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Questions from a total beginner, please help :)

Poppy McGee
Posts: 3
Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
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Hello everyone!

I'm a total beginner in terms of gardening and permaculture (although I have been reading a lot about the latter). I've got some questions that nobody I've asked so far seems to be able to answer!! Here they are...

I've just got myself a little garden. It's wonderful; lots of plants, a grassy/mossy lawn, a little pond (with a resident frog), and a few big trees around. Here's what I'm wondering...

(1) LEAVES!!!
- Am I meant to rake them off the lawn?
- Am I meant to remove them from the plant / flower beds? Or allow them to rot down there? They're blocking the sunshine...
- Am I meant to remove fallen leaves from the pond?
- Is it a good thing to make a leaf cage to allow the leaves to rot down so I can use the leaves next year as compost?

(2) Compost bin
- I've got a big green compost bin in my garden, it's totally full already with moss, grass and raw kitchen scraps. What to do?? I lifted the flap at the bottom, and what came out looked like dry soil. I was expecting a more mulchy compost of sorts. Am I meant to do anything with it?
- Can I use this compost as soil, or is it just something to add nutrients?

(3) General plant care
All the plants are dying off now, as it's autumn. Am I meant to do anything to help them, like removing the dead leaves? Cutting down any totally rotten plants, etc?

Hmm, I think that's it for now!
Thanks in advance!
John Polk
master steward
Posts: 7930
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Welcome to permies.

LEAVES: They are natures way of returning nutrients to the soil. They also feed the soil 'critters'.
In a natural forest, does anybody rake up the leaves?
I would say that they can be left, as is, in the garden beds. On a lawn, they will do little to help. Perhaps you can rake the lawn, and leave the pile of leaves to break down over the winter, and into spring. They can then be used as a mulch/compost, anywhere that you wish.
In a pond, the nutrients will settle to the bottom, adding much life for flora/fauna.

COMPOST: Can either be spread on the garden soil, and/or turned into the soil.
Decayed organic matter is the primary source of food for much of your 'Soil Food Web' (SFW).
It is what turns dirt into soil. It improves water holding capacity to the soil. It helps avoid compaction of the soil.
The SFW will continue consuming it, exuding more life into the soil.

PLANTS: If they are perennial plants, just leave them be. They should spring back into life in the warming days of spring.
Annual plants could be chopped off at ground level, leaving the roots untouched within the soil. The roots worked hard to infiltrate your soil, and as they decay, they will feed the SFW, and leave tunnels for air and water to infiltrate deeper into your soil. This will allow the next generation to drive deeper into your soil next spring. Each generation (up to a point) should be able to grow more and deeper roots, thus extending the depth and tilth of your topsoil.
CAVEAT: If any plants are diseased, they should be removed (roots and all). Some people compost them, but this can lead to returning the disease to your soil. Most people recommend burning diseased plants, as this should assures that you are not reintroducing the disease to the next generation.

Wander around this site, as there is an abundance of useful knowledge here, and the natives are friendly.
cameron johnson
Posts: 74
Location: Prattville, Alabama, zone 8, 328ft
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I would NOT leave plant matter sitting at the bottom of your pond I have a large 1000+ gl pond with goldfish and if I dont clean it out it seems that when the weather starts to warm up and that matter starts to rot and can stress the fish causing desease If I dont clean my pond before spring I lose half my fish by summer it seems the junk at the bottom starts to become stagnent and starts to produce gas and lots of bad bacteria and its a closed system so it just builds up and becomes toxic. As for fertilizer for pond plants your fish will make plenty all by themselves.
Andy Jackson
Posts: 9
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You certainly can pile the leaves in order for them to rot, but what you'll be left with is known as leaf mold. It's an excellent soil additive. I've read that people use it as a substitute for peat moss in their potting mixes.
Debbie Sauerteig
Posts: 22
Location: Ontario, Canada. zone 5 continental cold temperate
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Hi Pru,
I just found your questions and here is my input for you to consider (for next autumn, I guess!)
-if you have lawns, rake them into storage. Or cut the leaves up with your lawn mower by cutting the lawn several times a week during leaf fall season. Leaving the tiny little cut-up leaf pieces will feed your lawn beautifully.
-we collect ours. Bag 'em. Then, when we need them, for in the composter or in the gardens, we just grab a couple of handfuls. In the spring (because I ran out of time this fall), I will put them through our leaf mulcher, which is like whipper-snipping the leaves into tiny little pieces. This makes a wonderful light mulch for the garden which lasts 1/2 the summer before it becomes earth.
-Leaving them directly on the garden, if thick, does lead to having them blow around until they become wet. This may ruffle your neighbours' feathers, to have to rake YOUR leaves off THEIR lawn. Also, thick leaves on the garden become a rain deterrent until they have sufficiently broken down! Especially oak leaves around here. If I leave leaves directly on the garden, I water the leaves well to keep them in place, OR I break/scrunch them up to break up faster.
-leaf bins are great. Leaves mixed with straw composts much much much better.

-yeah, I had that happen too. The earth is good. It's just not the absolute perfect compost that we were expecting, right? Use it.
I'm guessing that the previous owners may have put a fair amount of sod into the compost bin. That's ok. It is still viable soil now.

I think my answers are the absolute same as the others have offered about autumn clean up. If it doesn't get done in the autumn, you can always do it in the spring.... it'll just be a lot of mushy wet stuff to deal with, that's all.

These were good questions.
Angelika Maier
Posts: 643
Location: cool climate
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Plastic compost bins are not very useful. First they do not allow for proper air circulation, second the size is far too small. There are better and more useful designs.
For example get 3 or more (if you want two compartments or even three) pallets and some starposts. Simply bang the starposts in to fasten the upright pallets.
You always need a lot of compost for this reason it makes sense to rake up the leaves. YOu could offer your neighbours to rake up their leaves as well to get more compost or
you ask for their lawn clippings (unfortunately there are a lot of mower mulchers around these days). Try to get some manure too (RSCPA).
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