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Making Leaf Mold
November 09, 2009
Hi,

November 11, Veterans Day in the United States and Rememberance Day in Canada.

Please take a moment to remember and thank our 'Veterans.'

What a wonderful first week of November weather wise here in Southwest Michigan.

Temperatures have moderated somewhat and we have had some much needed sunshine.

Temperatures hit the 60's on Saturday and low 70's Sunday.

What a blessing as this week promises some more days in the 60's and 50's.

For this time of year, in Michigan.................

A Huge Bonus.

I wanted to get outside and play on Friday and Saturday, but there were things on the honey do list to finish.

The past couple of weeks we had the master bathroom remodeled.

I'm not capable of putting in a new bathtub and the plumbing, but I am pretty good with a paint brush, mudding and other odd stuff.

The skylight in the kitchen was leaking and that had to be replaced as well (not by me).

If you hear me crying, that is because the pinch I am feeling in the wallet right now.

Karen is happy and that is all that matters.

Jupiter shines bright in the Southern evening skies.

Early risers may catch a glimps of Venus low in the East to Southeast horizon.

I spotted my first Red-breasted nuthatch for the season.

These are friendly little birds and easy to hand train.

Many of you are asking about the robins.

I still have American robins hanging around and love it.

All to often we think of robins as true migratory birds.

Most of our migratory birds leave before the food supply runs short.

Hummers require nectar and small insect.

Many birds are strictly insectivores.

They need to migrate while supplies are still plentiful.

Robins are omnivores, meaning they feed on fruits and animal life (worms and insects).

Robins adjust their diet to what is available.

As long as there is something to eat, they are in no big hurry to move on.

The same goes for local populations of Canada geese and Mallard ducks.

Birds that spend the winters in the North country adjust their eating habits or diet to fruits, nuts, seeds and a few insects they may find.

Some become strictly seed eaters.

American goldfinches are virtually 100% seed eaters, as long as there is food, there is no real need to migrate.

Say, do you have a Thanksgiving memory or tradition you would like to share?

From now through November, I will publish a few of your favorites with every letter instead of bunching them in one large letter.

If yo care to share, send your thoughts along with

your First name.

city you are near.

Your state.

Sorry Canada.

Late October winds and rains knocked down a vast majority of Autumn's colors.

Yes, though spectacular, Fall colors were cut short this year.

Fallen leaves means at least one more fall task.

Raking and taking care of them.

As a Naturalist and nature gardener, I do allow leaves to collect on my flower beds and gardens.

In fact, I will add to the cause.

Leaves do not go wasted in my yard.

I even collect leaves from others.

So what do I do with all of this carbon based matter?

Read on.



All those fallen leaves must be good for something.

Right?

After all, they are part of the natural world.

Microbes, bacteria, insect life, plant protection and homes for some wildlife.

Not to mention soil amending.

In the natural world, leaves blow around. They get lodged under shrubs, flowers and grass clumps.

Leaves carpet the forest floor offering protection, insulation, homes for insects and small mammals, which in return feed birds and larger animals.

Leaves also improve the soil.

All part of God's intricate system for life.

Many of you are like me, we grew up raking up big piles of leaves.

We jumped in the piles and played before burning them.

Yards and gardens were to be kept clean (prim and proper).

Still others may have grown bagging and trashing your leaves.

While a small minority understood Nature.

More and more, leaves are collected and brought recycle centers where they are (often sold) used for mulches and soil additives.

Fallen leaves are a good thing.

I allow leaves to collect under shrubs for the winter and shred some for gardens and flower beds.

I continue to preach the importance of natural gardening.

Leaves provide protection for your plants and homes for insects.

Insects in return feed your birds from fall through spring.

I enjoy watching robins, towhees and other birds scratching through the leaves for their next meal.

More insects, more birds.

I also bag up leaves and if need be, snag bags of leaves to cover up tender perennials.

I live in Zone5 and have had great success keeping plants alive that are Zone hardy to Zones 6 - 8.

Not only to I get a kick out of saving a plant, I save money doing so.

You can do this as well.

Cut back your tender perennials like Sages, salvias and even Gerbera daisies.

Place a full garbage bag of leaves on top and let it go until spring.

I'm not sure how well this will work in Zones 3 - 4, but it should work well In higher numbered zones.

For me, the plants are slow to come up, but when they do, they are bigger and better than the following year.

After that, the bag of leaves are put to use once again as mulch of into making leaf mold.




Leaf Mold:

Leaf mold isn't something you find growing in the back of your refrigerator on last week's left over spinach or broccoli.

It isn't the mold from old cheese either.

Leaf mold is something far more exciting.

This dark brown, sweet-smelling, moisture-retentive mulch is slowly growing more popular.

Yet, the curious thing about leaf mold is that so few gardeners in North America even know what it is.

That’s probably because here in the North America, there’s only one way to get leaf mold...........

You need to make it yourself.

Leaf mold is nothing more than partially decomposed leaves that are somewhere between shredded leaves and humus.

If you wonder what it looks like, next time you’re in the woods, just kneel down and push away a small area of dry leaves.

Underneath, you’ll reveal a layer of leaf mold—a crumbly brown material with a pleasant, earthy scent.


The Benefits of Leaf Mold:

Leaf mold has several great attributes.

The first is that it can hold up to 500 percent of its own weight in water.

Besides helping retain moisture in the soil by reducing evaporation, leaf mold also absorbs rainwater to reduce runoff, and in hot weather............................

It helps cool roots and foliage.

Most leaves are slightly acidic when they fall, with a pH below 6.

However, as the leaves break down into leaf mold, the pH goes up into more a neutral range.

Leaf mold will not correct pH problems, but will have a moderating effect.

Over time, yearly applications of leaf mold mulch can significantly improve the quality of your soil.

The result will be better water-holding capacity, a more friable texture, and an increase in beneficial soil life.

Though leaves are not high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, tree roots mine calcium, magnesium and many other trace minerals from the soil and your garden will also benefit from these nutrients.

From Leaf to Leaf Mold:

Unlike making regular compost, making leaf mold is a “cold” composting process.

The decomposition is done primarily by fungi, rather than bacteria, and it is considerably slower.

The rate of decomposition is largely determined by four key factors.

First is the type of leaves in your pile.

Some leaves, such as oak and holly, are higher in lignin (cellulose) than others, and therefore take much longer to break down.

Combining different types of leaves, like a mixed salad, is a good way to balance lignin content and also improve the quality of the finished product.

You can also keep piles separate (oaks from maples, etc.) to some degree for pH and rates of decomposition.

Moisture is another factor to keep in mind.

Remember that fungi are doing the work, and they need a moist environment.

An unattended pile of dry leaves could take three years or more to break down.

Keep the pile covered and moist (not wet), and you may have ready-to-use leaf mold in a year.

Another consideration is nitrogen.

Freshly fallen leaves have a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio in the range of 30 to 1, which is ideal for quick decomposition.

Old leaves, including those that have been on the ground for just a few weeks, will have already lost most of their nitrogen content.

(Just think of all that carbon going into the atmosphere).

If you can gather fresh leaves and get the process underway, there will still be a good amount of nitrogen to speed up the initial decomposition.

A shot of organic or inorganic nitrogen will speed up the process as well.



Whole or Shredded Leaves?

The easiest way to make leaf mold is to just rake your leaves into a big pile and let the pile sit there for two or three years.

If you aren’t quite that patient or like me and you don’t have enough room for three giant leaf piles, you’ll need to shred them.

Leaves break down much more quickly if they’re shredded, largely because it increases the amount of surface area, which makes it easier for fungi to do their work.

Shredding the leaves also prevents them from packing together into stacks that repel moisture and seal out air.

It also makes it easier to fit a large quantity of leaves into a relatively small space.

The simplest way to shred leaves is to run over them with the lawnmower a few times and then rake them up.

You can also rake the leaves and run them through a leaf shredder.

Or use a hand-held leaf vacuum with a shredding capability.

Assembling Your Leaf Mold Pile:

A leaf pile needs to be fairly substantial in size, in order to retain enough moisture and heat to get finished leaf mold within 12 months.

Six feet square and five feet high seems to be an ideal size.

It takes about 25 trash bags full of leaves to make a pile this large.

A second option is to pile the leaves into a wire or wood enclosure.

Again, 4 or 5 feet square is ideal.

Wet the pile thoroughly and cover it with a tarp.

Check the moisture level several times during the year.

It should be like a well wrung sponge.

If you live in a dry climate, you might want to line the enclosure with cardboard or plastic to help retain moisture.

If you have a minute when you’re checking the moisture content, use a fork to stir the leaves and incorporate a little fresh oxygen.

After you wet them down, cover with a tarp.

Check moisture from time to time.

Another easy, yet very effective way to make leaf mold, is to pack the leaves into black trash bags.

This is what I do...........

If the leaves are fresh and shredded, just moisten them, close up the bag, and poke a few holes in the sides of the bag.

If the leaves are whole or dry, moisten them well and add a shovelful of garden soil, compost, or manure. Then just stash the bags out of the way for a year or two.

Add nitrogen and you can cut the time by a few months.



Three ways to speed up the process:

If two years seems like a long time to wait for leaf mold, here's how to hasten the process.

Shred the leaves: If you like, you can use a shredder to shred the leaves, giving the microorganisms more surface area to work on.

Provide shade and water: Pile the leaves in the shade where evaporation is reduced, so the leaves stay moist.

Watering the pile as you add leaves ensures that it's moist right from the get-go.

If you want to wait until the pile is built before watering it, be aware that enormous amounts of water will be needed to wet the spongy mass throughout.

Add nitrogen: Carbon and nitrogen are the two foods the microorganisms need in greatest quantities.

Autumn leaves are high in carbon, so the lack of nitrogen becomes the limiting element. Therefore, sprinkling some high-nitrogen material on the pile as it is built is another way to speed the transmutation of raw leaves into leaf mold.

High-nitrogen materials include grass clippings, which often are conveniently mixed in with leaves after late-autumn mowings.

Other forms of nitrogen can be added as well.



How to Use Leaf Mold:

Although not particularly rich in nutrients itself, when incorporated into the soil, this organic amendment physically alters the soil so that it becomes spongier, holding both moisture and air.

It makes for a heavenly environment to plant roots.

Leaf mold is ready to use when it’s soft and crumbly.

Distribute it around your perennials, vegetable plants (shrubs, too if you have a lot of it), no more than about 3" thick.

Because leaf mold retains so much moisture, be sure to keep it several inches back from the crown or base of the plant (crown rot).

When laid on top of the ground, leaf mold is an attractive and functional mulch and a natural foil for flowering plants, especially in a formal flower bed.

Leaf mold also stimulates biological activity in the soil, creating a microbial environment that helps thwart pests.

This will help avoid pest and disease problems.

You can also incorporate leaf mold right into the soil.

Unlike raw leaves, it will not steal nitrogen from the plants around it, so it’s safe to use in vegetable gardens and around annual flowers.

Out in the garden, mix abundant quantities of leaf mold into the top 6 to 12 inches of soil where you need to loosen up sticky clay.

You can also add it to new garden beds.

Use it instead of peat moss to lighten the soil in containers.

I used it in a fifty, fifty mix in some of my container gardens this past year with great success

You can use it to enhance the soil in a shade garden, or to improve any soil that’s too sandy or too heavy.

Someday, gardeners here in North America may catch on to the value of leaf mold (common in some European countries).

Leaves are certainly an abundant natural resource (CARBON) in most parts of the United States and Canada.

They’re still free for the taking, so don’t delay.

Grab a rake, blower or what have you and start making your own super-premium, extra-fancy leaf mold mulch.

We live in a carbon based world, so why all the talk on carbon and global warming?

Well, it's time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.



"The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital."

Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno knows a thing or two about winning.

He is after all, the winningest coach in Division 1 football history.

Joe Pa didn't collect all those victories by being lucky or because he always had the better players.

He and his teams won and continue to win because they prepare and well in advance.

Sure, having the right student athletes help. but without preparation, all the talent in the world wont get you very far.

For Joe Pa and all coaches, preperation doesn't start on game day or even that week.

Preparation doesn't start in spring practice or the gut crunching two a days in summer.

Preparation for winning starts years in advance.

On the recruiting trail.

Not only is he looking for athletes that can compete, but he is looking for young men that can fit into his system.

Young men with skills, but they must also have work a ethic, be willing to sacrifice for the good of the team, and be coachable.

They must be students first and so on.

All the skill in the world wont get you a starting position if you aren't willing to prepare.

I played sports and I'll take a team of average players that practice and prepare over a team of superior skilled players anytime that aren't prepared.

It is that way in life as well.

Prepare to succeed.

Prepare to be the best you.

Preparation is vital.

Do you prepare to be the best you?

You can start today.

It is never to late.

You may have written goals or a five year plan

Great.

You may resolve today, that you will be a better person.

You decide that you will no longer be bullied or pushed around.

You will no longer be the bully or do the pushing.

Preparation.........................

It can be for life long goals, or for today.

Starting right now, you can be a better you than you were yesterday, and tomorrow you can be better than you are today.

Preparation...........................

The right decisions you make, will turn you into a winner.

Now doesn't that make you smile.

See, already you have decided to smile and that is a right choice.

Smiles prepare you for the day ahead.

Smiles are easy to share.

Prepare, share and win.

Coach Paterno has been a successful coach for more years than I've been alive.

He is successful, because he is prepared and teaches preperation to all the people that have crossed his path.

"The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital."

Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno knows a thing or two about winning.

He is after all, the winningest coach in Division 1 football history.

Joe Pa didn't collect all those victories by being lucky or because he always had the better players.

He and his teams won and continue to win because they prepare and well in advance.

Sure, having the right student athletes help. but without preparation, all the talent in the world wont get you very far.

For Joe Pa and all coaches, preperation doesn't start on game day or even that week.

Preparation doesn't start in spring practice or the gut crunching two a days in summer.

Preparation for winning starts years in advance.

On the recruiting trail.

Not only is he looking for athletes that can compete, but he is looking for young men that can fit into his system.

Young men with skills, but they must also have work ethics, willing to sacrifice for the good of the team.

They must be students first and so on.

All the skill in the world wont get you a starting position if you aren't willing to prepare.

Give me a team of average players that practice and prepare over a team of superior skilled players anytime.

It is that way in life as well.

Prepare to succeed.

Prepare to be the best you.

Preparation is vital.

Do you prepare to be the best you?

You can start today.

It is never to late.

You may have written goals or a five year plan

Great.

You may resolve today, that you will be a better person.

You decide that you will no longer be bullied or pushed around.

You will no longer be the bully or do the pushing.

Preparation.........................

It can be for life long goals, or for today.

Starting right now, you can be a better you than you were yesterday, and tomorrow you can be better than you are today.

Preparation...........................

The right decisions you make, will turn you into a winner.

Now doesn't that make you smile.

See, already you have decided to smile and that is a right choice.

Smiles prepare you for the day ahead.

Smiles are easy to share.

Prepare, share and win.

Coach Paterno has been a successful coach for more years than I've been alive.

He is successful, because he is prepared and teaches preperation to all the people that have crossed his path.

(You make preperations for vacations, why not for all parts of life?)

Today, you will be prepared to win.

Today you resolve to prepare yourself.

Come on world.

Until next time my friend

God Bless.

Today, you will be prepared to win.

Today you resolve to prepare yourself.

Come on world.

Until next time my friend

God Bless.



"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb


Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.



Gardening For Wildlife.


























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