We have two rather large, overgrown and overbearing Sycamore trees that loom over The Smallest Smallholding. Together with the cherry, ash, damsons, crab apple and apple trees, we are subject to a rather large dump of leaf litter each Autumn.
But this year, instead of cramming the leaves into old compost bags and leaving the ugly bags strewn asunder, I decided to be a bit proactive and try to convert one of the old compost bins into a proper leaf mould bin.
Keep it Simple
Of course, old compost bags turned inside out with a few punctured holes for air and drainage work really, really well. But I’m trying to streamline everything and live life a little less haphazardly. I’m aiming to declutter – hence reclaiming the old wooden compost bin and using that instead.
The old compost bin was made by Rich –well aerated, with slats of wood spaced evenly around all sides. For leaf mould bins, some people opt for wooden poles, wrapped with chicken wire or fine mesh wire – probably the better option – but with us, it was a case of ‘make do and mend’ and this particular bin was ready and waiting!
Compost Bin/Leaf Bin
But it had disappeared over the summer under a canopy of tangled brambles, nettles and bindweed, utterly neglected and forgotten whilst I waddled around with an ever-expanding baby bump, tried desperately to keep up with the veg plots despite a ballooning middle section. It’s only in the quiet, darker days of December that I’ve managed to turn my attention to composting, and start to tidy up the detritus of autumn and another growing season gone over.
To get going, I did a quick and cheerful chop around the bin, clearing away inch-thick brambles and tearing up whole networks of nettle roots. The bin was mostly empty, save for a few inches of gorgeously rich, dark and crumbly compost from our days of ex-battery hen keeping. Chicken poop and straw is just brilliant.
I then set about carting over wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of leaves, already soggy from the rain and mist, so no need to moisten with a sprinkle from the watering can.
There’s still plenty of leaf mould to collect from under the damsons and cherry, but there’s no particular rush. It’ll stay in situ for a year or two, before eventually decomposing down to a light and fluffy soil conditioner.
Here’s some quick tips for making the best leaf mould:
- If it’s dry day, try mowing the dry fallen leaves into clippings; they’ll mulch down and compost much faster, and you can add a little extra nourishment from the grass clippings too
- Whether you opt for old compost bags or a purpose-built leaf bin, make sure it’s in a sheltered, preferably shady spot
- Make sure the leaves are moist (but not soaked) when collected and readied for storage
- Pine needles can be used for mulching, but may take 2-3 years to break down sufficiently
- The bigger the leaf bin/bag, the quicker the leaves will break down