trees supports species diversity, provides food and shelter for wildlife and improves the environment. Oak trees also provide erosion control and timber, and take in and use carbon dioxide to create oxygen.

Equally educational is cooking and eating acorns, given that they are a dietary staple in many cultures, a rich source of complex carbohydrates and fats offering some good quality protein. Acorns contain bitter tannins, so you’ll need to leach them out of the acorn “meat” in the process of turning it into a flourlike meal. This meal is tasty when blended with other flours for pancakes, breads and almost any dishes that call for cornmeal or masa. Some sample recipes are included in a Mother Earth News article (see Resources).

Using a rake is arguably the simplest way to get rid of the acorns that are strewn all around your yard.

However, you should know that raking is tiring work, and it is generally suited for smaller areas. If you have a spacious yard, there is no need for you to use a rake.

You can gather the acorns in a pile with the help of a rake, and then scoop them up with your hands or use a standard shovel. However, there’s a downside that you need to consider: the rake is also going to gather up grass and numerous other materials.

Acorns In The Compost Pile - How To Use Acorns As Compost - garden

Happy fall, the shortest season of the year! Or at least it seems to be. Autumn is my favorite season, but it never lasts long enough to do all the things on my to-do list.

Summer's heat has gone. We'll have more hot days, but the fierceness is absent. Chilly mornings will give way to warm afternoons but it won't be unbearable to be outside.

Preparing the vegetable garden for fall

Soon we'll have overnight temperatures in the 40's. The tomato plants will stop flowering and it will be time to bring in some very ripe tomatoes so I can save the seeds.

Then I'll take some cuttings from the tomato plants to over-winter indoors and plant again in spring.

But I intend to clean up the tomato beds before the frost kills them, because I'd much rather deal with them before the foliage is black and slimy from the frost. Ick.

Fall is the time to harvest sweet potatoes, as soon as the vines die back. I've stuck my fingers in the soil just to be sure there really are sweet potato tubers in there, and I pulled a monster tuber that we had with dinner last night. I can hardly wait till they're ready to harvest.

You'll know that the winter squashes and pumpkins are ready to pick when the stems of the squashes start drying out.

Cleaning up the garden in the fall helps eliminate any insect pests that are planning to hibernate over the winter and attack your garden next year. At the same time though, watch for egg sacks of "good" bugs and leave any frog habitats you might have provided. I know, it's a bit of a balancing act.

After harvesting the last of your garden and pulling up the spent plants, you'll have a small mountain of plant material to deal with.

Composting in the fall

You simply alternate "brown" and "green" materials.

"Browns" are sources of carbon and "greens" are sources of nitrogen. You'll find a list of common browns and greens in this post.

I stuck my kitchen scraps in the freezer in gallon-size bags all month so I could add them to the compost pile all at once - in a thin layer, of course.

There are compost materials all around you and this is the time to put them to use!

Use your imagination and use what you have, because compost ingredients are basically just trash. Clean up your garden. Rake your leaves and mow your lawn.

Perhaps you can source compost materials from friends and family - or ask your neighbors if you can have their fallen leaves and grass clippings (make sure they weren't treated with chemicals though).

Preparing the Garden for Fall in a Nutshell:

  • Clean up your annual plants before frost hits to avoid dealing with slimy, black foliage.
  • Put away your garden tools and hoses in a garage or shed.
  • Cut up plant material into small pieces chop fallen leaves with the lawnmower.
  • Layer the plant material (a "green" compost ingredient) with fallen leaves, straw and other "brown" compost materials. Use thin layers.
  • Find a list of green and brown compost ingredients here.
  • Wet down each layer with a hose.
  • Top it with a layer of straw or shavings.
  • Let it rot until spring!

You'll find tips on managing your winter compost pile here. Should you turn it? Should you cover it?

Are you ready to learn more about composting and get started on a program of your own? Find out how in my new ebook The Down-to-Earth Guide to Composting .

I'll show you in plain, simple terms how to start your compost pile, demystify that "magic ratio" of greens to browns that everyone talks about, help you troubleshoot your compost pile if needed, and give you a crazy-long list of what you can and what you shouldn't compost.

You'll find more information here .

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