We bring leaves home by the truckload to make leaf mold and to use as mulch in our gardens.
Who knew building super soil could be free and easy! The only ingredient required are leaves and they are falling to the ground now and waiting for you.
The Gift of Grandpa Ziegler
The #1 question I get is “how did you build that super soil on your farm?” My reply is always the same “Grandpa Ziegler made and used leaf mold for 80 years before I got here.”
That leaf mold Grandpa added to the soil is a big reason that we have to do little irrigating. My farm is a living testimony on the many benefits of leaf mold. It has increased the moisture retention and improved the soil structure beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Leaf mold literally ushered me into becoming a flower farmer–it was just so easy to grow here.
Our beautiful garden soil is a result of years of leaf mold, compost, and cover cropping.
What is Leaf Mold?
Leaf mold is nothing more than composted leaves. It is a soil conditioner that creates amazing soil habitat for all the good things you want in soil–earthworms and good bacteria to name just a few.
Compost differs from leaf mold. Compost provides nutrition and improves soil texture. While leaf mold provides a super soil conditioner that builds structure but with little nutrition. Soil structure is so important and is often forgotten.
Both compost and leaf mold play important roles in the garden working together. On my farm, they have built the strong foundation that my organic garden stands on to help plants fight disease and pests.
We are serious about collecting leaves. We go out in 2 trucks and call in help to make the job easier.
Here’s the easy part— it is virtually labor free to make leaf mold! Most everyone is already gathering leaves or you can just drive around and pick up bags. Your neighbors most often have gathered, bagged and set curbside for the trash collector. ( Be still my heart–I can’t understand why folks throw away garden gold!)
The first step to building soil–having cages ready to fill with leaves that will sit for about 1 year to become leaf mold.
How to Make Leaf Mold
- Wire fencing
- Wire cutter
The simplest method is to use a piece of wire fencing, at least 36 inches tall, 48 inches is my favorite. Make the wire piece as long as needed to make a circle that is at least 36 inches in diameter, wider is better if you have room. Cut and bend the wire ends to secure the cage.
Fill the wire cage with leaves. Watering the caged leaves as you fill to provide moisture. If the cage is in the sun, cover with a tarp to help retain moisture.
How long does it take?
Your only job while it cooks is to check the pile for moisture. Add water if dry. It will take 6 months to a year for the crumbly, rich leaf mold to get ready to use. The finished leaf mold is a rich, sweet smelling crumbly black soil like product.
To speed the process, run a lawnmower over the leaves before adding them to the cage. Smaller pieces breakdown faster.
Using Leaf Mold
Finished leaf mold can be incorporated into the soil like compost and maybe use as a mulch that your garden will love! It is also excellent in containers as it improves moisture retention.
Anyone that has access to leaves and a small spot in the garden for a leaf cage can make leaf mold. If you don’t do another outdoor chore this fall or winter–do this! It’s the number one best thing you can do for your garden.
P.S. Your hydrangeas are giddy with excitement just thinking of leaf mold mulch!
Save every leaf you can!
Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable gardening. You can email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org , call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her website www.shoptgw.com .
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