Monday, November 14, 2011

How To Shred Your Leaves to Create Leaf Mulch

Have you ever wondered why some people gather as many leaves as they can, even pick up their neighbors’ leaves and create leaf mulch out of them?

Well there’s a good reason for wanting this leaf mulch (also known as leaf mold) in their gardens. While compost is excellent for improving soil texture and adding nutrients to the soil, the broken down leaf mulch (often referred to as leaf mold) is the best soil amendment you can use:

1) Leaf mulch helps the soil hold onto water even during times of extreme drought.

2) It improves the structure of the soil by adding humus; that is, decayed vegetable matter.

3) It provides carbon, a much-needed ingredient in all good soil types, and

4) It is a fantastic home for earth worms and other beneficial bacteria.

It is important to shred the leaves first before adding them to your soil. The more you break them down the faster the resulting leaf mulch will decompose and turn to soil.

If leaves are dug into a garden without first being shredded, there is a chance that they will not decompose thoroughly. The bad side of that situation is that decomposition requires nitrogen. If you are not planting anything in that area where you have dug in your leaves, there’s no problem.
However, if you want to plant vegetables in the same plot where there are leaves not fully decomposed, the leaves will use up the nitrogen in your soil and the veggies, who also need nitrogen to grow, will suffer.

So if you want to use your leaves as leaf mulch, here are seven shredding methods you can choose from. The first three methods require less work, but the decomposition takes longer (6 to 12 months). The last few methods will drastically speed up decomposition but does require more work (well worth it, I might add .. . and easy to do)

1. You can make leaf mulch by piling all the leaves in a corner of your yard and letting the worms gradually drag them under. Better still, if you have a set up where your garden is bounded on three sides by a fence, you can spread your leaves all over the garden, wet them down and turn them over occasionally by shuffling your feet as you walk through them. Unless you have a super pileup of leaves, most of them should have disappeared by spring. This method is all right if you don’t have that many leaves

2. A second way to create leaf mulch is to pile your leaves into a wire or wooden bin at least three feet square by three feet tall. Then wet down the leaves with a hose, and when the pile is thoroughly moistened let it sit for the winter. The leaves will gradually break down.
3. A third method is to use large plastic garbage bags in which you can store the gathered leaves. At this point you have a choice:

a) with a hose, moisten the leaves thoroughly before you close the top of the bag. Then, to allow air to circulate freely through the leaves in the bag, puncture holes with a sharp object or even a garden fork. Then stock pile the bags somewhere out of the way.

b) A second choice is to leave the bag tops open so that the leaves will dry. Once dry, use the “brown material” for your compost. Mix one part of “greens” (kitchen scraps etc.) to 5 parts dry leaves. You can add an accelerator to your compost to help it heat up.

4. A great way to create leaf mulch is by using a grass trimmer and a big garbage can to shred your leaves. Simply dump an armful of leaves into the garbage can, then shred by running the grass trimmer through the bunch of leaves. Keep repeating the procedure.

When you feel you have a sufficient amount of broken down leaves in your garbage can, transfer the leaf mulch to a plastic bag and choose method a or b in Number 3 to store your shredded leaves. Keep repeating the procedure until all the leaves have been shredded. See the video which explains the procedure of shredding with a grass trimmer and a large garbage can.

5. A variation of the number 4 method is to shred your leaves with a mulching lawn mower. First spread your leaves over the ground about 3 to 4 inches thick and pass over these leaves four or five times with your lawn mower. If your leaves are spread too thick, your mower might choke.

If your lawn mower can be equipped with a bag, you can collect your shredded leaves more quickly and more easily. The only hard part is to empty the bag every so often. To finish, gather the shredded leaves with a rake and put them into a bin or leave them on the ground to decompose. An alternative is to follow instructions in Number 3 above.

6. My favorite method when creating leaf mulch was to gather up the fallen leaves with a handheld electric blower/vacuum. I would set up the blower in such a way that the leaves would be swept up and blown into a bag. As the leaves would go through the system, they would be shredded many times over; thus, the overall bulk of leaves would be reduced tremendously and the decomposition would not take as long.

I would then empty the bag of shredded leaves into big garbage bags.
A few of these bags of leaves would be stored near my compost bins so that I could add some brown matter to my compost bin in the winter time while the rest would be put through the leaf eater to create finer mulch.

7. To further break down the leaves into extremely fine pieces, use a leaf eater through which you would run the already shredded leaves. This seventh method requires more work, but the resulting tiny, tiny pieces of broken down leaf was well worth the extra work. This leaf mulch could be used to top mulch overwintering plants to protect them against extreme cold in the winter. (When I put this mulch around my roses in the fall, I never lost a rose to frost or bitter cold.) In the spring, this mulch will break down more easily into a brown humus which can then be worked into the soil.

If you notice, when leaves fall in a wooded area, the leaf mulch will turn to a dark brown to black soil which has a beautiful earthy smell and a crumbly texture. People who understand cold composting and recognize the value of the leaf mulch will either go to wooded areas and gather up this black soil and mix it with their garden soil as soil amendment and/or shred fallen leaves and make their own leaf mulch which can then be used to supercharge their soil. Isnare,

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