Making leaf mould

Posted: Monday 19 November 2012
by James Alexander-Sinclair

Once autumn leaves have become soggy and less fun to jump on, do not put them in the bin. It is easy to transform them into rich brown, crumbly compost.

Fallen leaves

It is autumn: no argument. Even the most blinkered observer cannot fob us off with “the last remnants of summer” or suchlike stuff. The leaves are turning or gone, and there are moments when the temperature definitely edges towards a bit parky.

So what is this season all about? Mists? Hot soup? Dark afternoons? Chestnuts? Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor? All of these, but for me it has to be fallen leaves. Millions upon millions upon millions of leaves are scattered across our streets, fields and gardens. They gather in great drifts in corners and against hedges, they skitter across lawns and float down from high branches. 

All these leaves bring a number of benefits. First, they are fun. Everybody, no matter how old, enjoys shuffling through dead leaves. Even better is falling into the great crinkly pile of newly raked leaves. My children used to enjoy being buried in leaves and then leaping out and surprising a passing grandparent. We also spent many hours trying to catch a falling leaf - something that is surprisingly difficult to do. Now, of course, they are too old for such simple amusements, so I have to play on my own when nobody is watching.

But once the leaves have become a bit soggy and less fun to jump on, then what? I’ll tell you what not to do: do not put them in the bin. Autumn leaves are an unbelievably useful source of humus for the garden. They add both body and oomph to your soil, and they are free.

It is really easy to transform leaves into a rich brown, crumbly compost. If you have a conventional compost heap, then chuck them in with everything else, although don’t swamp the heap with leaves. As always with compost, aim for a good mixture.

If you have lots of leaves, then you can easily make a cage out of wire netting into which the leaves can be piled. If you are a bit short of space, then you can shovel the leaves into bin bags, knot the tops and pile them up behind the shed. Stab the bags with a fork a few times to let some air in, otherwise the contents will go all slimy and horrible. (And by ‘stab’, I don’t mean launch a frenzied attack, just a few holes will do the trick.)

If all this talk of raking and gathering has struck dread into your heart, then don't worry, there is a lazy option. Let the leaves stay where they are and they will rot happily on their own (helped by eager worms). It will look a bit scruffy, but that doesn’t really matter much in the greater scheme of things. 

If you can bear it though, it would be better to get them off the lawn.

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oldchippy 19/11/2012 at 20:43

Hi James,We get about 3 charity bags a week for old clothes ,So I double them up and fill them with leaves so far I have 6 bags full with more leaves to fall I should have about 8 in all,come the summer I then add them to my compost bins, by this time they have started to break down mixed with glass cuttings they make a good compost mix. Oldchippy.

plant crazy 19/11/2012 at 22:02

We have collected our leaves into a pile and then using the suction on the leaf blower have shredded the leaves and put them into hessian sacks which we bought from the RHS especially for this purpose - they are not too expensive and the leaves get air, keep damp and make leaf mould more quickly.

Mary Weager 20/11/2012 at 11:37

We don't have many leaves in our garden but love using leaf mould so I put a request for leaves on our local Freecycle.                                                                           We now have more bags of leaves than we could ever have collected! So this time next year should have loads of lovely brown, crumbly leaf mould.

Alan4711 20/11/2012 at 21:38

hi James i want to know what you get from Glass cuttings and we too get those so called charity bags through the door,and we do same as you,most of these companies are on the fiddle anyway, im in the cemetary on Saturday getting more bags full so good luck  all with all that mould 

flowering rose 21/11/2012 at 17:10

as long as you dont put the bag of leaves out for the charity!

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