Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Why I am in love with leaves!

If this blog has been quiet over the past couple of weeks it’s because I’ve been a woman on a mission! What is the mission you may ask? Well I have spent the majority of my spare time out collecting fallen leaves wherever I can find them. This has included my garden, neighbours’ gardens and local areas. The picture below shows my leaf stack early on Saturday 26th November and since then I have completely filled the bin and have 8 further sacks stacked underneath to add to the heap as it starts to settle and flatten.

I thought I would share the reasons why I am so passionate about collecting leaves at this time of year. Truly, dead leaves are the most wasted source of lasting, organic material and in most towns it should be possible to obtain an extra supply to supplement the leaves from your garden. Leaf mass improves soil structure, adds some nutrients and improves water retention.

Five reasons why I love leaf mould:
1.   It is completely free! I am constantly looking for ways to spend less on compost and leaves are a completely free natural resource.
2.   Leaves are clean and lightweight to handle. At this time of year I am also digging manure into my allotment. Leaves are so much more pleasant to handle.
3.   A low maintenance product. Once you have collected your leaves you simply wait 1-2 years then use the end product. You do not need to add materials or turn the heap like traditional compost.
4.   It helps to lighten my heavy clay allotment soil. It is also a great addition to sandy soils, adding organic matter and improving water retention.
5.   Using leaves diverts material from landfill. Once leaves decompose in a landfill site their goodness cannot be utilised, contributing to a loss of soil health and land degradation.

Two ways to make leaf mould:
-     If you have a small quantity of leaves in your garden place them in a sack adding water if the leaves are dry. Tie up the sack and pierce it several times with a garden fork. Leave the sack for 1-2 years and you should have a good quality leaf mould. If you have placed the sack in a dry place you may need to add extra water to help the leaves rot down.

-     For a larger quantity of leaves it is easy to make a simple container. The most basic structure would be 4 poles stuck into the ground with chicken wire stapled around the structure. My leaf mould bin is of a wood construction with a plastic netting covering. It is important to consider that leaves will exert pressure on the sides of the container especially when wet .

If you feel inspired to create your own leaf mould at home the following frequently asked questions may be of interest.

How do leaves decompose?
The decay of leaves is carried out by fungi and the process requires no oxygen.

Can I use any leaves?
Yes you can mix autumn leaves together in any combination, some leaves such as horse chestnut may take longer to decompose. Never add weeds or ivy leaves to the leaf mould heap.

Where should I site my leaf mould bin?
A leaf mould heap can go in a shady spot where nothing much will grow. The fungal decomposition process does not require heat like a normal compost heap meaning it will be quite happy in a dark corner of your garden. The leaf mould container pictured above is at the end of my allotment where tough tree roots make cultivation impossible. My leaf mould heap at home is placed under shady conifers and does very well every year.

Should I water my leaf mould heap?
If it is a dry summer or you have sited your leaf mould bin under cover it would be beneficial to water the heap once or twice during the summer. From personal experience I have found this to be very beneficial as it helps the leaves to rot.

Do I need to turn a leaf mould heap?
No. A standard compost heap is turned to add oxygen and increase the heat of the mixture. The production of leaf mould requires no oxygen so a settled, compacted heap of leaves poses no problem. There would be no advantage to turning the heap.

How can I make more nutritious leaf mould?
Leaf mould is normally seen as a soil conditioner and although it does add some goodness it is not as rich in nutrients as good quality home made compost. A very good compost can be produced by mixing fresh lawn mowings (high in nitrogen) evenly throughout a leaf mould heap in spring. The result is a nutritious mix which has the advantage of being free of weed seeds.

How long do I have to wait before I can use my leaf mould?
After one year the leaf mould should be good enough to dig into a sandy soil or to lighten clay soil. The picture below shows one year old leaf mould. It is mostly decomposed but some pieces of leaf remain. To create a potting mixture the leaf mould should be left for at least another year until it is rich and crumbly.

Should I worry about collecting leaves near a road?
No. The following is a quote from Lawrence D Hills (Founder of the Henry Doubleday Research Association, now known as Garden Organic):
‘Trees operate a ‘giro system’, throwing away surplus minerals they draw through their roots through their leaves, from which other trees select the trace elements they require. This is how they can grow for centuries in the same place without running out of something scarce. No tree is looking for lead, cadmium, mercury or any of the metals which industry pollutes the air, so that which falls on their leaves washes off and down in rain.’
We no longer have lead cars but the principle remains the same. My interpretation of this guidance is that I do collect fresh leaves which have fallen near roads. If any pollution is transferred to the soil only a tiny fraction would be absorbed into the crop. We absorb more pollution in the air we breathe than the tiny amount that would be present in the crop. This being said I would avoid leaves which have been lying for weeks next to a road and always avoid areas popular with dog walkers for obvious reasons!

Will my leaf mould smell or attract pests?
No! The leaf mould should have a lovely earthy smell which is not unpleasant. The leaves will not attract any unwanted visitors such as vermin to your garden.

P.S If anyone out there is also collecting leaves at this time of year I would be greatly inspired to hear about your ideas and experiences...

No comments:

Post a Comment