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Incredible, Amazing....Leaf Mold

Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2152
Location: FL
    
  52
Leaf mold, leaf mould, duff, humus

I've been giving leaf mold much attention lately. Online information is scarce. It seems to be a terribly overlooked, under appreciated, and especially useful material. I've been meaning to post some notes about leaf mold but it seems like the days are not as long as they used to be, even with setting the clocks.

Leaf mold, quite simply, is rotten leaves. To produce leaf mold, pile up a bunch of leaves and leave them alone. Just leaves, nothing else. It may take a year, maybe 2 if its cold or dry, but eventually they will decay. What you end up with is stable humus. The properties and benefits of using leaf mold are plentiful. I view leaf mold as being as important as compost and mulch. Being free, the price is right, and fits in my budget. It can take time to gather a pile of leaves, but there are plenty of people out there gathering up leaves for me, bagging them up and placing them beside the road in a neat stack-this really saves me a lot of work!

Leaf mold is not the same as compost. Compost is produced by bacterial decomposition. Leaf mold is produced by fungal decomposition. Compost is hot, aerobic, and quick. Leaf mold is cool, slow, and can be produced with little oxygen. This means you don't have to turn it. Where compost needs a variety of ingredients to attain the right carbon to nitrogen ration to feed the bacteria, leaf mold needs only the one ingredient-leaves. Leaves have a CN ratio ranging from 80:1 to 200:1. There is some nitrogen available, but not enough to allow the bacteria population to explode.

Down here in Florida, the state does not recognize the distinction between bacterial and fungal decay. The state's definition of compost includes any and all decomposed organic matter, and it must be sterilized in order to be sold. This is part of the reason why leaf mold is not available commercially. Another factor is the time it takes to produce the stuff. It's a darn shame. The fungus in the leaf mold, when added to the soil, serves as a nutrient superhighway. Sterilizing leaf mold would destroy the fungus. If the state had any idea what is going on, they would make the distinction, and create an entire industry overnight. I've looked high and low for sources of commercial leaf mold, found one in Texas. Where compost prices range from $20 to $35 per cubic yard, the dealer in Texas listed $100 per cuyd. That's 10¢/pound! For leaves! With the drought in Texas, the horse and cow people are buying up hay, driving up prices all over the south. An 800 pound bale used to be $20, now it runs me $40-that's 5¢/pound. The price of hay is through the roof, yet leaf mold is still twice the price.

Soil Conditioner
Leaf mold serves as a soil conditioner rather than a natural fertilizer. It primarily changes the structure of the soil rather than serving nutrient needs. Its the fungus. All the little hairs of the fungus grabbing onto soil particles help to bind loose soil, while at the same time the hyphae helps to break up compact soil. The natural growth habit of the fungus will move from the leaf mold to the surrounding soil in all dimensions. Start with a small area of leaf mold, end up with a greater volume of better soil. Leaf mold will continue to break down until the only thing left is stable humus which will remain in the soil for decades to centuries, taking a fire to destroy it. Until then, the leaf mold is rich in organic components: humic acids, carbohydrates, lipids, and stuff I never heard of. It is complex and impossible to manufacture. As the foundation of the soil ecosystem, there is nothing better.

Water Retention
I've read claims that leaf mold will hold several times it's weight in water. So I checked into it some...
I've been raking up the massive volumes of leaves around here. Some I ran over with a mower to chew into small bits. I sifted some of this material through 1/4" mesh, filled up a trash barrel so I'd have something to experiment with. It's real fine stuff let me tell you. I weighed out 4 ounces of this dry material, enough to fill a 16 ounce drinking cup. This went into a bucket. Weighed the bucket, then added water. The next day I drained off the excess water, weighed it again. The 4 ounces of leaves held 18 ounces of water. It's not a big enough data sampling to be greatly accurate, but it held 4 1/2 times its weight in water. Impressive.

Minerals
NPK values of leaf mold are nothing to write home about. I've seen it listed around 2.2 - .8 - 1.6, or so, depending on the species. What leaf mold brings to the table are minerals. The roots of trees accumulate nutrients from deep in the ground, sending plenty to the leaves. While the nutrients are drawn back into the tree before the leaves are shed, most of the minerals remain as they are part of the leaf structure.

www.composterconnection.com wrote:Pound for pound, the leaves of most tress contain twice the mineral content of manure...And they provide the perfect nutrition for beneficial microbes. In short, they make soil come alive.

For this sandbar of a state I live in, there's not much in the soil. I'll take all the help I can get. Leaves are abundant. With the drought of the last couple of years, the leaves out back are 6 inches deep in some places. The woods around here are a mineral warehouse.


Seed the Mind, Harvest Ideas.
http://farmwhisperer.com
Duncan Dalby


Joined: Jan 22, 2012
Posts: 36
Location: England, Midlands.
Excellent post!

I love leaf mold, we have a friend who's little front garden completely fills up with leafs every autumn. For the last couple of years I have collected it and rotted it down in a big hoop of chicken wire. After a year or so it has turned into beautiful rich black humus, it really improves my heavy clay soil and is always filled with mycelium, worms and other bugs and beasties.
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6495
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
133
Nice thread. Leaf mold is a great soil amendment. For fastest decomposition, leaves need to be in direct contact with the soil.
Urine will greatly speed up the decay...a little nitrogen does wonders for the process.

Here are a couple links regarding leaf mold:

http://www.paghat.com/leafmold.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening/basics/techniques/soil_makeleafmould1.shtml

Peta Schroder


Joined: May 25, 2012
Posts: 62
Location: Australia
Ah, thanks!! A friendly neighbor who has been regularly giving me bags of soiled lucerne for free (lots of vegetarian pets in her home) just popped around with ten huge bags of already decomposed leaf mulch. Apparently it's been sitting around in her backyard causing her grief as she has no time for gardening. I feel like all my Christmases have come at once
wayne stephen
steward

Joined: Mar 11, 2012
Posts: 1566
Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
    
  87
2 easy ways that I have incorporated leaf matter . Mulch around fruit trees , it helps to get that woody matter into the soil and fungal biota started. I also turn some into the garden soil where I will plant potatos. Then the following year they have broken down into soil .


Permaculture is CPR for the planet !


Varina Lakewood


Joined: May 15, 2012
Posts: 116
Location: Colorado
    
    1
Thanks, great info. I copied this post and am going to print it out for my mother. Hopefully it'll make her feel better about the 30ish bags of leaves stacked oddly around the garden, that are being used in place of/in conjunction to regular raw compost.
Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2152
Location: FL
    
  52
John Polk wrote:Nice thread. Leaf mold is a great soil amendment. For fastest decomposition, leaves need to be in direct contact with the soil.
Urine will greatly speed up the decay...a little nitrogen does wonders for the process.


True...however...nitrogen promotes bacterial decomposition. Without the nitrogen, fungal decomposition will be the primary means of decay. The difference is subtle and I'm just starting to get my noggin around it. If I am understanding things correctly, the high lignin content of leaves combined with fungal decomposition produces more humus than the compost process. Lignin is a precursor to humus. It's the humus that serves the soil, increasing the CEC, cation exchange capacity, which plays a significant role in holding available nutrients in the soil. This humification process also sequesters more carbon in the soil than the compost process, which releases it as CO2.

edited for spelling

Peta Schroder


Joined: May 25, 2012
Posts: 62
Location: Australia
Should I sweep up all my leaves and pile them up between the shed and the back fence where it's shady and cold and I have no intention of gardening? There's only a metre width there and obviously it's in permanent shade.
Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2152
Location: FL
    
  52
It would be a way of putting that space to good use.
Mind you, decomposition of wood in the shed wall and fence boards will also be promoted if kept moist and piled high with leaves. Protect your infrastructure.
Victor Johanson


Joined: Oct 18, 2011
Posts: 243
Location: Fairbanks, Alaska
    
  10
I had a big mound of leaf mold in my front yard, and noticed insane germination and astonishing growth of weeds. Lambsquarters grew about seven feet tall! Later on I learned that the fungal decay involved produces gibberellins, and I suspect that's what produced the phenomenon. Since then I've incorporated it into my seedling mixes to good effect.


Vic Johanson

"I must Create a System, or be enslaved by another Man's"--William Blake
Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2152
Location: FL
    
  52
Leaf mold is said to be an excellent substitute for peat moss in potting mix. I used to buy peat moss, about 10 bucks for a compacted bale 1'x1'x2' or so, uncompacted was 3 cubic feet. Finely shredded leaves is also a pretty good substitute, and the price is right.

Wikipedia's gibberish on Gibberellin.

wayne stephen
steward

Joined: Mar 11, 2012
Posts: 1566
Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
    
  87
It is interesting that the Wikipedia article has a picture of a perky little cannabis sprout under the influence of gibberellin. Maybe leaf mold will be the new bat guano and potheads will leave those little bats alone. Leaf matter under fruit trees is the best way to eradicate sod and free ranging chickens will tear it to shreds and get quite a few bug meals from it too. And fertilize the trees.
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
I have always raked the leaves off of the lawn paths into the borders around my property and even off the paths in the woods and left them under the trees, and we have had some pretty severe droughts here in Michigan lately..and the areas that have the leaves piled up and decomposing are seldom dry..even with 2 months with no rain last year..they stayed moist and cool.

My other gardens that had no leaves dried out terribly even the mulch I put on got gobbled up by worms so fast I could hardly keep any on top of the soil ..but in the beds with the leaves piled it was rich, cool, moist.

I am cautious about bringing anything raked up on strangers properties though, as you never know what kinds of chemicals or pet diseases might be in them..i used to bring home leaves from town, but then our maple trees got infected with something that looked like cigarette burns on them and I noticed that it was in the leaves I brought from town..not good..so I don't do that anymore.


Brenda

Bloom where you are planted.
http://restfultrailsfoodforestgarden.blogspot.com/
Nick Garbarino


Joined: Apr 24, 2012
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
Thanks, Ken, for posting. As you pointed out, leaf mold is dominated by fungi, while compost is (usually) dominated by bacteria. Compost made specifically from cow manure has more fungi than most other compost. One can make fungi-dominated compost tea by using leaf mold as an ingredient, which means it is really leaf mold tea. You can also do this by using molded oatmeal as an ingredient. To really boost the bacteria, use fish puree and epsom salt to enhance the breakdown of the fish, releasing lots of nitrogen. You can even make protozoa dominated tea by using fresh grass clippings as an ingredient, but let me get back to my main point which is about how we can use these microherds to manipulate soil pH.

Fungal-dominant microherds in molds, mulch, or teas are more acidic than bacterial dominant microherds. To simplify, I'll call the former fungal innoculant, and the latter bacterial innoculant. If the soil is too alkaline, you can use fungal innoculant to lower the pH. If it is too acidic, use bacterial innoculant.

I use both, depending on what I am growing. Our soil is naturally too acidic for most of our fruit and nut trees and most of the other plants as well. That's because most of those plants are mid-succession species that like the soil pH in the middle range. So, I make bacterial innoculant most of the time. It helps apples, pears, peaches, pecans, etc to adapt to our acidic soil. For acid lovers like blueberry, blackberry, sweet potato, watermelon, basil, rosemary, potato, I use fungal innoculant like leaf mold and molded oatmeal tea.

I think every location has it's own specific challenges and the key is understanding what to do with the soil and climate that you have to work with. Our soil is so acidic, that I felt I had to incorporate some lime for many of our trees. Lime, because the calcium and magnesium are not readily soluble, has a more lasting effect even than bacterial innoculants. We get so much rain during the wet season, a lot of the soil nutrients get washed down through the sand deep beyond the reach of many plants' root systems. I suspect that it will be critical for the deep tap rooted deciduous trees in our food forest like pecan, chestnut, persimmon, paw paw, jujube, and mulberry to get large with very deep roots to capture those nutrients and bring them back to the surface of the soil when they drop their leaves. I'll probably have to import a lot of mulch over the next few years until that happens. I'm glad a lot of people don't value leaves and wood chips and gather them up for me to take for free.

Thanks again for starting this topic.


Certifiable food forest gardener, free gardening advice offered and accepted. Permaculture is the intersection of environmentalsim and agriculture.
Nick Garbarino


Joined: Apr 24, 2012
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
Just after submitting the previous post, I happened to notice my blueberries looking chlorotic. We've had 15-20 inches of rain in the last 3 weeks. I suspect the deluge has washed away nitrogen or raised the soil pH or both. So, I'm now making two batches of leaf mold tea to be applied in 2 days to try to restore some order. I'm also going to add 3 more inches of shredded oak mulch. Several months ago, one of our neighbors made a pile 6 feet high on the side of the road and put a sign in it reading "free mulch". It already has some good fungal micelia. Sometimes things just work out.
Morgan Morrigan


Joined: Oct 16, 2011
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
turns out you need leaf mold to break down the flavinoids in the leaves.
They are antibacterial, so the mold works first, then the bacteria can come in and finish the job


Get involved -Take away the standing of corporations MovetoAmmend.org
Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2152
Location: FL
    
  52
The study continues...

Most tree leaves have a considerable amount of lignin as opposed to grass which has an abundance of cellulose. Bacteria can break down cellulose, but do not produce the enzymes which break down lignin. That's where the fungi come in, in particular, White Rot fungi.
From Wikipedia:
White-rot fungi break down the lignin in wood, leaving the lighter-colored cellulose behind; some of them break down both lignin and cellulose.[2] Because white-rot fungi are able to produce enzymes, such as laccase, needed to break down lignin and other complex organic molecules, they have been investigated for use in mycoremediation applications.

Honey mushroom (Armillaria ssp.) is a white-rot fungus notorious for attacking living trees. Pleurotus ostreatus and other oyster mushrooms are commonly cultivated white-rot fungi,[4] but P. ostreatus is not parasitic and will not grow on a living tree, unless it is already dying from other causes. Other white-rot fungi include the turkey tail, artist's conch, and tinder fungus.


HOW TO MAKE LEAF MOLD
The best video I've found on making leaf mold
Lee Reich, author of The Pruning Book


It doesn't get any easier. Lots of videos out there with ways to speed up the process, but it's a long slow process. What's your hurry?
let's look at some of these speedy ideas:

Shredding
Running over the leaves with a lawn mower will certainly reduce the size of the leaves. Maybe it will knock a few months off the decomp time. It's still going to take a year or two. All that effort, plus the fuel, plus the noise and air pollution does not offer significant gain. Wait for it, the leaves will rot if you don't do a thing other than pile them up.

Watering
Without question, a moist pile will decompose faster. However, the volume of water needed to moisten a pile of leaves can be considerable. For every pound of leaves, another half pound (half pint) of water adds up pretty quick when you have a ton of leaves piled up. If you want to run a pump and stand there with a hose for a couple of hours, thats up to you. The rain will get them wet, and they will hold on to much of that water for quite some time. Letting nature do the work will get the job done in good time. No need to check on the moisture in the pile, it will get there when its ready.

Turning
Not needed.
A pile of leaves that is never turned or aerated will decompose just fine. Time saved is questionable.
Leave em be.

Adding Greens
This does not speed up the process, it CHANGES the process. Instead of leaf mold, you will have compost. There is some cellulose in the leaves which will compost, but you are creating conditions to promote the bacteria. The fungi will break it down if you let it, and will produce more humus out of the same amount of cellulose than the bacteria will. If you want to make compost, go ahead, but it will be compost, not leaf mold.
Just leaves, nothing else.

Shade
This works. A pile of leaves kept in the sun will dry out faster than the same pile kept in the shade. Moisture is your friend.

Fence
This certainly helps keep the leaves contained, and may be worth the effort, particularly in densely settled residential areas. If you've got some extra fence around, go for it. If you go with a fence, consider having the center of the heap lower than the sides to promote water collection. Instead of a domed heap, think donut topped heap.

In my opinion, no additional work needs to go into making leaf mold. If you want to put in more effort, I think it would be best spent gathering more leaves.
With the fall leaf season about to come upon us in the northern hemisphere, now is a good time to think about adding a leaf mold project to your endless list of chores. All you have to do is pile them up in an out of the way spot and walk away. Check it from time to time, get a feel for how the process works. When the time is right, put it to use. Spread it on your lawn, rake it in, Mulch your plants. Use it in your potting soil. Dig a 2-3" layer into part of your garden beds and observe the results. Chances are you'll be wishing you had gathered a whole lot more of those leaves.

Try it. What have you go to lose? Don't cost nothing.

David Williams


Joined: Feb 14, 2013
Posts: 131
This is an awesome topic , and everyone's input is appreciated i think many of you have hit the nail on the head with many of the idea's , I'd just like to take this time to highlight some important uses
that may add to others repertoire firstly , here is a link to a leaf fence http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3a6uh-Tht4w these are great and take up a small foot print , leads me to my second use , they make awesome winter heating for greenhouses , they generate nice heat, cheap and reliably , in the video linked you see them filling up tubes and then putting those together as a screen along the back wall i call "candles" and here is why .. on the first candle i place some bacteria filled grass clippings , the white moldy sections especially as it's filled with "azotobacter" , this feeds nitrogen into the leaf mold and increase it's growth rate of the fungi making the first candle warmer and decompose more quickly, this then inoculates the second candle in the chain within a few weeks to a month, and in turn the third and so on... This process allows the fungi to work over the winter months allowing good breakdown, and the bacteria to work like a "fuse" , this achieves 3 things , 1 makes compost at a steady rate , 2 allows enuff heat to sterilize the biomass of disease and 3rdly to heat a greenhouse at an even and constant temperature, and as an optional extra , have seen people posting use as a shower heater or aquaponics heater if plumbed up for such a purpose ... by the end of winter you have had all the leaf litter broken down to compost , have heated the aquaponics/greenhouse, sterilized any disease , reduced the carbon in the atmosphere , and increased the health of your gardens .... for such little effort , and easy to acquire , seems odd it hasnt caught on quicker
Peace and love Dave oxoxox
Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2152
Location: FL
    
  52
I've been laid up for the best part of the last two weeks with a bad back. Being a ceaseless entrepreneur, and keeping a sharp eye on early retirement, I have to wonder what sort of market is out there. I've been able to take the time to develop a process for producing the stuff commercially, from harvest through packaging. I can make it in huge volume with municipal leaves, although there are some potential contaminants, most of which I am able to separate. Alternately, I can make it with woodland leaves, albeit with a higher collection cost. Once gathered it's a waiting game for a while. It then needs to be screened, dried, and packaged. I've got a pretty good handle on the How. The question remains: Is this a marketable product?

Leaf mold production takes a lot of time. Taking up a bunch of space on small residential lots may not appeal to some folks. Some folks live in areas with very few trees. Home production may not be practical, even in areas with an abundance of trees. Plenty of people understand compost, but do they understand the difference between compost and leaf mold?

I've found one source in Texas charging $10.50/sack (40-50#?). By the yard he charges about 3 times the price of compost, with a minimum order which would require several large dump trucks.

POLL QUESTIONS
If you could buy leaf mold, would you?
40 pound sacks?
By the cubic yard?
David Williams


Joined: Feb 14, 2013
Posts: 131
Make up a business card with a web link , and set up a page advertising your business with FAQ and a description of your product , and the differences between it and compost, make various sized "bags" or batches and see which you sell the most of.... Test the waters for a market before going head long into it , tho i am sure if done well should be well supported
Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2152
Location: FL
    
  52
I'm confident that I can market the product just fine, at least on the local level. I'm wondering if it is worth the effort. I suspect that it is, but I need to do my homework lest I delude myself.

This location has a disadvantage in that I am surrounded by laurel forest.
A particular aspect of a laurel forest is leaves high in tannins. That's why the Suwannee is a blackwater river. It will slow decomposition and produce a strong acid leaf mold. On the plus side, the soil is poor. It's downright awful. There should be great demand if people knew about it. I've had outstanding results using it here.

Last year I went north over the Thanksgiving holiday. Growing up, I gave no second thought to the piles of leaves people rake to the curb in the fall. Now I see it as a resource. I did some checking. The city I grew up in, Bangor Maine, collects over 5 million pounds of leaves. It's a little more each year as the city continues to grow. Other towns gather less, some more. I've seen cities with 30 million pounds of leaves collected in a season.

That's a lot of leaves.

Some cities compost them. A few even use them as fuel. There are towns all over the place that still take them to the landfill. This is a vast resource going to waste that could be utilized. Granted, there would be debris and contaminants in city collected leaves. I can deal with debris, but there is little I can do with chemical contaminants. Fortunately there is not a lot of spraying of trees. There was the Dutch Elm Disease back in the 70s. I've not checked into preventive measures being undertaken for the Ash Borer blight going on now. Yard contaminants would be mitigated by the fact that most of the lawn care season came to an end well before the leaves dropped. Then there's the stuff in the road along the gutter and curb. It's gets sucked up by vac trucks right along with the leaves. Decay time will help to some degree with volatile compounds, but it's nothing I'd want to put on my vegetables. There are towns which only gather leaves in biodegradable bags. This keeps the leaves out of the nasty gutter, and back into the realm of something I'd accept on my vegetables. Can I get a contract to do the leaf collecting? That adds another income stream and a whole new dimension to the project.

The best leaves come right out of the forest. Untreated, uncontaminated, very little debris. Consideration must be given to Is the forest floor a resource? I think harvesting forest floors of leaf litter on occasion is warranted from a fire prevention view.
It's not like I'd be clearing a county wide area. 5000 sacks at the $10.50 price I referenced above would send me into retirement. Figure 5-20 acres.




John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6495
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
133
Last autumn, I was checking out Craig's List Freebies section.
I saw 2 different people offering 100+ bags each.
Another 3-4 were saying 80-100 bags full. These were predominantly maple leaves.

It was in a city about an hours drive away, but I would need to go there 2-3 times a year anyway, so I would just schedule my winter shopping run at the peak of raking season. Tow a horse trailer to town, and come home with treasure !

Dale Hodgins
pollinator

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 3770
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
    
  53
I believe that 10 cents a pound is more than fair. With proper planning, there's no reason to ever gather leaves for free. Landscapers generally have to pay to dump their organic waste. Much of that is going to be leaves. I'd check out the ones who don't use sprays. That is most of them here, but I suspect that Florida is less progressive.

For anyone living near a town of any size, there is a real possibility of having all of your garden nutrients and firewood delivered to your door by landscapers who pay a fee.
I found a landscaper who needs to dispose of tree waste regularly. I'm willing to accept any species that are not conifers. After piles sit for a short time, the leaves fall off. The wood can be chopped up to feed the rocket stove and the leaves composted. Most of mine will feed hugelkultur mounds.

I have space to allow him to store a trailer and some tools. By making my place his storage lot, I've built in an incentive to choose my place over the wood dump which is a little less distance for him. We've talked about $25 per pickup load.

QUOTES FROM MEMBERS --- In my veterinary opinion, pets should be fed the diet they are biologically designed to eat. Su Ba...The "redistribution" aspect is an "Urban Myth" as far as I know. I have only heard it uttered by those who do not have a food forest, and are unlikely to create one. John Polk ...Even as we sit here, wondering what to do, soil fungi are degrading the chemicals that were applied. John Elliott ... O.K., I originally came to Permies to talk about Rocket Mass Heaters RMHs, and now I have less and less time in my life, and more and more Good People to Help ! Al Lumley...I think with the right use of permie principles, most of Wyoming could be turned into a paradise. Miles Flansburg... Then you must do the pig's work. Sepp Holzer
Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2152
Location: FL
    
  52
The problem with landscapers is their use of artificial treatments and soil amendments. The waste material can be had for free, but I would be supporting the continued use of chemical additives by immediately saving them dump fees. I've gone so far as to consider starting up a lawn cleanup service in order to get the leaves before they hit the nasty gutter. I'd be able to segregate grass from yards where chems are used and clean yards. Trimmings, branches and woody debris can be useful, as well as the volume of grass clippings if I moved into the mowing end. The potential volume of salvageable materials that can also be accumulated in such an endeavor should not be overlooked.

I've contacted a couple of tree services in an attempt to secure wood chips. Only a mile away from me is Skunkie Acres, an animal rescue and sanctuary operated by this sweet little old lady. She'd been around longer than me and has long ago contacted those same tree services. She gets the wood chips, uses them as bedding. I can't compete with a smile and cookies! I've taken the bedding from the place, but the animals are treated for disease, infection, medical conditions and worms. The resulting litter is so contaminated the spot where I shoveled off the trailer is just now starting to come in green after being a dead spot for the last 3 years.

Lots of directions this can all go. I can get good help. Focusing on the leaves is a fine start. Down here some trees drop leaves in the fall, some drop in the spring. Up north, it's all at once and when the snow falls, it's over. I'll keep an eye on Craig's List. It's hard to be a leaf thief when there are no neighbors.
Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2152
Location: FL
    
  52
It's leaf season.
Get yourselves a few tons of leaves while the gettin is good.
John Elliott
pollinator

Joined: May 08, 2013
Posts: 1978
Location: Augusta, GA
    
  61
Ken Peavey wrote:It's leaf season.
Get yourselves a few tons of leaves while the gettin is good.


I got a brand new bagging lawn mower, on sale, because this is the "end" of the mowing season. If I were to rename a "lawn mower" for its main purpose, I would call it a "mulching yard vacuum". I'm now busy building up the hugelbeds that have compacted over the summer, with bags and bags of new mulch.
Juan Sebastian Estrada


Joined: Aug 14, 2013
Posts: 7
Great post, lots of valuable info.

We recently bought a small piece of land (about 1/2 acre) to build a country house in the future. It has a few neglected trees (1 apple, some guavas) and a full grown avocado tree which has been fortunate to receive all of the leaves from the property in the past (mostly from fencing trees and some grass from mowing, however it is not a lot) so it is the only tree in good condition. Our nieghbor recently cut down a tree because its roots were giving him problems, and i got all of the leaves and small branches (he will keep the wood) which are now piled up (several cubic meters of material, probably with a lot of air inside because it is not just leaves but branches as well); I was planning to just let them be and wait until they decomposed but I would really like to speed up the process so I can have some material to add to the other trees which are in bad shape. At first I thought of getting some manure to help it compost but now I'm thinking of inoculating it with some leaf mold tea that I could make with the already decomposed leaves around the avocado tree, do you think this will help speed up the decomposition process in any way?
John Elliott
pollinator

Joined: May 08, 2013
Posts: 1978
Location: Augusta, GA
    
  61
Juan Sebastian Estrada wrote: but I would really like to speed up the process


Time to go on a mushroom hunt! Oak trees are the best ones to look under. Oaks are very dependent on mycorrhizal fungi, so after a heavy rain, almost all healthy oak trees will have a flush of mushrooms under them. Collect those and crumble them on your piled up leaves and branches and get them well inoculated with fungi. That's what will speed up the process.
Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2152
Location: FL
    
  52
Juan Sebastian Estrada wrote:I would really like to speed up the process


Inoculation with leaf mold tea will help. You would be increasing the fungi population as well as the moisture in the heap. Moisture looks to be the critical factor. A dry heap, even well innoculated and teeming with spores will be slow to decompose. As with compost, the material needs to be about as damp as a wrung out sponge. This is around a 25% moisture level. For a pound of leaves this requires around a quarter pound of water. A heap of several cubic meters will take a lot of water.

There is nothing wrong with using those leaves now. Shovel em up, spread around your trees. They'll decompose wherever they are. Worms and bugs will move the leaves into the soil and the soil into the leaves.
Juan Sebastian Estrada


Joined: Aug 14, 2013
Posts: 7
Ken Peavey wrote:

Inoculation with leaf mold tea will help. You would be increasing the fungi population as well as the moisture in the heap. Moisture looks to be the critical factor. A dry heap, even well innoculated and teeming with spores will be slow to decompose. As with compost, the material needs to be about as damp as a wrung out sponge. This is around a 25% moisture level. For a pound of leaves this requires around a quarter pound of water. A heap of several cubic meters will take a lot of water.

There is nothing wrong with using those leaves now. Shovel em up, spread around your trees. They'll decompose wherever they are. Worms and bugs will move the leaves into the soil and the soil into the leaves.


Thanks, I will try it. I'm not concerned about moisture, it is rainy season here and we should have around 400 mm of rain in the following couple of months and even in dryer months there is always some rain, so that will take care of moisture. Will also try to look for mushrooms to add to the heap, but there is not a lot of forest around.
Nick Kitchener


Joined: Sep 24, 2012
Posts: 333
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
    
    6
This fall I'm going to run an experiment and document it somewhere in permies...

We have access to a large suburban growing area (roughly 8m X 5m). Every fall, there is a city wide leaf collection where the city picks up leaves and hauls them to the landfill.

A friend and I will drive around and collect bags of leaves for making leaf mulch for our gardens.

My friend has done this before, and instead of making a pile of leaves, he simply dumps them directly into his garden a few feet thick, wets them down and covers them with a tarp for the winter. Apparently, by spring time, the worms etc has consumed the leaves and he's left with a few inches of rich humus.

The area I intend to repeat this process in is too large for my tarps, and I'd need to buy quite a bit of plastic sheeting to cover this area, so I'm going to try and experiment with a thin layer of newspaper (Yes, I know newspaper is a contentious topic... I'll avoid the glossy stuff). I'll spread the leaves over my garden, we them down, cover them with a single sheet of newspaper and wet that down.

I am hoping that the newspaper will form a crust over the leaves, so that they won't blow away in the wind. We get snow here and by December, the snow stays on the ground so this only has to last a few weeks until the snow layer builds up.

Hopefully when spring comes, I'll have a nice layer of rich mulch to work with.
Adam Colbenson


Joined: Nov 06, 2013
Posts: 8
If you're looking to optimize the soil under your tree, and get rid of your leaves every year, here's your solution: Use the leaves (shredded or whole) as mulch under the trees they came from. (Warning: for leaf transmitted diseases). Leaf decomposition (leaf mold) is literally the best thing for trees ever. Forget fertilizing, forget foreign compost, every nutrient the tree needs from the soil, is returned through composition to the soil, from the leaves. It's like the spider that eats her own web to provide the nutrients for her new web. Forget that turf, dedicate the area under your tree, to your tree, in the form of a leaf mold pile of previous years leaves. Yeah it's not aesthetically perfect, but it is naturally perfect.
Adam
Nick Kitchener


Joined: Sep 24, 2012
Posts: 333
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
    
    6
I scrapped the newspaper idea. I'm sure it will just blow away once it dries, and previously wet newspaper tends to shed water.

I picked up 175 garbage bags full of leaves earlier in the week and with a frontal system on the way through, I spread it out on the garden for a good 24 hours of rain.

I added some chicken manure on top as well.

Once the front has passed, I'll cover with tarps.
Matthew Fallon


Joined: Jan 07, 2010
Posts: 307
Location: long island, ny Z-7a
    
    1
ive been collecting leaves for years at first i just grabbed peoples leaf bags.but quicky upgraded to deliveries fron my neighbors landcapers. i just had about 9 cubic yards of mostly chopped leaves dumped lat week. i posted a video of the dumptruck filling the entire driveway. it is on my garden facebook page below. i cant link with my kindle.

over the past three years I've received at least 50 yards of leaves and grass from them. i also take tons of woodchips from a local tree guy too. full lofs for milling also. i iust wish i had more space and direct access for them to dump where i ned to store it..i have to wheelbarrow it 200' through gates and around beds into back compost corner and wherever im spreading it. the leaves also blanket all my beds and I'll water in and cover with black tarp. im going to buy cheap recycled billboard vinyl black on backside and custom cut to my beds to break it down faster. ive used black landscape fabric too but it gets tattered from sun and wind. the billboard stuff has UV inhibitors and is very thick.


Baldwin Organic Garden Share  Our home-based garden cooperative.  Tribal Wind Arts Rustic Furniture  & Artisan-Craftwork from reclaimed suburban trees
Johnny Niamert


Joined: Nov 08, 2013
Posts: 268
Location: Colo
    
    4
How much effort do each of you put into concerning thoughts about synthetic pesticide/herbicide residue on leaves?

When I was "curb-collecting" I would usually look for an obviously non-synthetic looking lawn from which to procure. I'm on my way to collect some leaf from a 'conventional' orchard. The owner is very friendly and let me take hardwood cuttings of whatever I wanted. We got to talking and he mentioned how he has trouble getting rid of so many leaves. I offered to take them, and he said come by anytime. My only concern, I know he sprays and don't want to concentrate anything in my organic soil.
Matthew Fallon


Joined: Jan 07, 2010
Posts: 307
Location: long island, ny Z-7a
    
    1
i asked my guy and he says they only spray a litle hrbicide in sidewalk cracks, nothing broadcast.a little fertilizer in early spring. with leaves i worry even less.maybe im being naive but i feel the massive amount i take in anyything someone may have sprayed like a weed here or there will be very diluted and hopefully biodegrade or wash out.
Nick Kitchener


Joined: Sep 24, 2012
Posts: 333
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
    
    6
Luckily for me, spays are banned in the city (including the city workers), so the leaves I get have not been sprayed. The trees are poplar, maple, big trees like that so nobody would think of spraying them anyway. Fruit trees are different I would think.

I use my own grass clippings and I know they haven't been sprayed, and technically, no grass clippings in the city should have any chemical residue on them. However, I know that some people apply insecticide to their lawns regardless of the laws... Not many, but some.
Nick Kitchener


Joined: Sep 24, 2012
Posts: 333
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
    
    6
Matthew Fallon wrote:ive been collecting leaves for years at first i just grabbed peoples leaf bags.but quicky upgraded to deliveries fron my neighbors landcapers. i just had about 9 cubic yards of mostly chopped leaves dumped lat week. i posted a video of the dumptruck filling the entire driveway. it is on my garden facebook page below. i cant link with my kindle.

over the past three years I've received at least 50 yards of leaves and grass from them. i also take tons of woodchips from a local tree guy too. full lofs for milling also. i iust wish i had more space and direct access for them to dump where i ned to store it..i have to wheelbarrow it 200' through gates and around beds into back compost corner and wherever im spreading it. the leaves also blanket all my beds and I'll water in and cover with black tarp. im going to buy cheap recycled billboard vinyl black on backside and custom cut to my beds to break it down faster. ive used black landscape fabric too but it gets tattered from sun and wind. the billboard stuff has UV inhibitors and is very thick.


Nice pics on your facebook page!

I got into trouble this fall with the amount of leaves I collected. I followed the Geoff Lawton law of application:
Apply as much as you dare, double it, then add a bit more.

I'm expecting to take the tarps off the garden beds in 5 months to find 3 ft of leaves still on top of my soil...

I still have about 75 garbage bags full sitting around because I couldn't physically pile the leaves any higher. This better work :-S
Matthew Fallon


Joined: Jan 07, 2010
Posts: 307
Location: long island, ny Z-7a
    
    1
last week
i get 6 or more of these each year, leaves in fall ,grass at other times.
Nick Kitchener


Joined: Sep 24, 2012
Posts: 333
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
    
    6
6 of those?? So what happens to them? It looks like you have about 1/4 acre and these leaves are stored in a big heap. Do the worms just deal to them rapidly?

I'm worried because it won't go above freezing here until late march. Typical daytime temps will be between -10 and -18 C for the next 3 months straight. Everyone local is telling me that the ground will freeze solid regardless of the 3 ft of leaves and plastic cover.

I'm hoping that the insulation will be enough to keep the soil biology active. We got a couple of -20 C days the other week after some rain, and the ground froze hard as a rock. But even in the edge of the garden where there is only a thin covering of leaves, the ground was soft with no sign of frost so I have hope

Oh, I forgot to ask about your Amaranth Pilsner? How'd that go? Can you elaborate? Did you malt the seed?

I acquired some old barley varieties from the gene bank last spring with a view to eventually brewing with it. One of them is Morovian Hana.
 
 
subject: Incredible, Amazing....Leaf Mold
 
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