Introduction: Baling Fall Leaves

Picture of Baling Fall Leaves

I like to save fall leaves for my garden. I use them for mulch, for bedding in my chicken coop, and for my compost pile. I would bag them in the Fall and save them for use through the summer. The trouble is that they take up a lot of space, and the plastic bags degrade over time, turning into brittle shreds of plastic.

I decided that I needed to save my leaves as compressed bales, like bales of hay or straw. With a little searching, I found a design for a Pine Straw Baler at the East Texas Pine Straw web site of Texas A&M University. The design and publication is downloadable as a PDF file.

Using this as the basis, I made a small baler using scrapwood. I have been going around my neighborhood, raking leaves and compressing them into bales tied with twine. These will be stacked in my garden for later use. We will see how they survive through the year and into Summer.

Note: This 'ible is mainly to show that Fall leaves can be compressed into bales for storage. I couldn't find any other references to baling leaves, and I think this is a pretty nice way to store leaves in a minimum of space. That being said, you are largely on your own for construction of the baler itself. I may add details on construction at a later date, though, once I am satisfied that I can make a good one. Until then, depend on the TAMU PDF file for a measured drawing.

I did make a SketchUp model of the baler, per TAMU's publication, which is at the 3D Warehouse.

Step 1: The Baler

Picture of The Baler

This is it. I have it on a cart so I can drag it around the block to get leaves from other peoples' yards. So far, nobody minds me raking up their leaves.

Step 2: The Door

Picture of The Door

The door is held in place by a slot that it fits into, and by two nails inserted into drilled holes.

Step 3: Baling Twine

Picture of Baling Twine

I have some coarse twine. This proved to be too thin, and so I double it up for strength.

Cut enough twine to go up one side, across the top, and down the other side of the baler . . . twice. This twine will be set in the bottom of the baler while leaves are put on top of it.

Secure the twine as shown, so they form a neat 'base' of three crossed strands at the bottom of the baler.

Now the baler is ready for leaves!

Step 4: Adding Leaves

Picture of Adding Leaves

I'm in front of a neighbor's house. I'll rake up all the leaves in the street, and compress them in the baler. I use two rakes to scoop leaves between them. Holding the leaves between two rakes, I can easily carry a load into the top of the baler for release.

When the baler is filled with loose leaves, I tamp them down with the compressor/plunger, and then add more.

As more leaves are added and compressed, there will be too many to fully compress with hand strength alone. I then use the swinging lever arm to apply more pressure on the plunger over the leaves. This gives me more space to add more leaves.

Step 5: Setting the Twine, and the Final Compression

Picture of Setting the Twine, and the Final Compression

When the baler is 2/3 full after compression, it is time to set the twine for tying.

Release the ends of the twine, and pass them over the leaves (without the plunger), so both ends project out of one slot in the side of the baler. (This makes sense in the picture) Do this for each of the three pieces of baling twine.

When all three pieces of twine are set up like this, there should be a corresponding pattern of crossed twine on the top of the bale as was seen on the bottom.

Now, place the plunger on top of the bale and press down hard. Use the lever arm to compress the leaves as far as they will go, and then tie the lever arm down with a chain or piece of strong cord. This will keep the bale compressed.

Pull the twine tight, and tie the ends to secure the bale.

Step 6: Release the Bale

Picture of Release the Bale

Release the lever arm carefully, so it doesn't spring back and hit you.

Pull the nails that hold the door in place, and remove the door.

Grab the baling twine at the top of the bale, and pull it up several inches. Then pull the bale out of the baler. You now have a bale of leaves.

It's a bit fragile, compared to a hay bale, and sheds leaves a bit, but it is still surprisingly coherent.

Step 7: Final Comments

Picture of Final Comments

I raked up leaves from the street because I had not asked my neighbor if I could take their leaves. I didn't feel right to be actually raking on their front yard. In addition, the leaves on the street won't be mixed with other yard debris like sticks or dog poop.

The single bale took all the leaves in the street area shown here.

Here's a screenshot of the SketchUp model

EDIT: It is now late March, and I have been storing the leaf bales on top of my chicken coop. They have been rained on and snowed on a bit (I live in New Mexico, so there's not much of either). I thought I'd add a follow-up picture to show that the bales have kept their shape over the months.

The leaves are very dry, and they crumble into small fragments when I un-bale them, which is great for my compost bin and for laying down in the henhouse. The chickens don't like to lay eggs on them (they prefer straw). In any case, this does seem to be a good way to compress and store a lot of leaves.

Comments

gvillathrilla (author)2015-12-12

Look into landscape netting. You'll probably get a better bale that way.

DanYHKim (author)gvillathrilla2015-12-12

Thank you. I had considered using other materials to give the bale more integrity. One possibility was to use grass or straw to 'cap' the ends. In the end, I decided that I would live with a more crumbly bale that was made of leaves only.

manicmonday (author)DanYHKim2015-12-17

I would just use more twine straps. You can run some the other direction.

Another thought is that commercial balers run a chain under the bail as it's started so that you can connect that chain to the plunger and lift the plunger to eject the bail.

DanYHKim (author)manicmonday2016-01-01

I like the idea of adding a lifting chain to pull the bale out. I used a length of rope, and found it to be much easier to remove the bale. It also prevented the baling twine from breaking (when I tried to pull bales out using the twine alone, some of them would break while pulling). This is a great improvement!

BrunoS42 (author)DanYHKim2015-12-17

I would think a few old newspapers would make good end caps.

kaygarystudios (author)2015-12-18

Excellent idea, after ready through the PDF and reading your project, I really like what you have done. Looking at it, my mind has already started constructing and making a few simple mods.

Having been baling hay for years, I am afraid that your twine will not hold up, it will deteriorate rather quickly and release your bale, that is why balers use nylon twine ( mostly round bales) or wire ( mostly square bales).

Another idea, running around my head, you can get leaf blowers ( some cordless ) that will also vacuum and mulch leaves. Would be pretty simple to suck the leaves and direct the outputted mulch into the baler.

Keep it up,

oheirofserranevada (author)2015-12-13

excellent idea here. we sometimes use fall leaves as animal feed (no idea as to the nutritional value, but goats love them).
this design could theoretically eliminate some of the storage issues

Using goats to compact your leaves!!! Great I idea!!! The leaves go into the goat, and pop out compacted ;o)

I think leaves are just the right food for goats. Was herding my grandmother's goats as a kid, they'd literally climb up acacias just for the leaves.

jstork1 (author)2015-12-17

I have a spot in my backyard where I pile leaves and green branches up to about the diameter of a pencil. I sharpen the blades on my lawnmower and slowly mulch the debris into small bits. Make sure you wear eye protection and make sure pets and others stay away as bits will fly out once in a while. I lower the deck on the mower so I can keep mulching once the (often 16 inch high) pile reduces to a few inches. I use it for mulch around the trees or plants, or add it to the compost pile. It saves bringing it to the landfill and makes wonderful soil as it decomposes. If the leaves are not too thick on the lawn, I mulch them in. It is amazing how many leaves will break into small bits and disappear into the lawn. Been doing this for a few years and my lawn seems to like it. Greener than before..

Sorry for the diversion.

Keep calm and compost.

Dawsie (author)2015-12-17

I love this idea :-) thanks for sharing :-) once I have the retaining wall built infront of the workshop I will be able to go in and make me one :-) will have to log into the laptop for the 3D warehouse Sketchup drawing :-) so have bookmarked this page for later :-)

Mark 42 (author)2015-12-17

I saw a machine that used a tube and ram (like a piston in a cylinder) to compress leaves into fire logs.

It used the hydraulic ram from a log splitter to create the force required.

Belmont68 (author)2015-12-17

This is a superb idea! In the UK we use a net that contains Christmas Trees. Would a net like this be ideal for the 'Itable' described here? You must have similar things in the US......just a thought. Please excuse the capital P at the end of this.

P

tjdux (author)2015-12-17

a gas powered leaf blower may be a good way to collect large quantities of leaves for your baler. in stead of picking up the leaves by hand you could vacuum them into the bag and dump them into your baler.

another thought to get a more compact bale would be to use a long threaded rod instead of the hand plunger. with a large breaker bar use the rod to exert a very large amount of force on the bale and leave it tight when tying the twine.

great concept here though. I may make one sometime for grass clippings.

vineskm (author)tjdux2015-12-17

You would need to make sure your grass clippings are all dried out before baling. Otherwise they will compost into a slimy mess.

FlorinJ (author)vineskm2015-12-17

Slimy mess or less slimy, the end product would still be similarly usable, IMO. The chemical composition would be the same.

vineskm (author)FlorinJ2015-12-17

Grass composting tips: Grass clippings, being mostly water and very rich in nitrogen, are problematic in compost bins because they tend to compact, increasing the chance of becoming soggy and emitting a strong ammonia-like odor. Follow these tips for composting this valuable "green", thereby minimizing odor and matting, and increasing quick decomposition: 1. Compost in thin layers, intermixed in a 2-to-1 ratio with "brown" materials such as dry leaves or plant debris. 2. Let grass clippings dry out for a couple of days before composting. 3. If your bin is stuffed full of grass clippings, turn the pile every few days for very fast results. Especially do this to bring air into matted, smelly piles. Just trying to help.

mmpizar (author)2015-12-17

yes, and newspaper layers also compost well. BTW baling wire is available cheep at DOLLAR TREE. (Not for compost but great for street pick up.)

SparkyOR (author)2015-12-17

i like this, our city stupidly insists on wasting plastic bags for curbside collection. This is a greater alternative. Thanks

LeslieGeee (author)SparkyOR2015-12-17

WOW our city will not take any yard waste in plastic bags. They compost the leaves etc. Our markets, Home Depot, and Lowes sell tall paper bags for yard refuse, leaves etc. They cost about $2.50 for 5 bags. Not everyone is handy or can make one of these balers. Why not look into the bags and suggest them to the town?

jnorv (author)2015-12-17

If you made the cross section trapezoidal, it would be easier to get the bale out.

Eh Lie Us! (author)2015-12-14

This is absolutely great. I hope your design is spread far and wide.

Press on! (yeah, I went there.)

mrsnone (author)2015-12-13

I bet this would be good to make and take camping with you to help keep a fire going! (the bales.. not the bale maker lol)

ClintL2 (author)mrsnone2015-12-14

based on that relative thought- a year ago, I converted my log splitter into a leaf compressor to make logs out of all the oak leaves. They burn with the same amount of ash as the logs, burn just as long and hot, and I don't loose the trees! Just take a short fat pipe as your template, stuff with leaves, and ram with the piston, and repeat until you get the length you wish...and voila, leaf logs!

DanYHKim (author)ClintL22015-12-14

How do the leaf logs stay together? Are they just compressed so hard that they stick to each other? (My lever-driven plunger won't give that kind of pressure, I am sure)
If you compress them hard enough, and wait about 100,000 years, they will become coal, I think.

sooznd (author)2015-12-13

Well since you are setting the bales nesr your garden, if they compost down, then all you have to do is rake them into the garden spots for mulching! You could maybe build a cold frame with them while they are bales, too. Awesome use of an otherwise wasted resource, both the leaves and the 2x4s.

DanYHKim (author)sooznd2015-12-13

I hadn't thought of the cold frame idea (I guess I was too rigidly thinking about using wood to build one). That's really good. It will be insulated already! I'll see how many bales I can make this Fall, and try to put one together.

crispi (author)2015-12-12

Sorry... In a bail

DanYHKim (author)crispi2015-12-12

Don't know yet. This is an ongoing experiment, and the bale in the picture is literally the fourth one I've made. I tried to see if there was any other information about baling leaves, but all I've found was a YouTube video of a municipal-size leaf baler used to sweep and bale leaves off of the street. If the bales start to noticeably deteriorate in storage, I will post an update to this 'ible. If they last until summer, which is what I hope, then I will also update with pictures.

crispi (author)2015-12-12

What are the leaves like after a few months I'm a ba.

ThomasK19 (author)2015-12-12

Yes. Another useful i'ble. And for sure there's a market. People have to buy plastic bags here (if they haven't got a place for composting). This would be a good way to stuff in more leaves. It would be great to have it the size of the bags so you can stuff it directly into the bag.

Uncle Kudzu (author)2015-12-12

That's the best idea I've I've seen in ages! There might even be a market for your baled leaves. Thanks so much for sharing!

DIY Hacks and How Tos (author)2015-12-12

Great way to bundle up the leaves.

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