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Brown leaf covered growing area with a handmade sign for IE Outwood made by inscribing wood Brown leaf covered growing area with a handmade sign for IE Outwood made by inscribing wood

Leaf Mould-Nature Showing A Circular Economy

By Sara Venn

As we move into autumn and the leaves start to turn their incredible colours as they lose their chlorophyll, it’s easy to think the gardening and growing year is over.

 We can remove our crops, plant our onion sets and put our beautiful food spaces to bed for the winter. However, if we go for a walk in the woods the autumn tells us a tale of nature’s circular economy. Walk through any old woodland and the earth beneath our feet feels springy, full of life and the smell is earthy and somehow nurturing.

Of course this is nature regenerating herself. Every year as the leaves fall, dampened down by autumn and winter rain, they breakdown into the soil, ensuring that the nutrients they have held through spring and summer leach into the soil so that they can continue to support the trees through the following seasons and feed the soil and it’s important flora and fauna.

Our towns and cities are filled with trees. Our gardens and parks filled with leaves that fall each autumn and that often are collected up by local authorities, and unbelievably sent to landfill or for anaerobic digestion, rather than either being left on beds to break down naturally or turned into the magic that is leaf mould. In many places this is because of health and safety issues; the treat of dog waste, plastics being in the leaves, or worse, the threat of drug or sex paraphernalia, means that rather than composting these leaves they are seen as a nuisance to get rid of rather than a resource that supports the planet. However, surely we need to change these habits and start to regenerate our urban soils, where ever they may be, with a resource we need to begin to see as a harvest rather than a nuisance.

Leaf mould has for years been known as gardeners gold. Rich in nutrients it feeds the soil, adds nutrient dense organic matter and supports the growth of the mycelium beneath the soil that creates networks, supporting the growth of plants. In gardens and on allotments across the country people are collecting their leaves and putting them into heaps to break down and feed their soil, but we must demand more than this. Our local authorities, land owners, parks teams, ought to be fighting to use this precious resource to support the soil in their area.

And it’s so easy to make. A simple cage of chicken wire to hold the leaves is all that’s needed, or indeed black bags with small holes in and a small amount of moisture and filled with leaves, and within 18 months a stunning, earthy, organic soil conditioner will appear, that’s a dark, earthy colour and replicates the scent of that woodland floor. Just placing it on top of the soil and allowing the loran ad fauna within the soil to break it down into the earth, gives the spring soil an instant boost, ready for spring plantings. Surely it’s an incredible harvest not to be missed?