Mulch With Dried Leaves

Spreading shredded leaves helps to control weed growth while providing soil with organic nutrients.


| January 2016



Spreading leaves

Shredded leaf mulch is efficient to apply and highly effective.


Photo courtesy of Yaicha Cowell-Sarofeen

With more than forty years of experience redefining gardening's boundaries, author Will Bonsall shows how readers can eliminate the use of off-farm inputs like fertilizers, minerals, and animal manures by practicing a purely veganic, or plant-based, agriculture-not for strictly moral or philosophical reasons, but because it is more ecologically efficient and makes good business sense.

In Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening, (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015) he offers readers in-depth information on growing, harvesting, and processing an incredibly diverse variety of food crops. The following excerpt is from Chapter 3, “Mulch.”

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS STORE: Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical Self-Reliant Gardening

For those who question the fertilizing power of tree leaves, I would share a couple of anecdotes. Although I have many acres of hardwood forest where I could collect my own leaves, I usually prefer to haul them from the town of Farmington, 8 miles (12.9 km) away. I’m doing the people of Farmington a favor by hauling theirs away (the town used to do it but no more), plus they’re already raked into piles, relatively free of twigs and branches. Of course I always ask the owner if I may take them, even though the response is predictably something like “What! Is the pope Catholic?” At one home on a shady side street, I asked the owner, an elderly woman with a charming Austrian accent, and she answered graciously, “No, I want them myself.” Intrigued, I asked wherefore, and she replied, “I need them for my garden.” Delighted, I probed further. She, having no known ideological views on the subject, relied exclusively on the maple leaves because they were what she had—the shade-free portion of her yard was wholly occupied by her garden, so there was little lawn to supply grass clippings, and she had no access to manure. She had no formal system for shredding or composting; she merely said: “I mull them over from time to time.” That had been her “system” for years, and the heavy-feeding cabbages and leeks I saw testified to her success. The huge pile of leaves in her yard was waiting to be converted into next year’s sauerkraut!

Second story: I once persuaded the Town of Farmington street commissioner that they should truck their curbside leaves up to my place rather than to the town dump. Yes, he hastened to agree, it made good sense for everyone. The first two truckloads landed in my leaf dump, and I congratulated myself that henceforth I would merely wait for the annual windfall. Next year they didn’t show up, so I asked the street commissioner, what gives? Well, it turns out that they need them at the landfill. Need them? I repeated dumbly. Ayuh, it seems they need them to add to the cleanings of the fairground horse stables. Ah, says I knowingly, it’s to balance the excess nitrogen in the manure. Weeell, not quite, he corrects me; it’s rather that all that sawdust bedding makes the piles cold, despite the pony doo-doo. What! They’re using “my” leaves to heat up horse-hockey so it will be well composted? And does it? "Yep," assured the commissioner with no irony intended, "works slick as shit."

Shredding Leaves

Most of the ways I use leaves require shredding, and that involves some kind of shredder. In my case I have an Amerind-MacKissick chipper/shredder designed to work as an attachment with my Gravely 12-horsepower walking tractor, but the chipper/shredder can be powered by any other PTO source or can be purchased with its own self-contained engine. For chipping brush the 12 hp is really needed to accomplish anything, but for shredding leaves a lighter power source might be quite adequate. An advantage of mounting this shredder on something is that it is easier to move about—on its own it’s cumbersome to move any distance.





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