Leaf Mould (gardeners’ gold)
Pretty much all the deciduous trees are dropping their leaves now so there’s loads of material to collect to make leaf mould – gardeners’ gold!
All you need are some gloves, large bin bags, a brush & shovel (or a pair of those hilarious ‘big hands’ that make the kids laugh!) and a rake. Oh and reliable supplies of tea and biscuits!
It’s really easy to make leaf mould. Collect any fallen leaves (don’t worry if grass gets in the mix – it adds nutrients) from your lawn, pathway and even the street outside. If you are using ‘street leaves’, you’ll want to sift out the crisp bags and fag packets first and be aware that ‘street leaves’ from close to a very busy road are probably contaminated with pollutants so don’t bother with those.
The very best leaves to make leaf mould are oak, beech and hornbeam – so if your neighbour has one of these, offer to tidy up the garden a bit for him/her and help yourself to the bounty! Others like holly or laurel are pretty tough and take forever to rot down so you might want to shred these first. Otherwise pretty much anything goes. If you’ve got a rotary mower and a lawn full of leaves, combine the two and you get pre-chopped/shredded leaves for your mixture – perfect!
Pack the leaves into a black bin bag (adding a little water if the leaves are very dry), tie the bag loosely and punch a few holes in it, and then shift them somewhere out of sight – behind the shed in our case. No-one wants to look at a row of wet black bin bags in their garden, even from the safety of the lounge window in mid-winter!
If you’ve got lots and lots of leaves, you might consider building a ‘cage’ from some chicken wire and four sturdy posts – but for most of us, with regular-sized suburban gardens, half a dozen black bin bags will do the job. Just keep adding more leaf material and more bags to your collection.
Unlike a compost heap which generates heat and relies on bacteria to break down its contents, leaf mould is created by fungi breaking down the structure of the leaves. All this takes place in cool conditions, so that while compost can happen in just a few months’ leaf mould usually takes a couple of years.
So, after about two years you should have the perfect material for making potting compost: crumbly, dark brown and smelling like a forest floor! Just mix together with equal parts sharp sand, garden compost and garden soil. Younger leaf mould (ie less than 2 years old) can be used for mulch, soil improver, autumn top-dressing for lawns, or winter covering for bare soil.
So, don’t delay – get out there and get collecting leaves! You’ll spot all sorts of stuff going on in the garden whilst you’re at it (must remember to move my tender (potted) plants to the house wall). It’s great exercise too and a good opportunity to practice your squats and build your quads!