A lovely day here today – cold but sunny, a nice interlude in between all the wind and rain. And I see we have fog then rain coming up, so it was just as well we got out into the garden for a bit today. In between bouts of a complicated game, the two key points of which are rolling a ball and me losing, I thought it was time to get the leaves raked up. While there are some trees round our way which still have their leaves, like the lovely birch at one end of our garden (pictured on the left), the main leaf shedder, our horse chestnut tree, is now almost completely bare (right).
The main reason for doing this now is not aesthetic, but practical, because we want to get our leaf mould going. Leaves don’t decay in the same way as household waste or green garden waste, and they don’t really rot down properly in a hot compost heap. If you add them to your heap, you’ll lose the heat and the whole thing won’t work. The best way to process them for use in the garden is more slowly, in a cold heap which will produce leaf mould. This is very handy stuff to have around. After a year of decomposing, you can use it as a moisture-retaining mulch; after two years it will be more crumbly and can be used to improve soil or when potting. There are good instructions on its use here. Timings aren’t precise and some leaves take longer to rot down than others – see this BBC Gardening guide.
We’ve got a couple of rather rickety bays for our leaves and we just pile them in and wait. If you don’t have the space for this, you can stuff them into bin liners and perforate these with a few holes. If you’ve got the leaves outside, then regular turning will get it going quicker. Now is a good time to do it because it works better when they’re good and wet – the recent rain and last night’s frost have done the trick here, and the leaves I didn’t get on the heap today will be moistened by the inclement few days we’ve got coming up.
Here’s what they look like now, not long fallen off the trees:
And here are the leaves from last year, starting to turn into lovely dark leaf mould: