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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Leaf Mold - Hot or Cold?

I am a scrounge. There, I said it. I blame it on my mother. Sorry Mom, but you know it's true. Okay, so maybe Dad was a bad influence too. You don't have to remind me of his "junk" pile next to the shop.

I grew up in rural Southern Oregon with, let's just say, "resourceful" parents. Mom always carried a shovel around with her in case she was driving by an interesting plant or rock she just had to have. Dad was not above throwing a piece of metal, abandoned fencing, or any other thing that might be useful into the back of the pickup or in the chain box on the logging truck. When the state redid the freeway, he came home with several loads of concrete road bed. Therefore it is not my fault that I am forever snagging broken sidewalk pieces, interesting sticks, conifer cones, pretty stones, and yard debris from the neighbors.

My favorite thing to do though, is to pack off leaves. Leaves are the perfect garden amendment. I use them instead of bark for weed suppression. I tuck them around my winter vegetables like a snug blanket. I spread them in my garden paths to keep the clay from sucking me down to China. And I make leaf mold. I am lucky to live in Springfield because the city has a leaf pickup program in the fall. All they ask is that you bag your leaves and leave them on the curb. Every fall my neighbors dutifully line the street with plastic globes of perfectly good leaves, conveniently poised for me to drive around and pluck them like ripe fruit. No fuss, no muss. I am in scrounge heaven.
From Yard
Normally mold is the bane of any gardener. But in this case the term is used to describe the process of leaf decomposition. There are two ways to get those leaves broken down: a hot compost process or a cold "mold" process. I use both.

A lot of the leaves I gather are raked up from the street. I am an organic gardener and don't really want petroleum product residue in my soil. These leaves are spread out on my garden paths. It usually takes about a full year for these to grind down into nothingness. The rainy Oregon weather and constant foot traffic both contribute to the process, as well as the natural fungi that mold away the cellulose fiber.
From Yard
The bags that contain leaves from yards are used as mulch. My closest neighbors already give me their grass clippings and yard debris. In the fall they usually just use the lawn mower to pick up fallen leaves as they try to get in those last grass cuts in. These leaves go right on top of the soil or are added to the compost bin. The added grass clippings make it a hot process and the whole mix breaks down in just a few months.

Any leaves that aren't mixed with grass clippings are used as plant blankets or left in the sack.
From Yard
I add water if the leaves aren't already soaked and tie the bags off. I let the mix stew in their black plastic homes until spring. Part of my vegetable bed prep is to upend the bags and mix them in with existing soil and fresh compost. The resulting seed bed is light and fluffy and ready to germinate something for me to eat.

Not bad for scrounged mold.

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