My precious

It’s that time of the year when we start getting the garden ready for a rest, or at least a quieter, slower time of year.

Last weekend the Vege Grower dug out 12-month-old leaf mould from a wire-netting bin he’d made at the back of the back garden, where it’s mostly out of sight and handily under a large oak (apparently one of the very best for leaf mould). He spread this mostly on his vege beds, but put a nice thick layer on the piece of garden we’ve developed this year. Leaf mould is a good soil conditioner and apparently has good water retention properties.

Pure goodness – leaf mould. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The problem with the new garden, as we’ve discovered, is that when the clever bloke on his Dingo scooped out all the tangled mess of weeds and plants that had become weeds, he also took out the earthworms. The topsoil we bought in settled like a pan and didn’t have that nice, loose look of good soil. So what to do?

Re-homing a few worms every so often from the compost bin (I wasn’t going to go digging through it, you understand) would take forever to have an effect, hence the leaf mould to try and encourage worm activity.

And my efforts at worm distribution have probably been wasted – from what I can gather, worms in compost aren’t much use in the garden and vice-versa. Compost worms in the garden need a top layer of compost to live in, while garden worms live beneath the soil. Here’s a snippet from Te Ara the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. And here’s a whole page about worms courtesy of Massey University.

This very informative article by garden writer Wally Richards gives me hope that we’re on the right track with the leaf mould … and that it’s hard to judge how many worms you have in a garden if it’s too hot, too dry or too cold!

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering how to make leaf mould (which is a gorgeous soil conditioner made from a free material), it’s simple and doesn’t require much effort:

  • Gather up autumn leaves (you can mow over them and tip the catcher into your bin, this will speed up the rotting process)
  • Put them in a container – we made a round bin by putting a couple of battens in the ground and nailing wire netting to them; and then we made another so one should be ready each year
  • Keep adding leaves until the container is full (we also put the occasional load of grass clippings in too, adding nitorgen to what otherwise is solely carbon)
  • Water the container if rain isn’t forecast, decay needs moisture
  • Leave for a year – the volume will sink to about half during this time
  • Dig out and use.

You can also just put leaves in a black bin bag, soak them (see above re decay) and poke a few holes in the bag to drain the excess water and let air in. Give it a good shake every once in a while and check for moisture.

I have read that urine is a wonderful accelerator for leaf mould but have no first-hand experience so will leave that one up to you. Here’s a YouTube video on the topic (no actual peeing involved).

Why not just add them to the compost? Because leaves break down through the work of fungi, not bacteria.


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