Monday, November 2, 2009

Leaves and Mulch~ Gardener's Delight.


In the Garden
By Catherine Dougherty
By now most of the leaves have fallen from the trees and gardeners have begun raking them into sumptuous piles. These marvelous gems protect us from the sun in the summer, provide a breath taking display of color in the Autumn, then fall to the ground to continue their work. Their merit is far beyond providing a marvelous crackling pile where the children and pets frolic. They are a source of natural and valuable fertilizer.
The forest floor is covered by undisturbed leaves that break down over time creating the rich soil that nourishes the fledging saplings until they grow to become forest giants in an ever-repeating cycle. If one takes inspiration from this natural cycle, the value of this process may be utilized in the garden. Suddenly the leaves are no longer a nuisance; they are the final gift of the season.
The average gardener does not have the decades needed by the forest to perform this process so enterprising individuals may take a short cut which presents the same results. The fallen leaves must be raked and then shredded before breaking down over the course of the winter. Work only with dry leaves as wet are far too heavy and difficult, making the effort a lesson in futility. For those gardeners without a leaf shredder, the easiest way to chop them is to run over them with the mover.
They may be added to the gardens as such or an industrious individual may make a compost bin such as the 3' by 3' one shown. To compost add the leaves in 12 - 18 inch layers. On the top of each later, add a handful of urea, ammonium nitrate, bone meal, or a layer of grass clippings. These ingredients will add the necessary nitrogen required to break down the leaves over the winter. Then toss about the leaves and nitrogen additives mixing with water. You want the ingredients dampened well, but not saturated. Repeat this layering until your bin is full, cover with a clear plastic tarp, and let the ‘batter’ cook over the winter.
It is a good practice to toss it about again in February. By that time you will see the creation of true mulch which will be ready to add to the garden by Spring. You may see white areas on the leaves. This is a leaf fungus that adds to the mulch's nutrient value and is currently coveted by organic gardeners everywhere. While it doesn’t provide as much nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium as manure, leaf mold is rich in calcium and magnesium, which are essential for healthy gardens.
Happy Raking!