If composting is an obsession, then making leaf mould would rank as my passion.
This time of year is very special for me and I always look forward to it. It’s as though suddenly the pace changes gear and there’s a sense of slowness and peace. And with that comes the warmth of the Autumn colours and that cosy soft feeling you get when you wrap your hands around a cup of hot chocolate. I love everything about this season. I love the woolly hats, the scarfs, the gloves, cosy socks, winter boots and frosty mornings. I’m in awe watching the trees put on a display of glorious rich colours, watching as the breeze releases the leaves from the branches and they gently scatter and then strolling through those fallen leaves. It’s a comforting time of year and I cherish it.
Autumn is full of natures gifts and fallen leaves is no exception. My birthday is in November, so I guess I was always meant to love this time of year, I have a connection with it. And this year my passion for making leaf mould was facilitated by the gift of a brand new rake (I actually just shook with excitement writing that!). Now those of you who are familiar with my blogs and know my history with tools will be pleased to know that this one is good quality and plastic free. So armed with my new rake and of course the beautifully made loosely-woven natural jute leaf mould sacks - available to buy now on our website - I went out and raked up all the leaves in our garden. We have a couple of apple trees and some other deciduous trees and shrubs and I like to make the most of their Autumn gift.
In doing so I thought it would be nice to share with you my guide to the how and why you should be making leaf mould.
Leaf mould is by far one of the easiest and most enriching things you can make as a gardener. I treat fallen leaves as a harvest just as much as the vegetables I grow, they are a valuable resource in my garden.
Step One: First I begin by raking up all the leaves and depending on the amount of leaves you have or the ground you have to cover, this can be done gradually or in my case in an hour or so. I quite often do the raking more than once, so perhaps a week later if there are more fallen leaves I will go back out and rake some more. It’s important to note that you are only collecting fallen leaves from deciduous trees. Evergreen leaves, whilst they will eventually decompose, it’s better to chop them up and add them to the compost heap. Otherwise they would slow down the process of the decaying leaf mould considerably.
Step Two: I place all the leaves I’ve raked into a large garden trug and use a pair of shears to chop them all up so that the contents are less than half the size they were. You don’t have to chop up the leaves but I’ve found it’s good practice and by doing so you speed up the process of decomposition.
Step Three: I then empty the chopped leaves into a leaf mould sack and put them to one side, in my case not too far from the compost bins and I leave it there to do it’s thing.
The following year the leaf mould is ready to be used as mulch or throughout the year it can be added to homemade potting compost. The key thing to remember is to keep them moist, so if we have a particularly dry period I just add a little water from the water-butt. Job done, it could not be more simple. Now for the why...
Let me begin by pointing out a few obvious reasons;
It’s free, just lying around in your garden, waiting to be put to good use
It’s zero waste, what a great way to benefit from a natural resource
It’s easy to make, because the decomposition process of leaf mould is fungal rather than bacterial like compost, it’s much easier to make, no turning or monitoring the balance of carbon and nitrogen, like conventional compost
It produces rich compost, low in nutrients but water-retentive and perfect for adding to a potting mix
It improves soil structure when used as a mulch
It cannot be bought commercially
And that last ‘why’ was a real clincher for me, why has know-body thought to market this fantastic sustainable natural product? Yet we persist on destroying rare peat bogs in order to market an unsustainable product. It seems far easier and logical to me to gather fallen leaves and make leaf mould. Leaf mould is of course, only one alternative, there is also coir, manure, bark clippings and garden compost.
In my mind there is absolutely no reason why any gardener anywhere needs to be using peat. It was understandable and maybe even forgivable when we didn’t know any better but now we do and it’s our responsibility to do better.
When I garden, I constantly think about what impact am I having and at what cost. I ask you to do the same. We are all about alternatives here at Good Roots Barn, maybe one day we will sell our own leaf mould who knows.