Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine
Heaps of goodness
As any gardener knows, fallen leaves can be recycled to help boost your soil, writes David Overend.
Nature can be a kind and generous thing – even if some of her gifts appear to be anything but. And as autumn really starts to bite, one special annual present is beginning to make its presence felt – leaves. One night a tree is almost fully clothed; the following morning it is bare to the boughs and its leaves are scattered to the winds and piled, sodden and sad, around the parental trunk.
But one tree’s loss is another gardener’s gain – if you collect all those fallen leaves and pile them into a heap, they will start to decompose and, hey presto, in a couple of years they’ll have turned into rich organic material to use as a mulch or soil conditioner.
So, thank you, Nature, for an especially valuable freebie. By the word “heap”, I mean a properly constructed container to house the leaves and to stop them flying off here, there and everywhere during the winds of winter.
It’s a relatively simple job – get yourself four wooden posts (at least five feet long) and arrange them to form the four corners of a square in a sheltered, out-of-the-way part of the garden.
Hammer them into the soil and then nail chicken wire to them to make your container. Then just keep collecting leaves and layering them into the “heap”, ensuring that they are neither too wet nor too dry. Should you want to speed up decomposition, add an accelerator like fresh horse dung (there is never a shortage of the stuff ), which will help ensure enough heat is generated to keep the decaying process going strong.
If there’s no room for a wire enclosure, fill a black polythene bin bag with damp leaves, cut a few air holes in the plastic, tie the top and leave it somewhere sheltered to get on with its job. Cheap and very simple.
Some leaves compost far quicker than others. The best are those lower in lignin (important in the formation of cell walls, especially in wood and bark, because they lend rigidity and do not rot easily) and higher in calcium and nitrogen.
These include ash, maple, fruit tree leaves, poplar and willow. These “good’’ leaves will typically break down in about a year.
Big leaves such as sycamore and horse chestnut are best chopped up before composting.