Making Leaf Mold

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close-bosom friend of the maturing sun
-John Keats, “To Autumn”

I’m pretty sure I haven’t always loved autumn. If I’m remembering correctly, I thought of it as a precursor to winter, and I can assure you that I have never liked winter. In fact, as a child, one of my favorite books to read was The Penguin that Hated the Cold. I could empathize with Pablo the penguin’s irritation with the cold and his assertion that “Cold weather…is for the birds. The other birds. Not me.”

At some point, though, my perspective shifted, and I’m almost certain that it started happening when I started gardening. I started seeing autumn as a welcome relief from the heat of summer and a time to start slowing down a bit. Now I have developed an even deeper respect for the season because of the bounty that it provides. This may strike some as a strange statement. After all, our vegetable gardens are starting to wind down. Unless we provide crops with protection from the cold, there really is nothing left to harvest. But if we look up on a breezy day, the harvest can be seen all around us. If you have a lot of deciduous trees on your property the harvest that is coming in is a particularly colorful one as the trees start dropping their leaves. As I drive around this time of year, though, I am a little disappointed by the many plumes of black smoke billowing up from people’s backyards. The acrid smell wafting through the crisp air means only one thing–people are burning leaves and missing out on a golden gardening opportunity.

Leaf mold is a wonderful and basically free resource. The benefits of leaf mold are pretty impressive. It retains a significant amount of moisture, which means that it can increase your soil’s water retention. A nice layer of it as a mulch reduces the need to water, cools roots on super hot days (which we’ve had plenty of this year), and it’s great at suppressing weeds. In heavy rains, leaf mold has the ability to soak up a lot of water…as much as 500 times its weight, so it decreases problems with runoff. And for folks who have really heavy clay soil like I do, if you keep adding leaf mold to your soil as a mulch each year, you begin to change the structure of your soil for the better. I also often use it when mixing up my own potting soil because what we want in potting mixes is something that keeps the moisture level up and keeps our potted plants from getting stressed.

You can make leaf mold pretty easily, and it doesn’t require a lot of space. Just collect your leaves. You can do this by raking them up or using your mower if it has a bagger. You can put your collected leaves in a large trash can (though I drill draining holes in them for air circulation), in a dedicated bin, or in plastic lawn bags. If you use the lawn bags, just poke a few holes in them and put them somewhere out of the way.

It does take some time for the leaves to break down and become leaf mold, though, and the speed at which it becomes the crumbly goodness that you want has a lot to do with the size of the leaves in your bin. Mowers help to reduce the size of your leaves, but don’t worry if you don’t have a bagging attachment and are relying on your muscles and a rake to collect them. I’ll show you in the videos below how to break them down really well.

It’s really worth the effort to put your leaves to good use. We have two large 3’x3’x3′ bins dedicated to leaf mold production, and I use every last bit that they hold each year. So if you’ve ever lamented the leaves falling from the trees at this time of year, maybe this will shift your perspective and make autumn a favorite season, too!

Hey friends! Before I go, did you know that I produce a farm calendar every year? I’m taking pre-orders now for the 2020 calendar. You can hop over to the online shop to check it out by clicking here! (And, you know, check out the other goodies there…)

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