Friday, 11 December 2020

Leaf mold: How To Do It, even on a small scale

 I'm always writing about composting, and about making leaf mold - I don't think it's possible to be a proper Professional Gardener, and not be interested in these two vital methods of getting the "goodness" back into the soil, do you?

Normally, I advocate doing leaf mold on a fairly large scale: it's a lengthy process, and it takes up a lot of room so it's only worth doing, really, if you have lots of leaves, plenty of time, and somewhere to hide the bulky leaf pens.

Now and again, though, I am asked by a keen Client, to help them make leaf mold on a small scale, so I do my best.

The first step is usually to point them towards my excellent (brace yourself for relentless self-publicity) Book on the subject:

...available as an e-book, from the Kindle store in Amazon, it's free if you have Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime, only a couple of quid if you don't: and you don't even need a Kindle thingy to read it, as Amazon kindly provide a free download "App" (or, programme, as we grown-ups call them) so that you can read it on any device, Kindle or otherwise, or on your laptop, or on your PC.

So there's no excuse! Go and get it" *laughs*

Once you know how it's done, all you have to do is find the space for some leaf mold pens, rake up a mass of leaves, and wait patiently for a couple of years. 

This particular Client was really, really keen to make leaf mold, even though they have a smallish garden and not that many trees. They also had some old pallets, perfect: so I stood them up on edge, wired them together at the corners, and two years back we diligently raked up all the leaves (I say "we" but I mean "I", of course! That's what I'm paid for!), put them in the first pen, and made sure they were good and wet, by draping a  hose from the water butts up by the house, all the way down to the leaf mold pens at the bottom of the garden. Free water! I love it!

And that's pretty much all we did.

I checked a couple of times during the following year, to ensure that the pen was damp, and hadn't dried out too much, and if necessary, I ran the gravity-fed hose over there again.

Last week, I checked to see if it was ready to use: I always tell people that it takes three years, but sometimes it's done faster than that.

 Deep joy! It was ready for use.

Here is the bottom of our pallet-pen: two years ago, this was stuffed right up to the top with soggy leaves, and now, it has converted itself into a dense layer of quite nice leaf mold, about 4" deep.

This photo shows the last little section, I've already removed all the rest of  it.

This is why, by the way, you need "space" in order to make leaf mold - to get any sort of decent quantity, you have to be able to stack a large volume of fresh leaves, each year. 

And that's another reason why I tell people it will take three years, so you need three sets of pens: the second-year material won't be ready in time for you to use the same pen again, for the third-year leaves. If you see what I mean. So it's far better to work on three sets of pens, over three years, and just wait until it's ready to use. Unlike compost, there's nothing you can do to hasten the production of leaf mold - if you want to know more, you'll have to read the book!

So, I dug out the lovely leaf mold - well, it wasn't quite "done", but it was near enough - and used it as a mulch under the newly-established mixed native hedging.

Despite only being a layer 4" deep in the pen, it covered a surprising area, once I'd dug it out and scattered it lightly: to be fair, it wasn't a deep layer.

And there it is - right. 

Lovely dark leaf mold, all around the bases of our native hedging, which should help it to thicken up, and screen this end of the garden from the open field next door which - unfortunately - is scheduled to have new houses built on it at some point in the future.

And that's why we're establishing our native hedge now, a couple of years before we need it.

So there you go - making even a small amount of leaf mold is a good thing to do: it's a product which you cannot buy, but which is free to make, and takes minimal effort. Particularly as "one" would be raking up the leaves, anyway!


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