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How to use fall leaves on your homestead

 
Posts: 26
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I had great experiences gathering up leaves from the fall and using them on beds.

I let the leaves overwinter on my raised beds. In the spring, I poked around casually, and found worms galore partying just beneath the surface.

A bit later in spring, in about April, I noticed lots and lots of spiders making families.

I planted directly in the leaves. I dug little nooks for my plants and dropped them right in, then put leaf cover back around them. The herbs and vegetables that I placed in that environment have grown great. I have not watered any of the leaf-mulched plants at all.

It's starting to become summer and I have noticed mosquitoes and gnats in the leaves, and some ant colonies sprung up near my house in the leaves (the ants started coming into the house, which I didn't like.)

All in all I heartily recommend this method. I do advise a mix of different leaf types, and not to use a big majority of oak leaves (I think my neighbor has a giant oak), as I noticed oak leaves take a long time to break down.
 
pioneer
Posts: 105
Location: Southeast Missouri
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Our property is 95% oak and hickory.  As we have been clearing areas to build we have been piling the leaves in an area that I isolated using T-posts and chicken wire.  The leaves have been decomposing quite nicely, and we turn it from time to time as we pile more leaves in.  My Mother in Law swears we are making a big mistake to use all those leaves because the tannin in the oak leaves will turn our garden too acidic to grow anything.  She insists we need to burn the leaves and stick to using a "regular" fertilizer like everyone else does.  From what I've read, the tannins are leached out by rain and broken down by some micro-organisms and pose no threat to the garden.  The biggest issue I can see is that oak leaves are slow to decompose so you have to be patient while they compost.

My MIL won't say anything further about it to me, but she loves to lecture my wife about how I'm going to ruin our garden area if she doesn't stop me from my fool's errand.  What say the good folks at Permies?
 
gardener & author
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Bob Gallamore wrote:Our property is 95% oak and hickory.  As we have been clearing areas to build we have been piling the leaves in an area that I isolated using T-posts and chicken wire.  The leaves have been decomposing quite nicely, and we turn it from time to time as we pile more leaves in.  My Mother in Law swears we are making a big mistake to use all those leaves because the tannin in the oak leaves will turn our garden too acidic to grow anything.  She insists we need to burn the leaves and stick to using a "regular" fertilizer like everyone else does.  From what I've read, the tannins are leached out by rain and broken down by some micro-organisms and pose no threat to the garden.  The biggest issue I can see is that oak leaves are slow to decompose so you have to be patient while they compost.

My MIL won't say anything further about it to me, but she loves to lecture my wife about how I'm going to ruin our garden area if she doesn't stop me from my fool's errand.  What say the good folks at Permies?



I'm pretty sure those oak leaves, once they break down pretty well into leaf mold, won't have anything problematic for the garden, but I'd love to know if you've used them yet, or what happened.
 
steward & bricolagier
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Bob Gallamore: If it ends up acidic, plant blueberries!
 
gardener
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My goats think of them as 'free doritos, raining down, like manna'!
 
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I use the brown paper bags full I gather on my way around town like Lego's. My recent and top favorite has been the last 2 years they went around the veg garden fence, outside the fence perimeter laid so they are bottom to the fence sticking out, side by side the whole way around...if that makes sense...this has been an incredible bunny deterrent!!! I have had zero bunnies digging under the fence. For one, they can't see the plants, for two, the fence is now 3' wide. Works amazing, totally free. It made wonderful deep mulch and this fall I planted sterile comfrey in it, which should have the same effect with even less work. Plus it gives them something to eat as well, I do love bunnies.
 
gardener
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Last spring I built a raised tomato bed. The project took longer than expected, so I didn't get as many ripe tomatoes as I would have liked, but we had a *very* wet September, so I had to cut and compost the tomato plants before they picked up anything nasty. I didn't have anything to get planted in that bed and didn't want to leave the dirt open to the rain, so I covered it in a thick layer of Wisteria leaves, followed by some big sheets of packing paper weighed down to stop the leaves from blowing.

I don't know how it will look come the spring, but I'm worried I'll have grown a good crop of slugs. I'm hoping I can get some fencing set up so that I can move my "FLFC's" (Front Lawn Fertilization Committee - AKA Khaki Campbell Ducks) to the area around the raised bed. Today the FLFC's were quacking around the pear tree and they seemed to be finding things they liked to eat there, so I think they will be very helpful with the tomato bed.
 
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Location: Texas
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Many years ago I read somewhere that trees absorb nutrients from the soil and use them to make leaves and to grow in general. Which is correct.  When leaves fall, they are basically returning the nutrients to the soil by breaking down and decomposing.  Now a certain amount of gasses (O2, etc.) are liberated to the atmosphere by the decomposition process, but most of the nutrients that the tree absorbed from the ground remains in the leaves.

So to me, burning them is an extremely wasteful way of handling a valuable organic material.  I have a lot of trees; various oaks, gum, tupelo, ash, winged elm, and lots of pine.

In August, the pines start shedding their old needles so new ones can grow and replace them. I rake these up covetously for use as mulch for flower beds and under shrubs. I lay it on thick, like 5 or 6" and press it down. After it's rained on several times it settles and makes a very nice mulch that does not break down quickly in our wet winter or hot wet springs and summers. Pine needle mulch looks very nice. It is a natural part of the scenery, and not something alien like that awful red dyed mulch people love to use.

About the time the pines are through shedding, leaves begin to fall so I then have a mixture of leaves and pine needles. Some of it gets used to fill in any gaps in mulching, but a large portion of it gets raked up and moved to the vegetable gardens and tilled under in the fall. Immediately after tilling the leaves under I top plant with winter rye which grows all winter and then in very early spring I till that under too, and then wait a month or so to plant. It seems to be a very successful regime to follow. Some is also spread into low spots in the property to decompose and add organic matter to the ground.  And finally some of it gets piled up for slow composting. I don't turn my compost as I am not able to. But piled high it settles out after a few months. After several months the top layer of largely intact leaves and pine needles can be scraped off and lots of crumbly earthy smelling leaf mould can be dug out for use in potted plants, garden areas and flower beds.

 
Posts: 25
Location: Planet Earth, Europe, Upper Silesia
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My issue is how to drive the leaves into dry bone state.
I'd love to use them as a carbon stream (covering material) for my composting  (bucket) toilet.
Unfortunately my  400 square meters garden deos not allow me for much space spree.
I had to even give explorations to the gardeners board and excuse myself for setting up Joe Jenkins style humanure hacienda. (for exceeding roofed area allowance quotas ;-/)
I rake them up as dry as possible  but whenever I create a pile the anaerobic decomposition starts.
Any ideas how to  collect them  amass and  not  to have them started rotting in no time?
 
Posts: 56
Location: Northwest Missouri
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I've been trying to figure out what to do with my leaf bounty while they're still easy to rake (not super decomposed yet.) I also have an abundance of chicken poop collected from poo boards so it's JUST droppings.) If it were spring/summer I'd combine the leaves and chicken manure with grass clippings for compost, but this post has me thinking: Why not just leaves and manure? Is there any reason NOT to lay down leaves and sprinkle some manure on top now in early winter?
I'm thinking this would give the manure time to "cool down" and break down with the leaves so I can till it all together in the spring for planting. Or maybe on top of cardboard then cover it all in wood chips in the spring and plant without tilling.
 
Jay Angler
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Location: Pacific Wet Coast
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Matt Todd wrote:

If it were spring/summer I'd combine the leaves and chicken manure with grass clippings for compost, but this post has me thinking: Why not just leaves and manure? Is there any reason NOT to lay down leaves and sprinkle some manure on top now in early winter?

There's not reason not to get started, but from my experience, full leaves are hard to mix and hard to keep aerobic. I'm not sure grass clippings would help with that part as they are high nitrogen like the chicken poop, but don't add structure. This might be the time to look for fine prunings or pine needles or even wood shavings to add to the mix in an effort to give the pile some structure for air. That said, you have nothing to lose in my opinion if you layer leaves and poop over the winter as the chickens produce it. If you can put the pile in a sunny location you may be able to get a freeze/thaw cycle going that might help break up the leaves? I had a pile last year that got snowed on (we don't get much snow) and I needed to dig into it to add fresh compost and discovered a worm orgy in process - they were *not* impressed by me letting the cold air and light in, but hopefully they appreciated the fresh food I left behind!
 
gardener
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Location: mountains of Tennessee
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Hi Matt. I'm with Jay in thinking there is nothing to lose. When the leaves drop in autumn the first thing I do with them is mulch existing gardens. Then I pile them up extra thick directly on lawn to jump start any new garden areas for the next year. Any that don't break down over winter can be raked out of the way then used somewhere else or raked back on for mulch after spring planting. It's almost a guarantee that there will be worms in the bottom layer in the spring. Another thing that helps get the leaves broken down & incorporated into the soil without tilling is chickens. I throw piles of leaves & kitchen scraps & seeds into the chicken garden & let them do all the work. I have far too many leaves & they are too valuable to waste so this fall about 1500 -2000 sf more lawn was smothered for a peanut patch next spring. Then made a 500 yard berm along the zone 5 perimeter (the forest edge next to lawnish areas) about 3 feet tall & 4 feet wide. I know exactly where to find them & the inevitable worm inhabitants when needed next year.

Last year I filled a 3 or 4 foot deep hole with rotten tree limbs & alternating layers of leaves & used chicken straw & some cow manured dirt. Added a few inches of decent soil in spring & planted sweet potatoes there. By the time the sweet potatoes were harvested that area had all turned into some beautiful soil. Now it is piled with another thick layer of leaves for winter. Not to mention about an acre that zero leaves were removed from this year. Letting those 2 areas naturally progress back to forest. I think less lawn, more gardens, & more trees is a good thing.
 
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas
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The chicken manure should be great for composting with leaves. I usually rake some of the leaves into flower/garden beds and top them with some rabbit manure to help weigh them down & keep them from blowing away. By the spring it's all pretty much broken down. I like to use empty poultry/rabbit feed sacks to hold the leaves so I can save as many as possible before they blow away or break down. Then, before I use them for something, I lay the feed sack on its side and walk on it to crush the leaves. That helps when mixing them with manure or something like that, and it helps keep them from making a mat that blocks out oxygen.
 
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