GAR­DEN­ING

The Advertiser - - WEEKEND EXTRA - YOUR GUIDE - SUC­CESS­FUL COM­POST­ING

THE last of this sea­son’s au­tumn leaves are about to fall, adding to the now soggy lay­ers al­ready on the ground.

In many gar­dens these will end up in coun­cil re­cy­cling bins and con­verted into com­mer­cial com­post. But why waste this valu­able re­source when – at very lit­tle ex­pense – it is eas­ily re­cy­cled into leaf mulch, pot­ting mix im­prover or com­post and used in your own gar­den?

QUICK AND EASY

The eas­i­est op­tion is to rake the leaves to­gether while they are damp. Then put them in a heap out of the way (be­hind the tool­shed, un­der a tree canopy) where not ex­posed to wind and where pos­si­ble pro­tected from soak­ing.

Then they can moul­der away over win­ter.

By mid-spring the leaves should have started to de­com­pose. While the con­tent of the heap may look like a soggy, mat­ted mess, rest as­sured the re­sult­ing ma­te­rial is ideal for mulching, par­tic­u­larly when spread be­tween rows of newly planted veg­etable and flower seedlings. Leaf mulch is also ideal for mulching fruit and or­na­men­tal trees grow­ing in large con­tain­ers.

Tri­als have shown how a 2-3 cm layer of leaf mulch ap­plied early in the grow­ing sea­son can re­duce wa­ter con­sump­tion in the veg­etable gar­den by 30 to 50 per cent.

POT­TING MIX IM­PROVER

Au­tumn leaves by them­selves con­tain very lit­tle in the way of es­sen­tial plant nu­tri­ents, par­tic­u­larly ni­tro­gen, phos­pho­rus and potash. How­ever, their nu­tri­ent con­tent can be in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly sim­ply by soak­ing them – be­fore they are heaped – in slurry made from aged an­i­mal ma­nure and wa­ter.

Chicken and cow ma­nures are ideal and are read­ily avail­able by the bag from gar­den out­lets.

Place 10-15 litres of ma­nure into a large plas­tic con­tainer (rub­bish bin, wheel­bar­row or 40 litre PVC stor­age bin). Add 15-20 litres of wa­ter, ag­i­tate to make slurry and start dunk­ing the leaves. If pos­si­ble keep the leaves to­gether by sur­round­ing the re­sult­ing heap with chicken wire or PVC fenc­ing mesh (looks more at­trac­tive than chicken wire).

Al­ter­na­tively, a less messy op­tion is to buy a 1 litre bot­tle of liq­uid or­ganic fer­tiliser and use this at four times the rec­om­mended mix­ing rate. Al­low each batch of leaves to soak in the so­lu­tion for at least 30 min­utes.

Note: Make sure the leaves are fully de­com­posed be­fore us­ing them as an ad­di­tive to your pot­ting mix. As a guide, they should make up about 15 per cent by vol­ume of the over­all mix.

THE BEST OP­TION ... COM­POST

Com­post is very dif­fer­ent to leaf mulch, where the plant ma­te­ri­als be­ing used are still in a semi-de­cayed form.

With com­post, the ma­te­ri­als are com­pletely de­com­posed by myr­iad nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring soil micro­organ­isms. In their wake the mi­crobes leave be­hind soft black or brown mois­ture­ab­sorb­ing ma­te­rial known as hu­mus. How­ever, the qual­ity of your com­post is very depen­dent on the nu­tri­ent con­tent of the ma­te­ri­als you use.

Qual­ity com­post is made by gath­er­ing spent veg­etable and flower plants, lawn clip­pings, green weeds and, if pos­si­ble, aged an­i­mal ma­nures, and blend­ing this with dried leaves, chopped prun­ings, dried grass and straw.

The best qual­ity com­post is made when the heap you pro­duce is at least 1m high and wide. This en­sures the heat gen­er­ated by the com­post­ing process is re­tained as this speeds up the process of con­vert­ing these ma­te­ri­als into com­post.

Chop chunky ma­te­ri­als into small pieces.

Use a range of ma­te­ri­als but limit any sin­gle ma­te­rial to 30 per cent of the to­tal vol­ume. Make sure the ma­te­ri­als are wet be­fore plac­ing them in 1530cm lay­ers.

Keep in­di­vid­ual ma­te­ri­als in sep­a­rate piles un­til you have enough to pro­duce a cu­bic me­tre heap in one op­er­a­tion.

Jon Lamb writes a Good Gar­den­ing email at gar­de­nand out­door­liv­ing.com or face­book .com/jon­lamb good gar­den­ing

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