I run a community garden here and we are looking to figure out the best way to shred leaves to mulch next year. Where I live everyone bags their leave in plastic bags and set them on the curb, we just drive around and can get 500 huge bags of leaves in 1-2 hours. So what is the best way to quickly and easily shred leaves at this volume?
I've run piles of leaves through a chipper. It does the job, takes time and fuel. I don't bother with the process anymore, the leaves will serve as mulch as they are.
I mulch the beds as well as the paths between beds. Foot traffic will break up the leaves over time. When I put seed or transplants into the beds, I rake aside the mulch, leaving it in the path while working. They get a bit of traffic while I work. Over time the leaves eventually break down. If they last longer as a mulch it saves me the work of adding more. Shredding leaves for mulch no longer serves my needs.
Seed the Mind, Harvest Ideas.
You could have a 'Leaf Stomping' event--kind of like they do grape stomping for wine. Gather the leaves inside some kind of temporary fencing and call in the troops. Letting the kids and adults play and smash the leaves down will break up the leaves and reduce the volume a bit so your leaf piles aren't so high.
I gathered up leaves last week, dragged them with a tarp over beside the compost bin, spread them out, ran over them repeatedly with a mower. Add another layer, repeat. Chewed them up real good, real fast. The more you mow, the finer the end product.
I spent the last few days taking a good hard look at leaves. As a top layer of mulch, whole leaves still serve my needs as I use oak leaves and they are rather small and narrow.
Looking at the forest floor I find whole leaves on the top surface. Under that are somewhat decomposed leaves. At ground level are leaves in an advanced state of decay, much of them in a small size, with finer material intermixed with the soil. If I wanted to emulate the natural duff on a forest floor, I would want to employ layers of mulch in fine/course/whole grades. There is the issue of Nitrogen robbing. In the forest, the old/fine stuff has been weathered, decomposed, and chewed by bugs, which add their bug manure to the equation, and infiltrated by fungi which has aided in moving N, along with other nutrients, to and from the duff.
So I've been putting my feeble mind to the task of coming up with a way to condition mulched leaves in order that they won't slurp up N from the top surface of the soil. The first plan is composting shredded leaves first, applying the compost, then applying whole leaf mulch. This plan adds complexity, hence more work and effort, but the gain seems dubious. The next plan is to cease any and all tilling. Rake off the old mulch, add plants, replace the old mulch, adding more as needed. This plan serves to preserve the aged/conditioned mulch with as little disruption to the soil environment as possible.
Greenthumb: while the 'Leaf Stomping' can be a fine family event, some of the homes from which those bagged leaves come have dogs and cats in the yard. Way back in the day when I jumped in the leaf piles I learned this was often followed by a 'hose down the kid' event.
Seed the Mind, Harvest Ideas.
I've never bothered shredding leaves. If you want it a finer material, you might just put them in a huge pile and wait... I think the English call it "leaf mould". I get my leaves from a local government campus by the truckload and just leave them in a heap, or where I want to kill some grass in the future.
I have never seen evidence that top-dressing leaves results in nitrogen sequestration from down in the soil column. Not saying it can't happen... I just haven't seen any real convincing evidence, nor do I understand the mechanism. Nightcrawlers will drag surface litter underground. I use all kinds of herbaceous trash in the vege garden, including leaves, with the only negative effect being slugs. But if you are growing nitrate hungry species (like a spinach) you'll likely have to do some kind of song and dance to pump up early season nitrogen release anyway, like tea, or manure compost, or urine, or seed meal, as leaves wouldn't give you the kick you are looking for.
Paul Cereghino- Stewardship Institute Maritime Temperate Coniferous Rainforest - Mild Wet Winter, Dry Summer
I'm resurrecting this thread. I have Seagrape leaves that are big & tough and take forever to break down. I'd like to get a stand-alone leaf-mulcher to turn them into mulch for my tiny food forest.
Thanks! I want a stand-alone one, though, with blades because I don't want to contribute to microplastic and I want to be able to pour the leaves in. I doubt the opening of the blower/shredders are large enough for Seagrape leaves, anyway.
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