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Value of Leaves

Compost heap full of autumn leaves

By -Georgia Lund-

The fallen leaves are typically quickly raked up and discarded so the landscape can have a well-kept appearance. This is such a waste of a valuable natural resource that can increase food production. We see leaves as a means of shade in the summer and colorful beauty in the fall, but their value extends even further. Fallen leaves can help transform barren soil into fertile, productive soil that can support plant growth and produce food.

Organic Soil Amendment
The leaves from one large tree have the ability to produce fifty dollars worth of fresh garden vegetables. Leaves contain calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and trace minerals and make a perfect, free, organic source of food for the soil. Pound for pound, leaves contain twice as many minerals as animal manure and is often easier to obtain.

All Soil Types
Leaf humus can improve all soil types. An addition of leaf humus to heavy clay soil will lighten it so water can drain and roots can grow. The moisture retention of dry, sandy soil is significantly improved with the addition of leaf humus, and soils that have been depleted of all minerals can be restored to a healthy growing medium for plants by adding leaf humus. Healthy, fertile soils can be kept that way with a yearly addition of free, organic leaf humus.

How to Compost Leaves
Mow over the fallen leaves a few times to shred them into smaller pieces. Rake and add a layer of shredded leaves to the compost pile, followed by a shovel full of soil. Continue layering shredded leaves and dirt in the compost pile.
Leaves are high in carbon but low in nitrogen so it helps to add a source of nitrogen like manure or grass clippings to help feed the bacteria that will be doing all the composting work. Spent plants from the garden that were not diseased or infested with insects can be added to the pile along with kitchen scraps.

Garden Mulch
Whole or shredded leaves are great to use as organic mulch around garden plants. A 2-4 inch layer of mulch helps the garden soil remain a steady temperature, retain moisture and prevent weed growth. The leaves will slowly decompose and improve soil structure and provide nutrients to the plants.
The layer of leaf mulch on the garden also creates a mini-ecosystem that attracts beneficial worms, frogs, and insects to the garden.

Image by: Stephen Farhall

 

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