Don't throw out your leaves!

Do-it-yourself leaf mold is great to improve your garden's soil

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Instead of raking the leaves in your yard and garden together, putting them into plastic bags and setting them on the curb to be picked up and added to a landfill, where most will end up via the municipal waste stream unless your council operates a green waste recycling scheme, turn them into leaf mold.

The dark, crumbly finished product of leaf mold is a great soil amendment and conditioner and if we are going to be dealing with droughts in our gardens in the future, which no doubt we will, increasing the moisture retention of our soils is important. Leaf mold is better still than wood chip mulch in this department as it improves the soil much better and quicker.

Finished leaf mold can be used as a mulch to suppress weeds and trap moisture, blended into the soil of garden beds, and added to container gardens and making leaf mold is, in fact, ridiculously easy. If composting seems too complicated and involved for you: give making your own leaf mold a try. All you need to create leaf mold is a space, leaves, water and time.

The easiest way of making leaf mold is to rake all of your leaves into a pile in the corner of your garden or yard. Once you’ve gathered the leaves into place, wet the pile down and keep it moist for the next six months to a year. If your leaf mold pile is at risk of being thrown about by kids, pets or the wind create pen to keep it in place.

Make a round or square frame out of chicken wire, reclaimed wood or similar to the DIY compost bins the designs of which you find all over the Internet. You can also put the leaves, ideally shredded, into black plastic bin liners, moisten them and then tie up the bags.

If you have a mulching mower you can speed up decomposition by riding over your leaf mold pile and shredding the leaves into smaller pieces.

A few years ago while watching one of those cable documentaries on the drug trade, I saw a cocaine farmer use a weed trimmer to shred cocoa leaves to process them faster. And you know what? It works! After you’ve corralled all of your leaves in place you can run a weed trimmer through the pile to break it down. Shredded leaves not only break down faster, but you have room for more leafs and taller piles.

All leaves you collect in autumn are good candidates for making leaf mold, though some are better than others when it comes to breaking down and decomposing. Smaller leaves, such as birch, alder and Japanese maples, can break down in as little as six months. Oak and hornbeam leaves similarly break down rather fast.

The bottom of your leaf mold pile can be ready to be mixed into your soil, used as a mulch, or mixed into your favorite container gardening soil mix in as little as half a year. Therefore, take some time this season to rake up your leaves – and those of your neighbors – to improve the soil in your garden. You will be keeping valuable organic matter out of landfills and preventing your neighbors from making burn piles this autumn.

The leaves have sequestered carbon over the year and this carbon is released into your soil when added to it and will feed your plants. So thus you should not waste it.

If you grow your own – vegetables that is – in the way that I do in “containers” of various sorts you can use the so-called lasagne gardening method and, in fact, add the leaf mold after six month to the bottom of the container and spread a thin, about four or five inches or so, layer of soil and compost above in which you sow your seeds or plant your plugs.

Waste not want not is the old adage and it applies also to those autumn leaves.

© 2012