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Making Black Gold

Aldetha
Published on October 11th 2018
43
When the leaves start to fall, gardeners fall into two camps, the ones filled with dread and the others grinning from ear to ear.
The happy gardener with the wide grin is watching black gold fall from the trees. The grumpy gardener is looking at all the work ahead clearing leaves.

What is black gold and how can you cash in on it?

Leaf mould is so easy to make using all the fallen leaves that you can collect. And best of all this nutrient-rich, organic enrichment is free and good for the environment.
Most leaves take two years to decompose, rotting down into crumbly, loamy leafmould. This amazing free product can be incorporated into borders or used as a mulch.
Most leaves are slightly acidic with a pH below 6 when the leaves break down the pH will rise to pH 7 to pH 7.5, this is not enough to correct a garden's pH problems.

What to do to make leafmould.

Start collecting leaves as soon as they start falling, rake them, trying to avoid weeds (which may germinate), grass clippings will decompose so don't worry about them too much.
You have several different ways of storing them. One way is to build a simple mesh bin. The mesh allows the light and rain in which encourages the leaves to break down quicker.
Or you can pack the leaves into sturdy black or clear bags with holes in the bottom and sides. If you use black bags you will need to add water and check them occasionally to make sure the leaves are still moist. You can also buy compostable jute leaf sacks.

What leaves can you use to make leaf mould?

Most leaves can be used to make leaf mould, but some will rot quicker than others.
  • Large leaves such as Acer pseudoplatanus (Sycamore) Aesculus(Horsechestnut) and Juglans (Walnut) may need shredding before composting.
  • Avoid evergreen leaves if possible as they will take a considerable length of time to break down.
  • Hardwood trees such as Quercus (Oak), Fagus (Beech) and Carpinus (Hormbeam) leaves will take several years to produce leaf mould. But worth waiting for.
  • Pine needles and Conifer foliage will produce a mulch for your ericaceous plants.
  • Prunus (Laurel) the leaves contain cyanide and this is released when the leaves compost. Be careful if you are transporting these leaves in your car or composting in bags.
A green Acer pseudoplatanus plant in a garden

Sycamore

Acer pseudoplatanus

A close up of some white Aesculus hippocastanum flowers and green leaves

Horse Chestnut

Aesculus hippocastanum

Common Walnut

Juglans regia

A Quercus robur tree in front of a house

English Oak

Quercus robur

Fagus sylvatica leaves

Common Beech

Fagus sylvatica

A bunch of green leaves from the tree Carpinus betulus

Hornbeam

Carpinus betulus

Cherry Laurel

Prunus laurocerasus

Making your own simple leaf compost bin.

You will need:
  • A small roll of chicken wire
  • Four wooden stakes
  • Staples
  • Old carpet (placed on top of the leaves to keep the moisture in and speed up the process.
Tools
  • Lump hammer
  • Staple gun or hammer
Method
  • Choose a site for your bin that is airy and will allow rainwater to be absorbed.
  • Insert the four stakes into the ground firmly.
  • Staple the chicken wire to the stakes
  • Make sure that you keep the chicken wire tight.
  • Leave a gap at the bottom so hedgehogs and other animals can use your bin to hibernate or hide.
Fill with leaves and water occasionally during dry periods then sit back to wait for black gold.

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