I'm wondering what tips people might be able to share about what they do with large amounts of leaves fallen from trees. I live on nearly an acre, in an established older neighborhood, with several good sized trees. This is a neighborhood where people take pride in their nice lawns. I'm not interested in living up to that exact standard, but I still want to be a good neighbor and not have leaves blowing everywhere. We just moved into the house last summer and so far it's pretty much all still yard although we've got big plans for the long term.
Something needs to be done about the leaves -- if I just leave them there to decompose, they'll continue to kill grass (not the biggest deal in the world) and blow into neighbors' yards. The main options I can think of are make a big pile in an out-of-the way corner to decompose, which would still leave them vulnerable to blowing, or take many truckloads of them to the citycompost dump site, which would be lots of extra work and would rob the soil of organic matter that originated there. Does anybody have tips to share on how to deal with large volumes of fallen leaves, ideally in a way that they can eventually be beneficial to the soil, but at least that won't bother the neighbors too much or necessitate truckload after truckload of hauling away?
My parents have a house along a river filed with Alders, Maples, and Oaks. Needless to say — they get a TON of leaves every year. I do the laziest possible thing: rake or run the mower over the yard (which sucks up the leaves and chops them) and dump the bag into a bin made of wire from the hardware store. This bin doesn't seem big, but leaves reduce in volume QUICKLY. The pic below had been filled up 3 times just this fall. Every week it'll reduce by about 1/2.
Next spring when I want mulch / compost I mix some of it into the garden beds. Whatever isn't fully broken down will quickly get broken down by the soil life. Easy, keeps the yard tidy, and ends up as a free source of mulch/compost.
"Instead of Pay It Forward I prefer Plant It Forward" ~Howard Story / "God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools." ~John Muir
1. Shred the leaves a bit to reduce volume - I use an E-Go lawnmower with bagger. This cuts volume by more than half per pass through the mower. I do one or two passes, depending on final intended use.
- The smaller pieces won't blow away as easily.
- They hold water better/don't dry out as fast.
- Shreds decompose faster.
- Shredding is optional if blowing leaves and dehydration of the pile is less of a concern (but your situation in KS calls for shredding, IMO)
2. Add tree branches/shrubs/vines/corn stalks... anything you can find, cut with loppers to 1 to 4 foot lengths, mixed in with shredded leaves in layers.
- The process goal is a Jean Pain style ramial compost, but cooler and with mostly leaves.
- The end goal is fungal compost rather than microbial - ideal for garden beds, potting soil, and seed starter mix.
- The branches hold down the leaves from blowing away, the leaves hold moisture to support the fungal decay of the woody branches.
3. Water and time.
- Keep it moist. In Kansas this may mean adding collected rainwater, especially in summer.
- Bigger/taller is better to reduce water loss.
- Wait a year (or more if you're lazy).
End result after one year is a mix of perfect garden compost and still undigested branches. Fork/rake/sift out the bigger/tougher branches to add to next year's pile. This will inoculate the pile even faster with the fungal mycelia.
A regular poster here (can't remember their name) extolled the benefits of fungal leaf compost here several years ago. Much of my current process is based on their work. I've built all my newest beds out of last year's fungal leaf/woody-branches pile with just a little of the soil from below the pile to capture any nutrients that leached down. It's important to keep everything moist - the fungal mycelia die back to spores if dried out, stunting the soil ecosystem. We want the soil in the annual garden beds alive and flourishing as the annuals hit their growth spurt in spring and summer.
All advice here may NOT apply, or need major modification in a different climate. Cool and wet PNW may be a terrible climate to apply leaf compost to your annual beds (maybe fungal diseases take off... I have no experience there). Or maybe the "good" fungi outcompete the "bad" fungi, protecting your veggies. Need input from others who have tried leaf fungal composts in other environments.
Leaves are the best resource for garden composting. find a way to hold them down, keep them wet, be patient.. reap benefits in a year or two.
Watch all of this guys videos. Leaves can be applied directly as mulch and plant beneath them. He has some great insight, and I have personally used leaves of all sorts for without shredding or composting. Worms and microbes do all the work for you. I've personally done this method, but ended up with serious slug problems. The second year I built a small pond by my garden and my slug problem suddenly vanished. Toads, frogs, snakes and even baby turtles came along and cleaned up nicely.
If for some reason you can't attract toads, frogs and worms, this method will fail desperately, and you'll wind up with matted leaves filled with slugs. I also have millions of snow fleas (aka spring tails) that make quick work of leaves. Late winter it sounds like it's drizzling with all the buggers springing around on the crunchy leaves.
Thanks for all the ideas, everyone. Sounds like leaf mold is a great thing to work on -- thanks Michael for tipping me off to that thread. Sounds like some people in that thread are finding ways to deal with many more leaves than I have. B Beeson, great tips -- the new place is actually in Iowa and I've updated my profile to reflect that. A little cooler, a little wetter -- better conditions for making leaf mold, I would think. I have a shady spot that would be great especially if I can fence it in a bit to keep leaves from blowing away. Jonathan, haven't gotten to watching the videos yet but thanks for the link.
I would love to have them!! One of the best soil building materials! I can imagine two options: either buy a mower-mulcher then you can leave them in place but you don't have the advantage of a good material for your veggies. Or buy a normal mower with a catcher and mow over the leaves they land in the catcher which you then throw in the compost!
I manage a large property and use leaf blowers to windrow my leaves then utilize a debris loader that sucks them up, chews them up and blows them into the back of a truck with a box on it. One load is about equal to 10 normally loaded trucks of leaves. I compost them with the leavings from my chicken coop and garden waste and occasionally manure from a neighbors farm critters. My pile starts out about 6 or 8 feet tall and about 15-20 feet in diameter. I start the pile in the fall turn weekly with the front loader on the tractor until freezing weather makes that impossible. I add my chicken coop cleanings to it again in the spring to jump start the pile again when it thaws, continue to turn and add water as needed. By the next Fall it is finished and makes a wonderful amendment to my garden. Or you could just pile them, water them and let nature take its course, adding to the top and removing the garden gold from the bottom as it is finished.
Is there a place in your back yard where you can build a big "pile-it-up-and-leave-it-alone" bin? Get 8 yards of 4' tall welded wire mesh fencing and some 6-foot t-posts . . . some cable ties to hold the fencing in place . . . bada bing, you've got yourself a nice fenced-in area where those leaves won't blow away. For $100 or so, you could build a 8' x 4' x 4' bin. That'll hold about 5 yards of leaves, which is a LOT of leaves. Make sure it swings open on one end so you can dig out all that beautiful leaf mold once its finished.
As stated above, if you mow the leaves up, they'll take much less space and will break down much quicker. My hunch is once you've composted your own yard full of leaves, you'll find yourself grabbing your neighbor's leaves as well.
"The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf