Building soil is important to any home gardener. One of the best ways to build soil is by creating leaf mold, which is a type of compost that uses only leaves and nothing else.
Different from composting, making leaf mold is a cold process, done primarily by fungus while composting relies on bacteria for decomposition. With composting, you’d add green material (grass clippings, manure, kitchen scraps, etc.) In addition to adding different nutrients, it also adds heat.
This process recreates the environment of the forest floor in a small space and results in a nutrient and mineral rich soil additive you can use in a number of ways.
How to make leaf mold
The other way this process differs from compost is that you can just throw the leaves in and leave them alone. You don’t have to mix or turn the compost periodically to promote decomposition.
The first thing you’ll need to do is build a wire mesh bin to hold the leaves. Put the leaves in and soak them. You can shred the leaves in order to accerlerate the process. Moisture is important to helping the leaves break down. If the bin is too dry, you can cover with a tarp to retain moisture. You can also weave slats from old window blinds into the mesh or line it with sheet plastic to help retain the moisture. If you live in a cooler climate, the process can take as long as three years. In warmer climates, it can take as little as nine months.
Over the course of a year, your leaf pile will have lost about half of its volume. Open the bin and give the leaves a stir to get some aeration. Move the bin over and start the process again. By the third year, the first pile that you created should be broken down, black and crumbly. It should smell like you’re walking in the woods after a rainstorm. It’s now ready for use and you can start a new pile on that spot.
Another method is to just store your leaves in lawn bags. Stuff the bags full of leaves and wet them down before closing the bag. Use a garden fork to poke a number of holes in the bags to let some air in. Mark the bags and put them in some out-of-the-way nook of the yard.
Leaf mold is not only organic and environmentally friendly, it is also one of the most effective ways to create the nutrient-rich soil essential for growing vegetables, flowers and shrubs.