I want to tell you about the secret treasure in your garden, the bounty not from your vegetable garden, but from the abundance of falling leaves. I love the sounds and smells of an autumn day spent raking up all that pure free goodness.
Terreau de Feuilles: those words are so delicious sounding, aren’t they? Leaf mold doesn’t roll off the tongue in quite the same way. Your garden doesn’t mind what it’s called, but will relish in its richness all the same.
Leaf mold is an organic amendment that physically alters the soil so that it becomes spongier, holding both moisture and air -- a heavenly environment to plant roots. When spread on the soil surface as mulch, leaf mold prevents extreme fluctuations in soil temperature, keeps the soil surface loose so water penetrates easily, and helps the soil maintain its moisture by slowing water evaporation. This dark crumbly mix also stimulates a magnificent world of life in the soil, creating an environment that thwarts pests. Now what could be better than that?
When I see bags and bags of leaves at the curb side this time of year I start to get a little twitch. I have to employ my will power to resist stopping at every property and stuffing them my hatchback. I want to yell, “You’re throwing out black gold, people!”
I have clay soil. Sure, I could ‘work with it’ and accept the conditions that were given to me, challenge my gardening skills and plant accordingly. There are lots of plants that do well in these conditions. But I what would I do with the leaves? I truly enjoy all the pieces that come together in this thing called gardening, and leaf mold a very important part of dirt culture recipe that includes using compost and sheep manure.
Instructions for using your leaves:
2. Put some leaves in your blue bin, container or pile, and shred with your whipper-snipper, weed whacker, or whatever pet name you have for yours. You can use a lawn mower, of course. This promotes faster decomposition so the leaves don’t have to sit for 2 or 3 years.
3. Spread them on your garden beds once the weather gets colder. This way, pests won’t find a home in the leaves. Heap them over tender plants to protect them from the freeze and thaw cycles we now seem to be subjected to. Do not cover the crowns completely. You can place plant supports around the plant first if you wish to create insulating air pockets.
4. This is the leaf mold.... Shred more leaves and put them in black plastic garbage bags, making sure the leaves are moist. Poke holes in the bag to let air in and throw in a shovelful of garden dirt and sheep manure if you have it. Since winter is coming, I pile them in a corner of my garden bed once the plants have died back. Yes, I know. I can hear some groans... but there’s no denying the great results you will get.
5. Another method I have used is to create a pen with chicken wire or plastic netting to make a temporary container to pile them in. Be sure to keep it moist. This method may take a little longer; plastic bags keep in the heat and moisture, which speeds up the process.
Then spring comes and voila! The sweet reward: sumptuous, rich, earthy decay in the form of terreau de feuille. Now that it is fully baked, it’s ready to be used as mulch and a superb soil conditioner for your garden beds.
By Cindy Jones-Sherk