It is fall which means just one thing: untold millions of bags of leaves will go into landfills around the country. It goes without saying, that you are using a mulching mower to convert leaves into fertilizer for your lawn. And, of course, anything you can’t mow in you are adding to your compost pile as a much needed source of browns and/or your worm box as fresh bedding. I say it goes without saying because you would be crazy to be doing anything else.
But what are your neighbors doing? I calculate that in my neighborhood, the average house landfills twenty or more bags of leaves each fall. This means on my block alone, 33 houses x 20 bags = 660 bags of leaves shipped to the landfill. This is just from one block in the Denver Metro area of 2.8 Million people. About a third (33.3%) of what goes into landfills around the world could be composted and used to improve the environment rather than destroying it.
If you think this compostable material will decompose in the landfill you are absolutely wrong. Excavations of the Fresh Kills Landfill in New York (where the rubble from the World Trade Center was moved) found 30 year old hot dogs which are still identifiable other than a slight loss of colour. The standard method of dating in a landfill is to look for things wrapped in newspapers and check the print date. In the landfill the date is still legible a hundred years later. The newspaper, torn into strips and added to your compost pile, would break down in weeks.
Back to the leaves your neighbors are placing on the curb. A walk up the block with a garden wagon or a drive around the neighborhood with a car or truck, and with nearly zero effort and no leaf raking, you can bag (pun intended) all the leaves you could want. Our neighbors know us well enough by now, they just deliver the bagged leaves to our driveway.
What can you do with the leaves once you have them? I am glad you asked. You can make leaf mould. What is leaf mould? Again, I am very glad you asked. Leaf mould is the incredibly rich layer of organic material on the forest floor just below the current layer of un-decomposed leaves. Leaf mould is the best thing you could spread just about anywhere you want things to grow. It will also suppress weeds between existing plantings, encourage earthworm activity, increase the water holding capacity of the soil, and protect exposed soil from erosion.
I know you are asking, how can I get some of this great stuff? This is so easy, you’ll be embarrassed you have never done it before! Start by mounding up the leaves in a wire enclosure. The enclosure needs to be open enough to allow air circulation and tight enough mesh that it will keep them from blowing around. Wet the leaves thoroughly after each bag is dumped in. The leaves should feel like a wrung out sponge just like a standard compost pile. The pile should shrink by about half before you need to turn it. Our pile shrunk by a foot the first 48 hours. Entertain your kids! If you stick your pitch fork in, and pull the surface layer away, you’ll see steam, and all kinds of interesting fungi and bugs. If your area is dry, you may need to set a sprinkler on low on the pile for an hour or so once every two weeks.
By spring, the pile should be less than a quarter the original volume and most of it should look like humus. Spread the finished leaf mould over anything that needs it, including your grass. We use it to start new garden beds and to mulch around existing plantings. Water thoroughly and stand back. Anything not broken down enough to use, can be added to your compost pile or turned, re-wet, and left to break down further.
If you have a few extra bags of leaves, you can store them in the bags for when your compost pile is short of browns. You can also use the bags to insulate a poultry house, vegetable storage cellar, or shed. My father uses them to insulate water pipes for the winter.
You too can save the world, one bag of leaves at a time!