Thursday, November 6, 2014

Building Soil with Leaves: The Free Garden Builder

We are having lots of fun with leaf piles in the MHC gardens at this time of year!  We are gathering these leaves to use throughout the coming years as mulch, in our compost piles and as a rich soil amendment.

This free amendment has many benefits for the garden.  We collect large leaf piles at each of our gardens each fall. The leaf piles start to break down over the winter and by spring they are ready to use as mulch in our garden beds.  This nice dark mulch helps to warm the soil as it collects the heat of the sunshine. As this mulch breaks down further in the garden beds, it conditions the soil in many ways. The leaf particles improve soil structure and can increase the water holding capacity of soil by up to 50%.  This organic material attracts earthworms and much of the microbiota that make up healthy soil.  Leaf matter also adds twice the mineral content to the soil that manure would provide.

You can also gain these benefits by top-dressing your garden soil with leaf mold.  Leaf mold is the product of a leaf pile that has been sitting and breaking down for a year or two.  We are fortunate enough this year to have piles of leaf mold to top dress our garden beds over the winter, and to use in  potting mixes for our container plants and raised beds.

At home you can use this years' leaves to tuck your garden beds in for the winter. However it is recomended to shred the leaves first, as whole leaves can form a mat over your beds that keeps water and air from your living soil.  You can simply run your lawn mower over your leaves a few times to shred them before adding to your beds.

Another way that leaves add big value to our garden is as a compost ingredient.  We add leaves to our compost piles all year round as our main carbon source, and we end up with gloriously dark and loamy compost.  Leaves are a carbon rich material, and a good recipe for compost is 2/3rds kitchen scraps to 1/3rd leaves.

So don't put those leaves on the curb to be taken away!  Keep them, use them, and your garden will repay you with healthy plants, produce and flowers!

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