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Incredible, Amazing....Leaf Mold  RSS feed

 
Miles Flansburg
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Here is a look at my leaves in spring after the snow melts.

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Matthew Fallon
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Nick Kitchener wrote:6 of those?? So what happens to them? It looks like you have about 1/4 acre and these leaves are stored in a big heap. Do the worms just deal to them rapidly?

I'm worried because it won't go above freezing here until late march. Typical daytime temps will be between -10 and -18 C for the next 3 months straight. Everyone local is telling me that the ground will freeze solid regardless of the 3 ft of leaves and plastic cover.

I'm hoping that the insulation will be enough to keep the soil biology active. We got a couple of -20 C days the other week after some rain, and the ground froze hard as a rock. But even in the edge of the garden where there is only a thin covering of leaves, the ground was soft with no sign of frost so I have hope

Oh, I forgot to ask about your Amaranth Pilsner? How'd that go? Can you elaborate? Did you malt the seed?

I acquired some old barley varieties from the gene bank last spring with a view to eventually brewing with it. One of them is Morovian Hana.


well i try to mow them down a bit more but dont go crazy with it. for the beds i only go maybe a foot thick or so and i think the black plastic weed cloth helps to heat it and keep the soil life eating it longer.eventually it will freeze a bit but not much, i'm terrible with Celsius/Metrics sorry. i'm 7b,5F/-15C,rarely gets down to that but sometimes .the beds should thaw sooner too being raised and covered. for me it doesnt all turn to soil by early spring, whatever isnt broken down i rake to the side/paths to let the bed heat up faster(mulch will insulate the cold in) i need to if i'm using my jang row-seeder. then put it back once i've transplanted or the seedlings are big enough.

the amaranth pilsner is delicious! i'm more of a stout/porter drinker but i had all this amaranth seed i harvested and wanted to try it out. we used a pound of grain and the rest was barley. wasnt roast-malted but got it up to temp in the water to convert the starches to sugar and all that. we made it on a dry-stacked slapped together rocket stove just to try it
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paul wheaton
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Ken Peavey
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AWESOME!
I've made a contribution!
 
Ken Peavey
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From the Planetnatural article:
Maybe it’s time we start thinking about separate piles devoted to leaves only
 
Andrew Schreiber
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Howdy all, I use leaf mold in potting soil mix amungst other things. It works really well as a replacement for peat and coconut coir, and it comes with all sorts of good soil life to innoculate perennials!

Here's and article I wrote for PermacultureNews.org about natural nursery practices which has a lot of info about how I've been utilizing this abundant resource, and the "leaf traps" I make to concentrate leaf litter for easy harvesting.

http://permaculturenews.org/2014/08/20/low-tech-natural-nursery-strategies-washington-usa/
 
Kirk Schonfeldt
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There's a local vegetable gardener whose fall chores include gathering bagged leaves and placing them directly on her vege beds over winter. She's been doing this every year for 20 years and her soil biology is so active that a 1' thick bag of leaves (packed), whether in paper bags (common) or black plastic trash bags (which she pokes a few holes in) are virtually completely decomposed by spring. Even in high and dry Colorado. With the added benefit that her soils under the leaf mold barely freeze over winter and are much warmer come spring. I've done this on a few beds and don't yet get as much decomposition by spring, though I'm still building soil biology in those beds. Bottom line: once you get soil biology cranking, leaf mold can be produced in 6 months even in the high desert without any effort (no mowing, watering, inoculating, etc).

Cheers,
Kirk
 
Ken Peavey
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Kirk
Can you get some pictures?
 
Ken Peavey
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Has anyone found or experienced any negative effects or disadvantages to employing leaf mold?
 
Greg Safronoff
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Read that you can mix in coffee grounds with leaves to help them break down faster so I went to my local Starbucks and picked up a few bags of spent grounds to add to my small leaf pile on my herb garden. I just spread the grounds over the pile and turned them in and it has been several weeks and already the coffee grounds are white with mushroom mycelium. From past experience experimenting with growing the garden friendly Elm Oyster mushroom from fungi perfecti, when I innoculated a straw bed with sawdust mushroom spawn I mixed in coffee grounds and in those areas with the grounds mushrooms profusely popped up!
 
Dale Hodgins
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I've used about 5 tons of grounds in the last 2 years. They get dumped on top of existing mulch which is leaves and small sticks. I add plain leaves sometimes and lots of hardwood hedge clippings are added.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Kirk, are you saying she leaves the leaves in the bags all winter?

I try to collect bagged leaves that my neighbors put out on trash day. I haul them onto my garden and dump them.
 
Magnus Fundal
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Ken Peavey wrote:
Adding Greens
This does not speed up the process, it CHANGES the process. Instead of leaf mold, you will have compost. There is some cellulose in the leaves which will compost, but you are creating conditions to promote the bacteria. The fungi will break it down if you let it, and will produce more humus out of the same amount of cellulose than the bacteria will. If you want to make compost, go ahead, but it will be compost, not leaf mold.
Just leaves, nothing else.

I would really love to have a look at your references on this. The statement makes sense, but this is the only place I've encountered it so far, and "some permaculture forum" doesn't sound too good in the master's thesis.
Plus, I want to read more about how and why.

From what I've read, lignin is notoriously hard to break down, and it generally occurs through fungal decay. I read a remark in an article in "Nature" (I believe) that coal formation mostly occured in the carboniferous period because lignin-decaying fungi hadn't evolved yet.
Wikipedia suggests some bacteria can break down lignin as well, though. It's sounds plausible that we encourage these bacteria by adding nitrogen to the leaves, but please, show me your sources on this.
 
Peter Ellis
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Magnus Fundal wrote:
Ken Peavey wrote:
Adding Greens
This does not speed up the process, it CHANGES the process. Instead of leaf mold, you will have compost. There is some cellulose in the leaves which will compost, but you are creating conditions to promote the bacteria. The fungi will break it down if you let it, and will produce more humus out of the same amount of cellulose than the bacteria will. If you want to make compost, go ahead, but it will be compost, not leaf mold.
Just leaves, nothing else.

I would really love to have a look at your references on this. The statement makes sense, but this is the only place I've encountered it so far, and "some permaculture forum" doesn't sound too good in the master's thesis.
Plus, I want to read more about how and why.

From what I've read, lignin is notoriously hard to break down, and it generally occurs through fungal decay. I read a remark in an article in "Nature" (I believe) that coal formation mostly occured in the carboniferous period because lignin-decaying fungi hadn't evolved yet.
Wikipedia suggests some bacteria can break down lignin as well, though. It's sounds plausible that we encourage these bacteria by adding nitrogen to the leaves, but please, show me your sources on this.


Not Ken, but this might be helpful:
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1065657X.2000.10701744#.VI8k6RB7-kw
 
Ken Peavey
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I have no references or sources to offer other than my back field and years of personal observation to support my conclusion that compost is different from leaf mold.

It is my understanding that bacteria can not produce lignase. Nonetheless, leaves will break down in a compost heap. Fungal decomposition is a slow, cool process which would be a challenge in a hot, active compost heap. That heat is gonna cook the fungi. Something else is happening. In a rich, diverse, steamy compost heap I'm sure there are all sorts of things going on with environmental factors, organic acids, enzymes and stuff I never heard of which can aid in decomposing lignin without participation by fungi. It's a different process with different results.

In the finished product there is a recognizable distinction. Leaf mold is spongy. The texture of compost is more like dirt, kinda flat. The smell is different. Leaf mold has a simple woodsy odor. Compost has a different odor depending on what went into the heap. Wet compost has the texture of mud. Wet leaf mold expands. I've seen remarkable difference in the soil. Beds treated with compost separated by a 2 foot wide path from beds treated with leaf mold grow different weeds.

Leaves. Only Leaves. Really.
Pile them up, walk away. If you want to encourage bacteria, do it in the compost heap. Leave the leaves alone.

I want to read more about how and why.

Me too. Can you send me a copy of your thesis when completed?
 
Magnus Fundal
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Ken Peavey wrote:I have no references or sources to offer other than my back field and years of personal observation to support my conclusion that compost is different from leaf mold.

Don't mind if I make my own observations, then. Problem is, it's going to take a while.
I've been collecting leaves galore this autumn. I'm leaving them in big piles in the not-yet-cultivated parts of the garden, I'm using them as mulch, and I've made a compost pile out of leaves mixed with coffee grounds, urine and kitchen waste. It's nice and warm near the middle.
I could be using a different material for the compost, but I have lots and lots of leaves and very little else.

What should I do with the nitrogen I'm not adding to the leaves? Would you recommend adding nitrogen to the soil along with the leaf mould?
Ken Peavey wrote:
Can you send me a copy of your thesis when completed?

I'm afraid that for now, "thesis" is only a figure of speech. I won't be writing my master's thesis for another year and a half.
If I do manage to make it a thesis on compost/leaf mould/humus/whatnot, I'll let you know.
 
Ken Peavey
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Magnus Fundal wrote:
Don't mind if I make my own observations, then.

By all means, I welcome it. Anything that adds to the body of knowledge of what is going on and how this stuff does whatever it is it is doing will touch many lives. There is much more to it than meats the eye.
If I'm right, leaf mold is an abundantly available, mineral rich resource that also serves as a nutrient trap. Identifying it as a separate and distinct product would open the doors to an entire industry, and a local one at that.

 
Greg Safronoff
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On YouTube found this great video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9OhxKlrWwc called Everything You Know About Composting Is Wrong:Mike McGrath at TEDXPhoenixville. It is quite humorous how Mike talks about the beauty of making leaf mold and how 2" of this compost is all you need to grow everything! Just shredded leaves is all you need, exception you can add coffee grounds to help speed the process.
 
Magnus Fundal
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Yes, I saw it. It was my main inspiration for collecting coffee grounds.
I don't drink coffee myself, but he's not the only one who's been recommending them.

His take is that coffee grounds go well with leaves, because they are "hot". So he's making it sound like hot compost is what we want.

I've also read that coffee grounds doesn't release nitrogen immediately, though. That if you mix them into the soil, they actually trap nitrogen for a while when they start decomposing.
 
Ken Peavey
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As I mentioned in the OP, leaf mold is terribly overlooked and is in dire need of more attention. I must admit to being a Purist when it comes to production methods. I shall strive to be more open minded.

I started making leaf mold about 12 years ago. I had a huge volume of leaves available. When I added them to the compost heap, the heap cooled down. I was trying to put together a big steamy pile. Hot composting was the objective, getting the C:N ratio right so I could have compost ready FAST. I was tossing the hot heap every couple of days. I drove over to my brothers house one day. On the way I came across a huge pile of bagged leaves by the road which I simply HAD to have. It took several trips with a 5x10 trailer piled high to haul them home. With all those bags of leaves there was no way I was going to put them all in the hot compost. I figured I'd pile them in the corner, letting them rot slowly on their own with no attention. I could draw from the leaf heap as I needed more browns. Then spring came and I had even more leaves that had to be stolen. The pile got bigger. After a couple of years I got into mulching. Sure was handy having all those leaves. As I dug into the pile, I found the leaves were breaking down beautifully, even without the steamy goodness of the hot compost heap. I figured I could save myself a lot of work if I had enough material piled up ahead of time to keep my compost pipeline full. I started heaping up even more leaves and studying up on compost. This led to my thinking that rotten leaves, all by themselves, was a different animal.

 
Peter Ellis
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Here is a link to the current issue of Compost Science And Utilization - http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showMostReadArticles?journalCode=ucsu20#.VJBzLRB7-kw

Quite a variety of research on compost, including some discussions regarding lignin and cellulose processing that have some relevance to the discussion here.

The Taylor & Francis Open Access publication list includes some potentially interesting titles for permies.

We don't actually have to invent the wheel ourselves, often there are perfectly good wheels to be found, if we look around a bit
 
William Bronson
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At my child hood home we have oaks and a gumball (sweetgum) tree. My dad was not a fan of an immaculate lawn and hated to waste money on bags, so leaves and gumballs went into a shady corner under the gumball tree.
As kids we discovered the soil under the leaves was dark and filled with worms. When I took over double digging the garden,I started adding it as one would add top soil.


Flash forward to my own yard and all my raised beds are built from rotted leaves.
I even planted into a bed that was topped off with leaves right before hand. The plants were tomato seedlings that the civic garden center had left for dead, so no big deal if they failed.
I was worried the "fresh" leaves would bring slugs snails and pillbugs with them.

After months of my usual utter neglect I had become used to an unlimited supply of grape tomatoes.

Right now bagged leaves are abundant and I am taking vans full to my grow plot around the corner.
The soil there is made of clay, rocks,smaller rocks and larger rocks.
Before I am done thirty some years from now, I want to have added a foot of soil, and enough trees that it will never go back to being barren.

 
Brian Knight
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Inspired by this thread I started my own dedicated leaf mold pile recently. Potential problem though, its getting hot!

I usually add coffee grounds to my leaves for compost, but after reading this thread and encountering what indeed seemed to be a different product with older, bagged leaves set aside for my compost water heater I wanted in on more of the mold action.

Maybe its the volume, a 5' diameter by 5' tall well compacted and moistened leaf pile. The heat definitely took longer to form and is not getting as hot but several weeks after creating a leaf-only pile, Iam getting temperatures close to 100F! I measured at the end of a cold snap with almost a week of sub-freezing outdoor air temps.

I absolutely did not include ANY extra nitrogen sources in this leaf pile. Its all bagged leaves from the neighborhood and sometimes small amounts of grass makes it in but seems an unlikely amount to make a difference. I did not see any to remove when making it. Anyone else getting such high temperatures with leaves only? I wanted leaf mold, which I have experienced in piles of separated/bagged leaves, not more compost! Iam thinking looser piles may be better. Thoughts?
 
Viola Schultz
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Brian Knight wrote:Inspired by this thread I started my own dedicated leaf mold pile recently. Potential problem though, its getting hot!

I usually add coffee grounds to my leaves for compost, but after reading this thread and encountering what indeed seemed to be a different product with older, bagged leaves set aside for my compost water heater I wanted in on more of the mold action.

Maybe its the volume, a 5' diameter by 5' tall well compacted and moistened leaf pile. The heat definitely took longer to form and is not getting as hot but several weeks after creating a leaf-only pile, Iam getting temperatures close to 100F! I measured at the end of a cold snap with almost a week of sub-freezing outdoor air temps.

I absolutely did not include ANY extra nitrogen sources in this leaf pile. Its all bagged leaves from the neighborhood and sometimes small amounts of grass makes it in but seems an unlikely amount to make a difference. I did not see any to remove when making it. Anyone else getting such high temperatures with leaves only? I wanted leaf mold, which I have experienced in piles of separated/bagged leaves, not more compost! Iam thinking looser piles may be better. Thoughts?


Wow, how old is your pile? My pile of mainly oak and maple leaves is now one year old, perhaps 3 feet high by 4 feet long, mostly shredded, well moistened and compacted all right... It is as cold as snow that just started to melt away from it. Well, I also thought this topic deserves to be bumped up!
 
Ken Peavey
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Those well compacted leaves will make a good insulator. I've seen the leaf piles get warm-lay down and be comfy warm. I've measured my hot compost heaps at 175. The leaves seem to be missing the thermophillic stage found in bacterial decomposition, again suggesting a different process going on. Fungi use energy, therefore they will create waste heat. This will keep a pile warm. 100F is not unbelievable.

Looser Piles
All I do is pile up the leaves and walk away. As the leaves decompose their structure weakens, the heap settles and compacts under its own weight. A loose pile would allow improved airflow which would draw off heat. A loose pile would not have the same surface to surface contact which I think would promote activity within the heap.

Viola's pile is 3' high, Brian's is 5' high. That extra 2 feet equates to a whole lot of insulation. When I pile the leaves 4-5 feet is about where I stop for height. My heaps are loose at that height then compact over a few months to 1-2 feet high. In nature, leaves will collect on low spots and along hedges. A couple feet loose, maybe a half foot to a foot when compacted would be typical.

Please keep up with your heaps and your reporting of observations, and Thank You for reporting what you've found so far.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Ken Peavey wrote:Has anyone found or experienced any negative effects or disadvantages to employing leaf mold?



Um...

Healthy pill bugs?
 
james Apodaca
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What's wrong with pill bugs?

I have a zillion of them in my leaf pile and I've always welcomed the sight and never seen any negative effects in my garden..



 
Andrew Stewart
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Victor Johanson wrote:I had a big mound of leaf mold in my front yard, and noticed insane germination and astonishing growth of weeds. Lambsquarters grew about seven feet tall! Later on I learned that the fungal decay involved produces gibberellins, and I suspect that's what produced the phenomenon. Since then I've incorporated it into my seedling mixes to good effect.


Same. When my brother bought his farm I made a few control beds and the weeds were tallest in the leaf + subsoil bed compared to ones that received various tillage/ammendments.

This link is pretty cool.
I don't like hyperbole, so I think it may be better to say 'depending on context' as opposed to one being better than the other, but I haven't seen too much out there about mineral content, and you folks may get something out of it.
Leaf Mold v.s. Rock Dust Mineral Content
 
Viola Schultz
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I want to update you on my maple/oak leaf pile. Originally, it was about 4 by 4 feet big and contained nothing more but leaves, some finely shredded and watered time to time but mainly left alone between 2 Norway spruces. That was a lot of leaves, lol. The pile never got hot or more accurately, I didn't notice it getting hot. It is now over 2 years old (I think because I used old leaves from the patch of forest behind my little garden and fresh ones from the Fall of 2014). It also shrunk to less than 2 feet in height. I can't wait any longer as I will be planting garlic soon and need to make a nice blankey for it. So, I dug into it and the bottom one third was just pure gold -- it looked like worm castings, dark with beautiful earthy smell, and falling off my fingers like drops of water ... I'm crying here, lol. The next 1/3 was almost done and the top was still noticeably shredded leaves. There are tons of earthworms in there and strands of fungi. I think my garlic will be very happy. I am a beginner, third year of hugelbed (it shrunk too) and still have pretty much a fuzzy picture of how things work. But they seem to work if you let them. Thank you for this wonderful thread 
 
Annie Lochte
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I've been piling leaves in wire hoops for 7+ years now and it does take awhile, and I also have buried guts an feathers an fish heads in them leaf towers but over all the stuff that comes out the bottom when I tip them over a year or 2 later is pure lovely! I have found that if I don't set my wire hoops on a piece of tin the local trees send in the feeder roots to a tune of needing to axe and machete them to get my hoop back. And if I put the leaves in my driveway it cuts the breakdown time by about 2/3.
 
Kevin Derheimer
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When I lived in Indiana, we tried to compost piles of leaves (maple and oak), decomposition was  very slow with wet mats of leaves.  I had a Troy built chipper shredder and leaf blower, I rigged a 6" flex pipe to the blower and put the other end Into the inlet of the shredder, used the fine screen and processed all the leaves I could blow, rake and collect from the street. We usually had piles of Leaves 10' x 6' x 30'.  the shredder reduced the mass of leaves an amazing amount, and it composted significantly faster than unshredded leaves.  When I moved to Florida, I took a couple of pickup truck loads of my stash, it helped me quickly establish a garden In the sand.   That was 20 years ago, I still have the Troy build chipper shredder (now listed As an antique by Troy built) that I have maintained through the years.  Now I'm in Colorado a lot and moved the Troy built here and am looking at collecting bags of leaves from the neighborhoods and running them thru the chipper shredder once again.  Amazing how everything has come full circle, I definitely love the shredded/composted leaf material.
 
Jane Reed
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Love this topic.  Earlier this year I found a big source of oak leaves for the taking.  I helped other volunteers to clean up a small, county owned cemetery.  The clean - up consists of weed whacking  and leaf raking.  The leaves are dumped in the little gully close by and, when that is full, they are dumped onto an open space by the parking area.  It's a realIy big pile. I have already brought 3 loads home.  
 
Jane Reed
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Just read through this topic again.  So much good info.
 
wayne fajkus
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I've been using leaves this year as a mulch for 16 fruit trees I planted. I'm gathering from under mature trees. It's a mix of new and decomposed, along with an occasional dry cow pattie (bonus).

Prior to that I was scraping up leftover hay om ground from winter feeding cows.

I'm gonna guess the leaves will do a better job of suppressing weeds.
 
Jane Reed
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The other posters refer to chopping up leaves with a lawn mower.  I don't have a lawn and I'm not about to spend money on a mower.

However, I see that the leaves I allowed to winter over in a huge pile, undisturbed, are fairly well broken down.

My plan is to obtain more leaves from the source mentioned in my post, above, create 3 - 4 big piles, and let nature take its course. Those will be used for planting beds where I don't want water to run off when I use my sprinkler.  Intact leaves are perfect to use for weed suppression, as Wayne says.  There are many areas in my fenced garden where I have not yet put any plants but are overrun with grass and weeds.
 
Kevin Derheimer
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I ended up with 10 yards of finely ground leaves last fall. I ran the leaves thru my troybuilt chipper shredded and let sit over the winter.  The piles were about 5' tall and by spring, when I wanted to use them for mulch, the top 18" was still pretty loose and not really that broken down.  The next couple of feet was large dry mats the size of basketballs, then a very wet, pretty waterlogged base.  I wanted to use the leaves as mulch, but was a pain dealing with the big clods, so I ran the whole pile thru my shredder again without any grate and it worked perfectly, even the waterlogged mass.  I ended up with really nice moist partially decomposed dark leaf matter.  Once it was all chopped up again it started to really heat up, surprised me!  The next day I turned it and had sections in the center turned to ash!  So I spread it out, cooled it down and used it in the garden right away.  The leaf mulch holds water and keeps the soil from drying out.  I love the stuff!  I will definitely will be collecting a mass this fall, my friends that saw my pile, have been helping themselves to the pile, so I've enlisted for the fall collection.  I finally found a use for my shredder running without a grate.
Kevin
 
jars lyfe
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If one is interested in the practical use of leafy mold on the farm, I highly suggest purchasing the JADAM ultra low cost farming book. However, it is not for the feint of heart, as it has philosophy and methods in direct violation of what is common practice here in the West. It is, however, the most effective system of fertilizing that you will ever find in a book.
 
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