SHARING a garden with two dogs has its drawbacks. I won’t dwell on the details, as that would be like punctuating my usual sweet-sounding fresh-cut grass prose with a sudden, unpleasant stench. It’s especially dangerous at this time of year when the ground is littered with wet, fallen leaves, the perfect backdrop to camouflage dog poop. There are countless sources of leaves, from the apple and cherry orchard trees to the sycamore trees that were there before I arrived and to the ornamental cherries that I planted 15 years ago and are now coming of age.
It is therefore important to stay on top of the leaves, sweeping and raking them if possible, almost daily. Still, rather than seeing it as a chore, I see it as one of those essential seasonal chores where all the benefits won’t be realized for a while – but hey, that’s gardening.
Rather than being thrown into the brown bin, the dead leaves are of course recycled on site, turned into a more refined material that can be used down the line, reducing the need to buy less eco-friendly products. environment.
It is a process that reflects the cycle of nature. In a woodland setting, the fallen leaves would form a mat around the base of the tree, before rotting, their organic goodness slowly being absorbed into the soil and eventually back into the tree via its roots. The dark, rich humus that decayed foliage turns into over time is the envy of many gardeners. However, it is a process that we can emulate, creating a natural asset that can be used as a soil conditioner and mulch or as a key component in homemade potting soil.
Arguably the key element in making leaf mold is keeping your raw material separate from your conventional garden compost. Leaves tend to take longer to decompose than most garden waste – at least two years – while they are also less likely to be contaminated with weed seeds and other unwanted material, that’s why you may end up with a much purer end product, suitable for repotting.
However, not all sheets are suitable. Those from common deciduous trees, such as oak, horse chestnut, sycamore and birch are ideal, while evergreens like bay leaf and holly are not. Conifers are also not suitable, but pine needles can be used to make a separate compost from ericaceous for acid-loving plants.
The easiest method to turn your leaves into desirable crumbly compost is the trash bag method. Quick and tidy, it’s just a matter of filling large black bags with leaves, adding a little water, and piercing the bag with a fork before leaving them in a quiet corner of the garden. When you return, the leaves should be quite rotten and no longer recognizable – although very often I find that the black bag has deteriorated as well.
If you’re looking to go upmarket, use the traditional pen method of making a chicken wire cage and filling it with leaves, or use a large, inexpensive, well-ventilated compost bin. Always add a little water to moisten the leaves and speed up decomposition. Shredding the leaves will shorten the process, while there are also commercial accelerators available.
Your finished product can be used as conventional compost, either in landfill or as a mulch, while when well rotten and sieved it makes excellent peat-free seed or potting compost.