The beauty of autumn lies in the trees, with their leaves changing to brilliant colors of yellow, gold, or shades of red before the tree pushes the leaves off. Designed as a survival mechanism for the tree as it shuts down all systems and slips into dormancy for the winter, the falling leaves produce mixed feelings for those of us who have to clear our landscape of the discarded foliage. The gardening enthusiast, however, will look upon the fallen leaves as future leaf mold-organic matter to use when planting flowers and vegetables.
What is Leaf Mold
Leaf mold is decomposed leaves, which can be worked into the soil when preparing the garden for planting. Leaf mold can also be used like mulch. Place around plants, shrubs or trees, being sure to keep at least three inches from the trunk of the plants.
Only leaves are used, making this method of creating a healthy additive for plants simple to achieve and free. There is no smell nor swarming of gnats as might be seen with augmented compost bins. The leaves do no need to be turned. You can create leaf mold on the ground with no need for a special container, though being in a wire bin will help to speed up the decomposing process.
It typically takes more than a year for the leaves to fully decompose. The space needed to create enough leaf mold for a vegetable garden could be unsightly.
Make a Leaf Mold Recycle Bin
Chicken wire makes a very easy-to-create bin or cage. You can control the diameter of the bin. Unroll the chicken wire and use wire cutters to snip off a section about six feet long. Pull the short ends together to create a ring and bend the wire (pliers may be needed) to hold the ring. Place the ring on the ground where it will remain for the collected leaves.
A sturdier bin can be built by pounding 2 by 2 posts about 18 inches into the ground. If you first cut the posts’ tips on a 45-degree angle to create a point, they will be easier to pound into the ground. Wrap chicken wire around the posts to create a bin and then staple or screw the wire to the posts.
You can fill the bin to the top. If you have a lot of leaves and a large garden to “feed,” place several together, preferably near the garden for easy distribution. The leaves will be subjected to rain water or snow to help keep them wet, which encourages a fungal breakdown. If rain or snow is lacking, you will need to sprinkle the leaves with water to keep them moist. Cover the bin with plastic if necessary to prevent wind from drying the leaves.
Mow the leaf-covered lawn with the bag attached to the mower. Place the chopped up leaves and grass into the bin. Bone meal sprinkled between every 10 inches of the clippings should make the fungal breakdown faster. Bone meal is sold in bags as small as three pounds for less than $6.
Picture and story © Raskauskas 2009