Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Leaf Mould

October is the time to think about making some leaf mould (or leaf mold - for my North American readers) - making good use of all the fallen leaves on the ground at this time of year.

I'm in the process of tidying up my little garden in St Ives, somewhat neglected after all the time I've spent on my allotment plot lately. My wife Jo has also put in a fair bit of work.

We have a small evergreen tree that seems to shed leaves constantly onto the lawn. I confess - I'm not sure what it is - I think some sort of Tulip Tree. Please feel free to enlighten me if you know any more - take a look at the picture. (BTW - all of the pics on this blog pop up larger when you click on them).

I've pruned the tree back recently, leaving me with several leafy boughs cluttering up a corner of the garden. So I've stripped off the leaves from those and collected up as many as I can find from the lawn and borders.

An obvious move might seem to be to add the leaves to the compost bin. But I've found in the past that these  sort of "shiny waxy" leaves don't compost down very well. In any case - its not a good idea to add too many leaves - of any type - to your compost. A good compost bin has a roughly 50 / 50 balance between high nitrogen items (vegetable waste, weeds etc.) and carbon (cardboard, twigs, leaves etc.). So lots of leaves can tilt the balance too far to the carbon side.

Its better to rot down the leaves separately.

Just about any types of leaf will do - simply some will break down more quickly than others. Deciduous leaves will take a year or two, evergreens may take two to three years or even longer. Some of these leaves have already started to break down naturally on the ground. So I'm confident that they will break down fully eventually - its just a matter of time.

I've packed the leaves into black plastic bin bags, added a bit of water, tied the bags up and finally punched a few small holes to let some air in - this will help the decomposition process. Some suggest running a lawnmower over the leaves first as they will break down more quickly. But I can't be bothered - as I've mentioned before I'm a "lazy" gardener and prefer to let nature do the hard work !

The bags will now sit a a quiet corner of the garden until ready. The finished leaf mold - unlike compost - won't have much nutritional value for the soil. But it will be great as a mulch to suppress weeds, retain moisture around plants and improve the soil structure. Plus - using up these leaves fits with my "waste not want not" philosophy.

Final tip - if you've got large quantities of leaves - it might be worth building a "leaf bin" - simply made from four posts and chicken wire. Something that I might do later - on the allotment where I have more space.

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