The last few days has seen a massive leaf drop here so that means it is time to make leaf mould. Collecting leaves and making that wonderful soil conditioner for next year really does mark the changing seasons.
The common advice is to use a container made from chicken wire strung around four wooden poles which are knocked into the ground. Like some many other pieces of received gardening wisdom it is not the best way. The problem is that the leaves at the edges dry out which really slows down the fungal rotting process.
Over the years I tried several different methods and found the easiest and cheapest was to use builder’s big bags, or bulk bags, that are used to deliver sand and gravel. The advantages are that they are free and stop the wind from drying out the contents.
Do not cover the top; let the rain keep the leaves wet. This is different to making ‘normal’ compost because leaf mould is a fungal process which needs to be wet.
There is no need to use any of the magic additives on the market or to add anything other than leaves. You can shred them if you wish, and that certainly speeds up the rotting process, but just plain old leaves in a big bag are all you need.
There is also a lot of discussion about how long it takes for the leaves to rot down. Some say 2-3 years but I usually get usable leaf mould in 12-18 months. It does depend on the leaves as some rot faster than others.
Now is also a good time to use leaf mould on the garden. Spread a thick layer over beds to stop winter rain compacting the soil. Do not worry if the leaves are not totally rotted as worms will help incorporation and rotting will continue so by next spring you will have a bed of wonderful soil ready for sowing carrots and other crops.