At its most basic leaf mold is simply compost made from fall leaves only. This composting process is slow (takes 1+ years), cold and fungal dominated. Which is opposite from the composting you’re likely more familiar with which is fast, hot, and bacterial dominated.
This slow, cold, fungal based composting results in what is often called leaf mold.
Why Leaf Mold is Awesome
Leaf mold has a number of great benefits but first let’s mention what it’s not. It’s not a fertilizer and is very poor in nutrients.
Leaf mold is a soil amendment.
What this means is that applying leaf mold to your garden will boost soil life, will provide minerals for your plants, and will improve the structure of your garden’s soil.
Leaf mold can easily compete with rock dust for being a source of minerals for your garden. Plus, it comes with all sorts of other benefits that rock dust does not (and less negatives).
All of this will reduce the amount of watering you need to do since the soil will be able to hold much more water and with the increase in soil life more nutrients will be available in a form your plants can use.
The improved soil structure will also make it easier for your plant’s roots to get oxygen, water, and just move through the soil in search of what the plant needs.
Plus, if you use leaf mold as a mulch like I do it will also decrease evaporation of water from your soil.
Leaf Mold is Mimics a Forest Floor
That picture could easily be of a forest floor but it’s actually a pile of leaf mold in one of my leaf mold bins. These bins let me mimic what happens on a forest floor but on a faster rate since the fall leaves are all concentrated in a 3’ x 3’ x 3’ bin made from untreated pallets.
When I spread the leaf mold out on my garden, I’m basically giving the garden the leaf litter from a forest.
In all honesty I’m sure the leaf mold is a far cry from the actual forest floor in terms of all the life found on the forest floor. But it’s an easy way to mimic the forest floor in a more traditional garden.
In my food forests the trees create all the leaf mold I need each year without me having to bring it in. But my kitchen garden needs a little help which is where my leaf mold bins come in.
Each year I get fall leaves from my neighbors and I fill up my 2 leaf mold bins which is plenty for my kitchen garden.
I harvest my leaf mold after only 1 year which results in a rougher less decomposed material. But I just put this on my garden in the fall and let it continue to decompose over the winter. This way it also protects the soil from the heavy winter rains.
Daron, I’m one of those little old ladies who has trouble doing a lot of work outside. I’m just wondering: Is it possible to just drive around and pick up the leaves people have put out in brown paper bags and stack them up in a corner of the yard (i.e., not dump them out into a big pile)? If I had a corner of the yard with bags stacked, would they still eventually make leaf mold? Maybe stab holes into the bags and stick a little wood chip mycelium into the center?
Diane Kistner wrote:Daron, I’m one of those little old ladies who has trouble doing a lot of work outside. I’m just wondering: Is it possible to just drive around and pick up the leaves people have put out in brown paper bags and stack them up in a corner of the yard (i.e., not dump them out into a big pile)? If I had a corner of the yard with bags stacked, would they still eventually make leaf mold? Maybe stab holes into the bags and stick a little wood chip mycelium into the center?
Yes, Diane, you can do that. (I have.) It does look a bit like you are a "garbage collector' or a "hoarder", so dumping or tearing/cutting away the bags improves the "view" of your project. The bags will break down, especially where they contact the ground, but the side towards the sky won't and it will then come loose in the wind and become litter. The bags also shed water, so the leaves will be slower to break down.
On the other hand... the bags keep the leaves contained, instead of blowing around the neighborhood. One could do the same with a corral of garden fencing, or a compost bin.
Diane – Thank you for the comment on the blog! Pie for you! Now back to your question… here is what I posted on the blog in response:
The brown bags would work fine but the bags would breakdown by the time you were ready to collect the leaf mold. I had some leaves in those bags that I got from a neighbor and they fell apart in just a few months sitting around. Plastic bags might not get enough air flow so I would not recommend keeping the leaves in those long term. Plus the plastic ones can breakdown from the sun’s UV rays overtime and turn into a mess.
You can also apply the leaves fresh as mulch around your plants. Shredded leaves might be a better option for you but it depends on if you are applying leaves around young vegetable seedlings versus established perennials.
One thing I’m considering is creating some bigger but shorter bins for my leaves and growing potatoes in those bins. These bins would be 6-10 feet long, 3 feet wide, and around 1-2 feet deep. The bottom of the bin would be open on the soil and I would likely add some compost or topsoil to help things get started. I would plant the potatoes in that and then cover them with fresh fall leaves. I would add more leaves overtime as the potatoes grew.
Harvesting the potatoes should be relatively easy and the leaves would start to break down into leaf mold that you could then use in other areas. But I’m not sure if this would be easier for you or not…
I hope that gives you some ideas.
Kenneth – Thanks for replying to Diane!
Grey – I get leaves from people who want to get rid of them. The leaves that fall on my wild homestead all stay where they fall. But fall leaves are easy to find if you ask around and often people don’t want them on their lawns so those leaves are easy to use. But good point about the food forest—I would not remove leaves from a food forest.
Jack – lol, yeah I have watched that video.
Tyler – I remember that infographic from an earlier post. Thanks for sharing it—always good to have reminders about the benefits of leaving the leaves where they are.
Do you want to work with nature to grow your own food and build a natural life? Check out Wild Homesteading's thread on permies to get started.
Location: Athens, GA Zone 8a
posted 1 month ago
Daron Williams wrote:One thing I’m considering is creating some bigger but shorter bins for my leaves and growing potatoes in those bins. These bins would be 6-10 feet long, 3 feet wide, and around 1-2 feet deep. The bottom of the bin would be open on the soil and I would likely add some compost or topsoil to help things get started. I would plant the potatoes in that and then cover them with fresh fall leaves. I would add more leaves overtime as the potatoes grew.
Thanks, Daron, for the pie and for the potato bed idea. I'm about to have another big pine tree taken down, and I think I'll ask the guy to stack the logs up in a way to make a long bed and put the leaves in that. Potatoes, too, maybe!