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Making Leaf mould  RSS feed

 
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I am starting to make some leaf mould but I have a few questions becasue I've seen some contradictions in people's advice on how to go about making it. One big one is that I've heard you don't want your pile to produce heat, so you keep it below a certain size. another question I have would be is it better to let it have it as open as possible so it can breathe, or to maybe put some kind of liner around the bin in order to retain moisture?

Also, I realize I need to shred the leaves. I have a lawn mower that I can chop them up with, but it is the mower that I use for work and has come in contact with dog poo. How saniary do I need to be about this? Is it enough to just hose down the mower? Or should I maybe use some kind of sanitizer on it first?
 
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When you are making leaf mold I would not worry about keeping it small. In fact I would go the other way and make it big. If all you have in it are fall leaves it won't heat up because the decomposition will be mostly done by fungi and not bacteria. But if you add a nitrogen source to it (greens, manure, etc.) then you are making regular compost and not leaf mold. The process to make leaf mold is cold and slow.

Just to stress - if you want leaf mold and not compost then you need to only use fall leaves.

I would not put a liner in the bin but if you are worried about moisture I would put a tarp over the top but leave the sides open to the air. But I would only put the tarp on top when it is getting dry again in your area.

As far as shredding the leaves that is not needed. What shredding does is it speeds up the decomposition process so you get leaf mold faster. So it depends on how quickly you want to get your leaf mold. But unlike regular composting leaf mold will always take a while. Even with shredded leaves I would think it would still take a minimum of 6 months and potentially still a year to get leaf mold. Without shredding the leaves depending on your climate you are looking at 1 year to 2 or even 3 years for good leaf mold.

For myself I make big piles and I don't shred the leaves. I use pallets (untreated) as the walls to my 2 bins and both were filled to the brim with fall leaves. Next fall I will take the resulting leaf mold out and place it on my garden and let it sit until spring when I plant. In my climate this should work fine. You can add fresh fall leaves to your garden as a mulch so my thought is even if the leaf mold is not fully broken down it will still work good and will continue to break down overtime.

If your garden has good soil with a lot of soil life the leaves will be broken down very quickly. Earth worms and many other critters love fall leaves.

As far as the dog poo and the lawn mower... I would just hose down the mower and call it good. The amount of poo left on the mower will be small if it is just from mowing grass with the occasional dog poo pile. Since the leaves would be sitting for a while anyways that should be enough to make it safe. Fungi are great at breaking things down.
 
warren mccarthy
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Thank you friend! That was very helpful. I am actually trying to go as low tech as possible, so I might not even spend the time shredding the leaves after all. Our garden gets plenty of compost every year ammended to it, so it should be fine for a couple years while I wait.

As for the leaves being all brown- I made two bins with pretty much all brown sycamore leaves in them. then I also made two more bins and filled them with a pile that I got from a customers house a week or so ago. when I started collecting the pile, I noticed that parts of it were warm because even though the leaves were falling off because of the season, some of them were still green. I am wondering if I should just throw those in the regular compost pile now.
 
Daron Williams
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Happy to help!

I would not worry too much about a few green leaves - you will get a quick heat up and then it will cool down. Just make sure the majority are regular fall leaves. Normally in a traditional compost pile you have to turn it to keep it warm so if you just leave the your leaf pile alone it should not stay hot.
 
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I have a gazillion oak leaves an pile them in wire bins made of short pieces of no-climb fence turned in a circle an hooked to itself. They average 3-4' in diameter. I set them on a piece of tin. I pack in the leaves. I stuff it full an in time it goes down. It takes a long time for oak leaves but in 1-3 years it makes beautiful soil. I set tin under it or the tree roots find their way in and make getting the stuff much more difficult. I don't cover mine and actually pitch in my dogs poo on occasion. Years ago I lived with a couple giant sycamores and their leaves broke down much faster...
 
warren mccarthy
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Thanks Annie! It's good to know that Oak leaves were still able to break down in only a few years because we have tons of them here. Maybe we'll just do that instead of burning them this year. We already compost a lot of them but there are just so many! And thank you for the tip about the tin floor as well. I dont have any extra tin laying around so I'll have to think of something else maybe.
 
warren mccarthy
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I had another question. I just got about a yard of leaves from a customers house. I know that her neighbor has a cat though and I guess I just worry about whether or not it pooped in the leaves. Is this something I should worry about. I haven't noticed any poop in her yard before. I have heard before that cat poop can carry diseases that ate not destroyed during the compost process.
 
Daron Williams
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warren mccarthy wrote:I had another question. I just got about a yard of leaves from a customers house. I know that her neighbor has a cat though and I guess I just worry about whether or not it pooped in the leaves. Is this something I should worry about. I haven't noticed any poop in her yard before. I have heard before that cat poop can carry diseases that ate not destroyed during the compost process.



If it was me I would not worry about it. Earlier you said you were going to let your pile sit for 1 or more years. Sitting that long I don't think any disease is going to remain.

But I would use gloves regardless. I got bit by a queen yellow jacket once when messing with a pile of leaves... so now I always keep gloves on.
 
warren mccarthy
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Thank you Daron. I just emptied the leaves into a new cage and have yet to see any turds anyways.

Another question. I was wondering if introducing mycelium from a local mushroom would be beneficial to making leaf mould. Would that kind of change the finished product?
 
Daron Williams
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warren mccarthy wrote:Thank you Daron. I just emptied the leaves into a new cage and have yet to see any turds anyways.

Another question. I was wondering if introducing mycelium from a local mushroom would be beneficial to making leaf mould. Would that kind of change the finished product?



My understanding is that the fungi needed to break down the leaves will already be on the leaves so you don't need to introduce new fungi for the leaf mold process to work. That being said I don't see any harm in adding additional fungi to the mix, though some that grow great on the ground might not do as well in a pile of leaves.

One thing to note is that leaving the pile of leaves sitting for 1 or more years does mean that spores from local fungi will likely end up in the pile on their own. Some may take and grow and some won't - I'm not sure which specific types would do the best.

My thought is give it a try if you want as an experiment but if you want to be lazy just let the process move forward on its own. I know for myself one of the big appeals to leaf mold is how easy it is to get started

Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?
 
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I have been collecting fall leaves from my neighbors and the area for going on eight years now, as many as 100 cubic yards a couple of years ago...

I have noticed that wetness/dryness makes a big difference in how they break down.
If the leaves are collected wet (like pretty much all of them this year, a very wet November in Boston) they break down faster and hotter.
If collected dry and then piled up, the pile sheds most of the water, and it only penetrates about a foot. I have waited until late spring to turn the pile, and found perfect dry leaves inside (both shredded and whole). That turning and re-stacking both aerates and redistributes the moisture more evenly, and begins a new heat-up rather quickly.
 
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Little off topic as I did a hot compost. The leaves breakdown reasonably quickly with just a bit of urea added to the stack. I only did two turns of the stack then just let it sit all year. Its a third of its original volume and the texture is crumbly to the touch. Great stuff. Going to be fed to the bare root trees I ordered. This years leaves are already in a pile ready to get the 'treatment'.
 
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At my new house I raked all the leaves, even got neighbor's leaves, shredded them up, added to my garden beds.. did this for about four years, then noticed my garden bed production was going down... after doing some research found out cottonwood leaves are allelopathic... and that is the majority of the leaves I used, unfortunatly.  

Anyone have any ideas on how to countreract this?  I also mix in what ever open bags of stuff are available at our garden center - mushroom compost, steer compost, sheep -n- peat, along with some garden soil, horse manure, chicken dropping with pine shavings... (let the beds with the chicken and horse age for a year before planting).

Our native soil is alkaline clayish so I didnt want to start with that, which is why I did raised beds.

ANy thoughts on how to fix?

Thanks
Sandy  


 
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I've been using leafmold for several years. I also make regular compost, and create piles of half-rotted logs and such in the woods. I dump pee on all the piles, including the leaves, which I do shred--that way they turn into leafmold (mostly) in one year, where it takes two if left whole. I think they pack and shed rain more if whole, too. I see no reason to put anything under the bin--I also use wire cages about four feet in diameter and height, not covered. We get about 40 inches of rain well distributed through the year. I keep records of what I grow in my permanent raised beds and what I add to them; thus I've noticed that the beds that get leafmold seem to fairly consistently do better than the ones that get compost. But I never have enough to give it to all beds. I've read that carrots and cole crops especially benefit so I always put some in the beds intended for them in the spring (I do most of my soil prep the preceding fall) and that it shouldn't be used for peppers (no idea why). I still am not sure about sun versus shade--I tried an experiment at first with one bin in the woods behind the house and one in the sun. When I tried to collect the leafmold from the one in the woods, I found that the nearby trees had infiltrated it with such a lacework of roots that it was too much hassle to get much of the leafmold. When I dig out the finished leafmold, I put the not-finished stuff in a plastic garbage can for the winter, and I usually find some especially big fat grubs deep in the leafmold--special treats for my chickens. I also throw a couple of nbags of leaves next to my humanure bins, which get plenty of leaves as they're in woods--but by late summer it's hard to find leaves to cover the latest deposits, so the bags I left there last fall are handy.
 
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Sandy wrote:At my new house I raked all the leaves, even got neighbor's leaves, shredded them up, added to my garden beds.. did this for about four years, then noticed my garden bed production was going down... after doing some research found out cottonwood leaves are allelopathic... and that is the majority of the leaves I used, unfortunatly.  

Anyone have any ideas on how to countreract this?  



Hi Sandy, welcome to Permies!  When you added the cottonwood leaves, did you turn them under or just mulch the tops of the beds with them?  I think burying shredded leaves can tie up any nitrogen in the soil that is really close to each particular piece of leaf.  With surface mulch or a few buried hunks of wood, that "really close" bit of soil is limited.  But shredded leaves tilled in may be spread around evenly enough that it could have an impact.  

I'd tend towards minimizing additional inputs from non-organic sources and maybe don't add anything for a year and let things settle out.

Hopefully the real experts come along soon with better answers for you
 
pollinator
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Hopefully the real experts come along soon with better answers for you  


Qualifications for an expert:  an X is a has-been and a spurt  is a drip that is under pressure. Therefor if you have been under pressure, taken action and come out of it you are an expert.
When I was homesteading at Wauna [hill of springs] there was a spring that came out of the sand on the side of the hill across the highway where a small dam was installed to provide irrigation water to the neighboring lands. It was surrounded by large maple leaves so leaf mold would form naturally and accumulate in the bottom of the reservoir. Periodically I was allowed to divert the stream through the orchard and garden and open the clean out in the bottom of the dam and spread the leaf mold.  My observation is that good black leaf mold has much of the properties of biochar in the soil.
The maples that wer on my side of the highway I would rake down and cover the cardboard that I had put out for weed suppression. The mycilium that grew underneath turned out to be morels so the mushroom came up at each intersection of the cardboard.
This year I am filling the compost bins with a mix of leaves and spoiled apples and bitter pears which supply a slow release of water and attract the earthworms. I do use scraps of metal or plastic roofing under the bins where tree roots will have access but that is not necessary on open ground where you plan to have a planting bed in the future.
My philosophy is to broad fork my soil to remove perennial roots otherwise just pile organic material on it and let the soil develop naturally at the interface. It is possible that if you mix leaves into dirt it will take a year or 2 before it will become soil just like the pile of leaves.
 
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I don't think one can really mess up with leaves. You might speed up or slow down the process but in the end it will all be good stuff. I've been rounding up as many as possible lately. Filling holes & making big piles. Compressing by walking on them. Then adding more leaves. Then the winds blows & tons more fall down. Repeat. It's a very major chore here but well worth the effort. They will sit all winter. In the spring some will be used as mulch, some to start new gardens, some added to existing compost piles, & some used for worms. You can't have too many earthworms or too many leaves:)
 
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I remember laughing my socks off at this Ted Talk on composting leaves...very funny but very useful! I now have a regular supply of coffe grounds and leaves.
https://youtu.be/n9OhxKlrWwc

 
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Lovely thead, tons of information. All situations are different, different trees, different soils, everybody uses different techniques.
Here goes my 20 cents, i had raised beds, which were too high off the ground, plants had difficulty getting water, so i got rid of the wood and have made hugel culture mounds, which my neighbour cats start to use as a littertray. Yuk.
Cats don't like wet leaves, so i went and got basswood/lime/linden/tilia leaves and spread them over the hugel. I've used them before and read they decompose very quickly They are used by gardeners in their vegetable patches to cover the beds in winter and they are gone in spring.
I've added them to my compost pile last year, where they just sat there when they were all stuck together. and were gone quickly once i've turned it over. I guess the worms where busy elsewhere eating something sweet and leaving the lumb of leaves for the rhizomae, which penetrated the ball of leaves from the outside one by one. Which took time, which i don't like.
I like things to happen quickly. But nature takes it's time..
Keep feeding your soils folks it's all for the good!  
 
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Hello Everyone,
So this is a bit of a silly question but could someone clarify what is the benefit of leaf mold over compost?  Are there different end uses for each of them?  Certain plants that prefer one over the other?  I'm getting the idea that leaf mold germinates mushrooms and that compost does not.  That compost needs to be hot and leaf mold does best cold but takes longer to finish.  So why do we prefer leaf mold?  Would it ruin the leaf mold if I added some rabbit manure/bedding to the pile of leaves?  Would it be better to cover it during heavy winter rain/snow?  Thanks
 
Hugo Morvan
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Hi Denise, i don't think it's a silly question, or i would have answered it.
But i do like to say you can also have vermi compost, with worms, not necessarily just hot composting.
The heat builds up in worm compost as well, but not as much as in the hot composting ,which is done in huge piles of a cubic meter or something. The good thing is it cooks the seeds, so less weeding, but the bad thing is it wipes out a lot of the micro organisms as well.
So not everybody likes it that much. Vermi composting also can get a lot of mycelium (these white strings, root of mushrooms) in your compost which in turn does lead to mushrooms. I've added some earth from an old oak to my compost pile, i came across that oak on a walk especially for the purpose to add mycelium, oaks have the highest numbers of beneficial mycelium, that attach to roots of plants to exchange plantsugar for nutrient the plant can't get at. Especially old oak have a lot of these cooperations going on.
Hope this clarifies something.
 
Mary Wildfire
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To answer a couple of questions: recent research has illuminated the distinction between what happens in woody--and probably leafy--compost, versus the manure/vegetable refuse/grass/hay/etc compost piles. Trees and shrubs benefit from the kind of compost made from woody things, I think because of the fungal microorganisms that thrive in them and carry on symbiotic exchanges with the roots of the shrubs and trees. But most vegetables prefer the regular compost. A great book on this is Teaming With Microbes. For me, my regular compost rarely heats up enough to kill the weed seeds and disease organisms. I've had warm spots in my leaf bins, but that's because sometimes shredding the leaves with a lawnmower, some grass clippings get in. I'd say covering the bins would only be worth doing if you're getting way too much rain. I always have un-molded leaves on the outside of my bins when the rest is done, I think because it gets too much air--sometimes there are dry spots in the middle too. As I mentioned, I read once that carrots and cole crops especially benefit from leaf mold and peppers are the one thing that should compost instead--but i don't really know if this is true. I've just noticed that beds that got leaf mold have tended to produce better crops than the ones that didn't. As for adding manure, it might make your end result more like compost, but if you don't have somewhere else to put the manure, it surely can't hurt. I do pour urine on mine, but as I have 8 to 10 compost piles, the trun of each one only comes around about once a month. This is very high in nitrogen and phosphorus. I'd say about the only way you can go wrong with leaves is using unshredded ones as mulch, especially in a dry climate; or using leafmold from something with strong allellopathic elements as someone earlier mentioned. Incidentally, I've read that once composted, oak leaves and even pine needles are no longer acidic.
 
Kenneth Elwell
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Another benefit of leaf mold is that, in general, there is a lower weed seed load in the leaf mold.
As opposed to "standard compost" that may contain a variety of weed and vegetable seeds, that all have the potential to create more seeds in just one season.
Any tree seeds (acorns, maple-whirly thingys, etc...) are going to take years before they could be that sort of nuisance... and depending on your collection methods, are even possible to exclude from the leaves in the first place.
 
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Sandy Smithson wrote:At my new house I raked all the leaves, even got neighbor's leaves, shredded them up, added to my garden beds.. did this for about four years, then noticed my garden bed production was going down... after doing some research found out cottonwood leaves are allelopathic... and that is the majority of the leaves I used, unfortunatly.  

Anyone have any ideas on how to countreract this?  I also mix in what ever open bags of stuff are available at our garden center - mushroom compost, steer compost, sheep -n- peat, along with some garden soil, horse manure, chicken dropping with pine shavings... (let the beds with the chicken and horse age for a year before planting).



A couple of interesting thoughts in my head from this post, one of which I spun off into it's own thread Alleopathic leaves for weed control? Basically the idea is using alleopathic leaves to kill off things I don't want, or to keep the driveway free of grass.

The other one thought I have black walnut trees on my property, what percentage of non-aleopathic leaves does it take to negate them? Anyone have any idea where that could be learned?  
 
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First post on this news gem of a forum. Happy to have stumbled upon it.

I'm still trying to figure out a good technique for making leaf mold. I work for a school garden which is located next to our green dumpster used by the landscapers. Needless to say, I now have piles and piles of fall leaves (CA coastal ornamentals, mostly) and nearly unlimited fresh grass clippings. I've got the composting program going strong and am now working on my leaf mold production. So far what I have going is chipping the leaves (using a Flowtron shredder) into garbage pails, soaking the leaves by filling the barrel with water then draining, and then packing the leaves into what I'm calling my leaf mold molder (images attached). The molder is made from a 4 foot wide 1/4 inch hardware cloth, held in a silo shape by old bike tires (I also run an after school bike mechanics program and have incorporated a lot of old bike parts into the garden). I am experimenting with the moisture barrier cover. So far I've tried using fence privacy cloth, but that seemed to allow too much evaporation during summer. So, now I just pull a contractors bag over it and slip the tires on, and it seems to hold the moisture. I've not yet harvested as my oldest silo is only 6 months old, but the level of leaves keeps dropping in it. Looking forward to the harvest...
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Leaf Mold Molder Naked
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Leaf Mold Molder Covered
 
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Amanda Launchbury-Rainey wrote:I remember laughing my socks off at this Ted Talk on composting leaves...
https://youtu.be/n9OhxKlrWwc


He's like the Lewis Black (U.S. comedian) of composting. I went out and bought a leaf blower/Vac because of that video. They don't work too good here. Keep picking up twigs and pebbles that get jammed in the works.
 
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