Making Leaf Mold

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)Leaf Mold

Now that the leaves, probably, have finally all come off the trees is the time to do some raking of them. But stop! Before you toss them into the green waste disposal for the council to get rid off them consider using them in your own garden.

Make leaf mold from it which is a great product to cover your tender area with next winter, to cover your plant beds with for moisture retention and weed suppression, as well as a soil improver. Leaf mold is an excellent, free soil amendment. It is easy to make, simple to use, and has a huge impact on soil health. Leafmoldcage

Leaf mold is a form of compost produced by the fungal breakdown of shrub and tree leaves, which are generally too dry, acidic, or low in nitrogen for bacterial decomposition. Leaf mold is the result of letting leaves sit and decompose over time. It is dark brown to black, has a pleasant earthy aroma and a crumbly texture, much like compost. In fact, leaf mold is just that: composted leaves. Instead of adding a bunch of organic matter to a pile, you just use leaves. However, unlike bacterial decomposition, as with ordinary compost, leaf mold is created, primarily, by fungal action.

Due to the slow decaying nature of their high carbon content, dry leaves break down far more slowly than most other compost ingredients. This can be overcome either by placing the collected leaves wet in plastic bags (taking care to avoid collecting from areas that may be subject to high levels of pollution, e.g., roadsides), or in specially constructed wire bins, to encourage fungal action. To accelerate this fungal breakdown, it is useful to keep the leaves wet and avoid the drying effects of wind. The traditional wire enclosure may slow down the process by allowing the contents to dry out unless it is lined with cardboard or similar material.

You may be wondering why you shouldn't just make compost. Why bother making a separate pile just for leaves? The answer is that while compost is wonderful for improving soil texture and fertility, leaf mold is far superior as a soil amendment. It doesn't provide much in the way of nutrition, so you will still need to add compost or other organic fertilizers to increase fertility. Leaf mold is essentially a soil conditioner. It increases the water retention of soils. According to some university studies, the addition of leaf mold increased water retention in soils by over 50%. Leaf mold also improves soil structure and provides a fantastic habitat for soil life, including earthworms and beneficial bacteria.

Leaves alone can take between one and two years to break down into rich humic matter with a smell reminiscent of ancient woodland. While not high in nutrient content, leaf mold is an excellent humic soil conditioner. To speed up the decomposition process, fallen leaves can be shredded, for instance by using a rotary lawn mower.

Use the lawn mower with a collection bag or box to collect the leaves. Set the mower on the highest setting in order not to get too much grass, and the machine will then, basically, vacuum up the leaves into the bag or box as you go along.

Not only will this method collect the leaves. It will also chop them into small pieces as it goes along. This method saves many hours of leaf raking and collecting and especially the horrible job of trying to pick them up, especially as when you try doing this the wind will make itself up.

Make a leaf bin using chicken wire and then empty the lawn mower collection bag into it. Simply hammer four wooden stakes into the ground and wrap the chicken wire around them to form a box. Adjust the size of the bin for the quantity of leaves you have.

I am lucky this year in that I have gotten hold of a large old wire waste bin from a municipal park. It was destined to be scrapped and it is now going to be filled with as many leaves as I can get my little hands on.

Late Fall is also the perfect time to start a new compost heap. Take a drive around your local industrial estates and look for sources of free pallets. Many businesses will be happy to give the pallets away for free, just try asking. Five pallets are enough for a basic, but sturdy compost heap.

Another way of making leaf mold is in bags such as old fertilizer bags but make sure the bags you use are thin bags that let the light in or things will start to grow. From time to time check the contents and if the leaves are dry add a small amount of water to keep them moist.

Leaf mold has several uses in the garden. You can dig or till it into garden beds to improve soil structure and water retention. You can use it as mulch in perennial beds or vegetable gardens. It's also fabulous in containers, due to its water retaining abilities. Leaf mold is simple, free, and effective. If you're lucky enough to have a tree or two (or ten) on your property, you've got everything you need to make great garden soil.

Don't waste your leaves – and those of your neighbors, if they don't want them – and turn them into one of the most useful resources for growing your veggies.

© 2010