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Leaf mold - it's free, it's fabulous!

  • Leaf mold - it's free, it's fabulous!
  • Leaf mold - it's free, it's fabulous!
  • Leaf mold - it's free, it's fabulous!
  • Leaf mold - it's free, it's fabulous!
  • Leaf mold - it's free, it's fabulous!

Most of us here already make our own compost, and we know all about that - but how many of you also make leaf mold?

It's different from compost: compost is the organic matter from the garden - weeds, stems, all sorts of garden waste - which goes into a heap and rots aerobically (ie it needs air to do it), by the action of worms, bacteria etc. It produces rich, moist, fertile, nutrient-rich material in 6 months to a year, which we then put back on the garden.

Leaf mold, on the other hand, is made only from leaves: and then, only from the leaves of deciduous trees: it's an anaerobic process (ie it does not need air), and works by the action of fungus. Without any effort from the owner - after the initial collecting and soaking - it takes 2-3 years, and produces wonderfully soft, crumbly dark material which is low in nutrients, but high in minerals, which we then put back on the garden, mostly as a soil conditioner, rather than to enrich the soil.

How do we make it? Rake up all those autumn leaves, get them good and wet, and stack them out of the way somewhere. Unlike compost, it's not “heavy”, so lightweight pens of chicken wire or mesh are all you need. Make them big, because leaves are bulky, and make sure the leaves are wet as you fill the pen. Leave to rot down to two years, or three if you can: then just empty the pen and use it, it's that simple!

I've attached photos of one of my leaf mold pens, to show how much they shrink. In this garden, I check the pens every week through the summer, and water them to keep them good and wet, so we make leaf mold in just 14 months, but if you want to do it the lazy easy way, just get them very wet to start with, and leaf them to get on with it (did you see what I did there?).

The “tricks of the trade”, as it were, are as follows:

1) deciduous leaves only: no weeds, no grass, no garden waste, nothing but leaves.
2) wetness is essential: fungus like it wet and dark. They also like it undisturbed... so....
3) don't ever stir it, it's not like compost, which needs to be aerated.
4) have patience: after two years it will be lovely, but if you can leave it for three years, it will be black, crumbly, and fantastic!

The leaves you put in can be just one type, or they can be a mixture, it doesn't matter: I use Lime, Sycamore (Tar spot and all, it doesn't matter), Norway Maple, Mulberry (lovely soft texture) Beech, Hornbeam, Oak, Cherry, Elm.... the only ones to avoid are Horse Chestnut leaves, which simply don't rot. And conifers/evergreens, of course - no holly, no laurel, nothing shiny.

After all, you're going to be raking up those autumn leaves anyway, so you might as well put them to use!

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