Recycling fallen autumn leaves is one of the easiest ways to produce lots of free garden compost. Leaf mould is an excellent natural soil improver, lawn conditioner and weed-suppressing mulch, and it’s really good for your organic veg patch too.
Gardeners know that you can never have too much leaf mould, but you can’t buy it in the shops, so you need to make your own. The leaves of most deciduous trees and shrubs can be composted, although some rot down more quickly than others. Leaves of beech and oak compost swiftly, but sycamore and horse chestnut tend to take a bit longer.
If you have a big garden or lots of trees you are best making leaf mould the traditional way by building a metre-square bin with wire netting and posts to hold the leaves. The bin is simply filled with leaves and they are left for a year or two to biodegrade – the leaves rot down more quickly if they are roughly chopped up first with a shredder or by running over them with the lawnmower.
A simple method for a smaller garden is to stuff the leaves into black plastic sacks with holes punched in them for drainage. Dampen the leaves, tie up the bags, then store them in a shady corner of the garden. By the following autumn they will have broken down into a rich crumbly material suitable to use as a mulch. If you leave them for another year they turn into compost which can be dug into the soil.
But do you really want piles of plastic bags in the garden? A better method is to use these Compostable Leaf Bags made from loosely woven biodegradable jute fibre. They are big enough to cram in loads of fallen leaves, then they simply need to be tied shut and stacked up in a corner of the garden. The sacks keep the leaves together but allow moisture and air to penetrate so the leaves and the sacks biodegrade through the winter, then by the spring you have a pile of lovely leafy mulch ready to use in the garden. Or if you leave it a bit longer to break down further it can be mixed with garden compost to make potting or seed compost.
Many people just regard autumn leaves as a nuisance, so if you pop round to your neighbour with a couple of these sacks and offer to clear up their leaves for them you could increase your supply of compost and earn some brownie points at the same time! But do remember to leave a few heaps of leaves in quiet tucked-away corners and below hedges and shrubs for the hedgehogs to shelter under in the winter.