In a new series, our garden editor Cinead McTernan, shares ideas for things to do in your plot. This month, make your own compost using leaf mould.
“As a child I loved autumn. As soon as the leaves started falling, friends and I would pile them up in our school playground to make jumps so that we could spend every lunchtime galloping around and around jumping over them as if we were horses. Oh happy days!
“As a grown up I’m just as excitable about the start of autumn and I still gather leaves in to piles. The only difference is that I now scoop them up and keep them in bin liners for a few years so they can slowly decompose and transform into the most wonderful, crumbly, nutrient-rich compost, called leaf mould. If you’ve got space to store a few bin liners (out of the way behind the potting shed is always good) then it’s well worth giving this a try. If you don’t have enough leaves in your own garden to fill a bin liner or two, nip out to the park or your local woods where you’ll have plenty of material to gather.
“Oak, beech and hornbeam are the ultimate leaves for this bit of garden alchemy – they break down easily and make a very good leaf mould. Sycamore, walnut, horse and sweet chestnut leaves are actually thicker, which means it’s a good idea to shred them before storing them (you can use a rotary lawn mower to do this – just scatter them on the lawn and go over them a few times). It’s best to avoid evergreens and confer needles, as they take much longer to break down and if you’re going to recycle your christmas tree in this way, keep the pine needles separate and use for plants that like an acidic compost, like blueberries, camellias and rhododendrons.
“If the leaves are very dry when you gather them up, sprinkle some water in the bin liner to help them start them to decompose. Tie the bag in a knot and pierce with a fork a few times to create some air holes. You will have to be patient, as the process takes a couple of years, but start now and do it each year and you’ll have a great supply of good quality leaf mould to use as a seed-sowing compost in the spring. If you can’t wait that long or have enough space to store several bags, you can use year-old leaf mould, that hasn’t rotted down so well, as a mulch and soil improver.”