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The composting of backyard greenery and brown twiggy material from bushes to make organic compost is becoming more widespread as people are more environmentally conscious. Increasing numbers of amateur gardeners are discovering the value to the soil in their yards of giving back some of what has grown out of it. This includes leaf composting. Putting the leaf vacuum/mulcher to work in the Fall and composting the chopped up leaves to make leaf mold is an important part of this.

What to Compost this Fall

This article is being written in September, so in the northern hemisphere we’re beginning to prepare for Fall and then Winter. There will be considerable amounts of plant material to clear out of the garden. Annuals will be dying off soon if they haven’t done so already. Perennials will be preparing to sleep for the winter and in many cases the above-ground greenery will die back and can be taken away. Deciduous shrubs will lose their leaves and be ready for trimming back. In other words there’s a great variety of both green and brown material ready to be composted.

The vegetable garden will also contribute its share. In my own garden I’ve been growing runner beans this year to go in the freezer for use during the winter. After taking off the last of several crops there will be a six-feet high “wall” of green to go in the compost bin. And that’s just a start.

And don’t forget leaf composting in the Fall. We’ve more on that in the remainder of this article.

Composting Leaves To Get Lovely Leaf Mold

I started by referring to the time of year. Of course one aspect of the Fall is that leaves fall off trees. (Surprise! Surprise!) You might be tempted to compost them all, and that’s a great idea. BUT, don’t put them all in your main compost bin. A few will be alright, but the majority of your leaf fall should be gathered together in a separate wire frame (chicken wire is ideal) to rot down into beautiful leaf mold for next (or maybe the following) year’s mulching. Leaf mold is great for adding structure to the soil even though it doesn’t have the level of nutrients to be found in a typical general compost.

The normal organic compost bin contains vegetable matter of many kinds – grass cuttings, prunings, stalks and leaves from flower beds and borders, and much more. Leaf mold, however, is a sort of compost produced only from the leaves of trees. True, some tree leaves can be added to the main garden compost bin in modest quantities, especially those with soft tissue that will easily rot. Most tree leaves compost much more slowly than other green garden vegetation and it is better to deal with them with separately so that they can decompose at their slower speed.

Leaf mold, then, takes longer to produce than typical garden compost. I have found in my gardens that for best results it has been necessary to wait until the second summer after collecting leaves in the Fall, although this probably varies with climate. Deciduous leaves break down quicker than those from coniferous trees and the latter are best used either in small amounts or separately to allow them longer to rot.

Collecting and Comnposting Leaves

If you own or have access to a leaf mulcher (a leaf vacuum with a built-in shredder) this can be a great help in speeding up the decomposition. Another way of achieving a similar result is to sweep leaves into a pile and go over them with a power lawn mower. Don’t shred them too finely, however, or when there’s a wind they will blow away as dust through the sides of the leaf cage. This can be a problem with some models of leaf mulcher.

Some of these shredded leaves from the leaf vacuum/mulcher can be mixed into the normal compost bin – more than would be the case with full leaves. The bulk, though, should go into a separate leaf mold cage. Some people recommend packing the leaves into black plastic sacks. In the past I did this but in recent years have found that I get better results with an open wire mesh cage in a quiet corner of the garden.

Using Your Leaf Mold

Whereas garden compost is nutrient-rich this is not the case with leaf mold. It serves as a conditioner, and not as a source of plant food. Both moisture and nutrient retention in the soil can be greatly improved. Furthermore, when it is seived its low nutrient levels make it an excellent medium in which to grow young seedlings, and a 50-50 mix with rich organic compost is great for many plants in containers.

Planning For This Year’s Leaf Composting

So when the Fall comes this year make sure you collect the leaves. Don’t burn them or dump them but put them to good use in future years. In fact maybe its already time to be planning for the year’s leaf composting, constructing a new leaf mold cage, and checking that your leaf vacuum/mulcher is in good working order.

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