Don’t Bag Those Leaves! Improve Soil Fertility With Autumn’s Gift

Improve Soil Fertility With Leaves

Mother Nature’s Approach

Imagine a deep, remote forest. Wildlife is abundant. Birds are singing. Mushrooms are growing on trees, and the forest floor is covered with fallen leaves of every color. You bend over and scoop up a handful of leaves to find incredible soil fertility in the form of dark, moist, healthy earth.

Mother Nature is truly amazing—when left alone, that is.

Plant life here has thrived for hundreds of thousands of years. Everything is recycled. There is no such thing as “waste” in nature. Fallen leaves get broken down and decomposed, which then creates the nutrient-rich and healthy soil that growing plants crave.

Now, enter humans. Look at how technologically advanced and stoic we are! Surely, we are smarter than primitive nature, right?

The Human Approach

Modern agriculture has made it possible for us to grow lots of beautiful-looking food in rows on farms. We have created machines that allow us to grow food more efficiently—so efficiently, in fact, that our grocery stores incorporate a 75 percent pricing upcharge to offset the huge amount of fruits and vegetables they will end up throwing out.

We have developed agricultural technology and run with it …

… Unfortunately, though, it appears that we didn’t first tie our shoes!

If you look at farm fields that have been worked for decades, you’ll see dry, cracked dirt. That hardly looks like the healthy, nutrient-dense soil we find in the forests that Mother Nature takes care of.

You may be saying to yourself: “And why is this a problem? You just told me that we have made food production efficient and bountiful. What gives?”

Well, you see, farmers have gotten themselves into quite the conundrum over the last couple of decades. It’s not their fault, really, as they are just following recent tradition.

The reason we are still able to grow food despite unhealthy soil is because the food has been grown artificially.

Farmers spray their crops with synthetic fertilizers that directly feed the plant, not the soil. And since the farmer fails to feed the soil, the ONLY way he can continue to grow crops is by spraying more and more synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides on the crops.

(Incidentally, the advent of genetically modified crops makes it easier for farmers to use pesticides and herbicides that kill everything but the prized crop, leaving it to flourish. On the surface, it sounds like a good thing. But while these GMO plants might be immune to the poisons that are sprayed on them, we certainly are not!)

At this point, many people often ask: “Does that mean Miracle-Gro in my garden is bad?”

Miracle-Gro is simply a supplemental fertilizer (not a pesticide or herbicide) that feeds plants synthetically but does nothing for soil fertility. Think of it like this: Miracle Grow is to plants what vitamins are to humans. They serve as a good supplement to our diet, but should never be the main source of nutrition.

The Soil is Alive!

Just as the ocean is teeming with life under the surface, so, too, is the soil!

Healthy soil comprises a complex network of symbiotic micro-organisms and insects that help break down decomposing plant material and turn it into bioavailable nutrients that growing plants can absorb.

As you might imagine, abundant soil fertility creates healthy, nutrient-dense plants.

So, when we think about growing vibrant plants, we really ought to think first about growing and regenerating the soil.

The Two Phases of Healthy Soil

Each year, soil goes through two distinct phases:

  • Energy Absorption: This occurs in the fall and winter seasons
  • Energy Release: This occurs in the spring and summer seasons

In fall and winter, properly fed soil replenishes its energy reserves for the next growing season. In the spring and summer, it releasing energy into plants so that they can grow.

Three Rules for Soil Fertility

Now that we understand why soil fertility is so important, let’s talk about how to restore and replenish it.

As I mentioned above, healthy soil is teeming with life. Comprising millions of beneficial bacteria, microbes, insects, and fungi, it is an underground ecosystem that thrives when we follow three simple rules:

  • Tilling Is Killing: When we think about modern agriculture, we often visualize the process of tilling the soil. However, farmers are known to severely over-till the soil, which disrupts the living network of underground organisms. It is the equivalent of taking a fleet of bulldozers through the forest. If you must till, a shallow till of two to three inches is actually optimum. Otherwise, consider a no-till garden.
  • No Bare Soil: Soil likes to be covered up. You can use hay, wood chips, or shredded dry leaves to blanket the top of the soil. This prevents it from drying out. Also, as the material breaks down, it provides food for the soil (such as occurs in our remote forest example).
  • Amend the Soil: Each growing season, plants absorb energy and nutrients from the soil. The best time to replenish the soil is in the fall after harvesting your crops. Simply add compost on top of the soil, and then blanket the top of the soil again. Luckily for us, we can accomplish this last step using a material that’s free, abundant, and right outside our back door!

Don’t Bag Those Leaves!

Fallen leaves are one of nature’s gracious gifts to us.

Over the winter, they help insulate your plant beds and provide shelter for invertebrates such as insects, worms, and roly poly bugs (which, incidentally, are crustaceans!).

Fallen leaves are the building blocks of soil. As they break down via the help of invertebrates and soil fungi, they help create incredibly rich soil fertility. This allows for a cascade of biological processes, including nutrient cycling.

Leaf litter also fosters an environment that encourages the development of mycorrhizal fungi. You won’t see the vast majority of these miracle workers, as they often are too small to be visible to the naked eye. But don’t take them for granted. Soil fungi form symbiotic relationships with virtually every plant on Earth by exchanging nutrients and making them more bioavailable. (That is a whole other amazing topic for discussion.)

It’s basically everything you saw in the movie Avatar. Plants can communicate and pass food to each other via a connected underground fungal network. This network connects plants of all shapes and sizes to one another so they can cooperate as enormous interconnected systems.

But without the decaying matter that leaves provide, none of these intricate processes can happen.

Thank goodness for fall and its multicolored bounty—and for neighbors who are graciously raking, bagging, and giving away this precious resource!

Take advantage of their kindness and use these leaves in your garden. In short order, your plants will be thriving in the same dark, moist, healthy soil that exists deep in the heart of the forest.

 

TGN Bi-Weekly Newsletter

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Brian Moyers


Contributor

Brian Moyers is a self-proclaimed ambassador to the future and an avid DIY guy. Brian traded in dead oil for living soil when he chose to walk away from his lucrative position at a major oil company to pursue a life of ever-increasing sustainability. He enjoys educating others about permaculture, reconnecting with nature, and food security.


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49 Comments
  • Rita Farrell

    What if the leaves have tar spots, a fungus?

    • Brian Moyers

      Tar fungi will just lay dormant through winter and as temperatures heat up in spring, the disease will once again spread. To dispose of these leaves, you only have a couple of options:

      1)Burn them.
      2)Ensure they are properly composted.

  • I am baffled on this subject. For the last two years I have bagged my leaves with the lawn mower; spread the chopped up leaves on the garden; spaded/ploughed them under and anticipated fertile soil and a fruiful/abundant garden. Instead, my garden has been a total failure and did not even grow weeds.. My only conclusion is that this process has somehow poison the soil. There are a wide variety of leaves including some nut trees.

    It looks like my efforts have backfired big time. I am discouraged and ready to buy my vegetables and forget the gardening after two failed years.

    I used to have a few hens, fed them my kitchen garbage and used the manure on the garden with good results in vivid contrast to the current situation. Town policies currently prevent us from raising animals/birds.

    How can I restore my soil to be productive again?

    Eugene C. Perry

    • Spread the leaves on the top as a ground cover. Do NOT spade/plough them in. Check out Back to Eden or Ruth Stout methods.

      • JimW

        People that can not have chickens almost always could get away with quail and rabbits. They poop too but are more discreet.

        I have a chicken run on a slope, and load up fall leaves into the run uphill and collect darkened broken up leaves from the down hill side. Which then go in a fencing tower and around trees and shrubs in the orchard.

        This fencing tower gets took down around end of winter and the chickens find roly polies and earwigs in there.

    • Brian Moyers

      Terry is 100% correct. Just mimic the nature and leave them on top as a ground cover. Mulching the leaves first will expedite the breakdown of the leaves. I also highly recommend checking out the “Back to Eden” method / movie!

    • Go to Amazon and fid a book called “No Till Gardening” by Caleb Warnock. Your mistake is tilling instead of leaving them on top.

    • David Lee

      I hope you didn’t use any black walnut leaves. They can be poisonous. Don’t use them.

  • Heather Hemphill

    I am sending this link to my husband. LOL. I have been using his truck to go around town and gather dozens of bags of leaves. He actually told me last night I have enough and he doesn’t want me gathering any more because he thinks I am being excessive. But we have 20 acres of dead flat prairie property with only a scattering of trees and very poor heavy clay soil. So thank you for this article today.

  • Pamela

    I think it is important to know what would the effect of say, oak leaves have vs. maple leaves etc. There is probably a resource for this information, somewhere… but maybe a good rule of thumb would be if a plant grows in acid soil its leaves might be acid also, and only be used where you want acid loving plants to grow. Also, with leaves I have seen and read that flat leaves will stick together with moisture and create an anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition environment. While these items still decompose they can do so in a way that might not kill plant diseases and might not be nutritious for the plants. Aerobic composting is probably what most gardeners are looking for, and leaves can be added to the pile however the would probably need to be shredded up or at least mixed in well so they can’t stick together. When the right composition is used the pile will heat up using the good bacteria and kill the bad stuff. You can probably get this info from any cooperative extension office, and many other places.

    • Brian Moyers

      Oak leaves also are notorious for being a slow decomposers. You’re right on about flat leaves potentially causing an anaerobic environment. To combat this I’d suggest to everyone to mulch their leaves before blanketing their soil in order to speed up decomposition.

      • Sandy

        We had a tight budget one year, and I had to be very sparing with straw to mulch my strawberries and the kale bed, which will survive frost down to around 10F if lightly mulched and opened up on mild days. I used a light mulch of straw on my plants and piled maple leaves over and between the straw mulch. We get heavy snow and subzero temps quite a bit during our winters. To my surprise and relief, the next spring most of the leaves were still crisp and where they were moist, they did no damage. We had a good crop that next summer. We have acid soil but are blessed to have a predominance of red maple trees in all stages of growth in our woods, with some aspen and a couple of birch groves. A 12 year drought broke last summer, and this year we must have had more than twice as many leaves on the ground. I had hesitated to take much of it out of our forested area until this year, but scooped a huge pile this year and know they will do a lot of good in our garden.

  • Jerry hester

    This may work on your back yard garden,or Evan a few acres around Austin but your plan ignores the vast windswept plains. After the unincorporated leaves blow away the soil erosion would be devastating.

    • Brian Moyers

      Mulched leaves are indeed ideal for backyard gardens. But you are right, Jerry. As far as large scale agriculture operations on the plains are concerned, mulched leaves alone may not be the ideal mulch. It’d be amazing if industrial agriculture actually considered more natural methods to farming though. For instance, The Back to Eden method promotes using woodchip mulching as a cover which may be heavy enough not to be blown away. Unfortunatley, Industrial agriculture as we know it is the antithesis of following nature’s perfect design: bare soil, monocrops, inorganic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, GMOs….etc. 🙁

  • Molly

    My neighbors all have gardeners who use leaf-blowers to gather every living speck laying on their lawns. They also contract for people to come every month, or more often, to spray God-only-knows what all over their lawn and flower beds. Even if a leaf were to be found on their lawn, I surely would not want it on my soil….UGH!!

    • Brian Moyers

      Yes! That’s really good advice for everyone: Plan ahead and observe how your neighbors treat their lawns BEFORE collecting any bags of leaves. Thanks for sharing, Molly!

  • Wm. A. "Bill" Fisher

    Howdy,
    The article on leaves is a good start. However, what plants for animals and humans need are the minerals in the soil and our foods as our system was Designed to have in the first place.
    The advent of “Better Living thru Chemistry” took place after WWII, being pushed into the Public Square (and Ag Colleges through their donations and scholarships) by the corporations who had been making munitions to defeat the Axis Powers. Fortunately! They obviously had a major downturn in their contracts for future production of explosives and combustibles. And they needed some new huge markets for their chemicals or they were doomed from being successful in helping our fathers maintain Freedom through Victory. BUT we don’t need to be eating explosives. Sounds like a bad idea to me, now that I think about it.
    I grew up seeing the almost instant results of fertilizing our yard with ammonium nitrate which has a VERY efficient deeper and slower explosive signature- kind of like a kick drum (bass drum) vs. a very fast trigger explosive such as dynamite (snare drum). I had used A-N with my Daddy blowing out corner post spots in sandstone rock out on our ranches. Mining Corporations use its broader wave signature to blow loose mountainsides and pit mine sides to harvest their products. It’s good in those things.
    But it was also used by that demoniac Tim McVeigh to take down the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. I was 22 miles north of OkC when I heard that explosion, which I thought must have been a gas plant two miles away. I told my visiting California cousin that upon reflection, that that had sounded more like an ammonium nitrate blast. He didn’t believe me. Sadly, I was right.
    Before I was taught how to use it for explosives, as a young kid I cursed the day ammonium nitrate was invented. Or at least applied to OUR yard, not because of what it does to the soils, but because I had to mow more often in the Oklahoma Summers!
    Our gardens had chemicals on them and I had to hoe more (more cussing) because the weeds liked those chemicals too. So there were more chemicals bought and applied to the soil to deal with the weeds. In effect, the soil became the syringe for injecting the chemical drugs into the junkie plants. I wonder where those chemicals wound up being when all was said and done? Like my belly, maybe?
    What the soils needed was a proper feeding of minerals the plants require, but the chemical fertilizer “drugs” knocked the mircofauna in the soils into dormancy, just as does desertification, flooding, over-farming and any ‘fertilizer’ with ammonia in it. What to do?
    There were a lot of bad notions in farming even before chemicals made their arrival, many of those leading to the Dust Bowl Years of far western Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Nebraska and the Dakotas with the soils (and their resident microfauna) being turned over for the unique HEAVY, HOT winds (from “Global Warming” in the 30’s?) to blow the top soil AND the microfauna to Kingdom Come.
    I’m glad there are so many people waking up to common sense gardening and farming practices to sustain what we’ve been Given in our incredible soil structures.
    (News Flash: It wasn’t any Roman goddess called “Gaia” who Gave us our world, He was the Creator God. I Know Him!)
    There is a unique type of bentonite called ‘Montmorillonite’ and an even more unique area of formations of Montmorillonite found out in the ‘wastelands’ of Nevada called ‘Earth-Manna’ which has a calcium base (vs. silica or saline as all other Montmorillonite does) and a chain of 78 naturally chelated (negative ionic charge) minerals, marketed as “Earth-Manna”. We’re using it to implement an organic ocean of farming in the deserts of Algeria, on the remediated oil-soil deserts of Nigeria and on the poor soil deserts of Colorado and Wyoming.
    When spread on the soil and watered in, the dormant microfauna explode into life eating the minerals as they were Created to do and passing 99.99% of those into the soils for the plants to feed on and explode into productivity, health, nutritiousness and even beauty!
    We are getting an increase in Net Yield of between 65% and over 100% compared to the “best” chemical “fertilizers” too many farmers and ranchers worship at their altars of Dow and Monsanto.
    Our crops are mature in one fourth shorter the time, they taste better, are more nutritious, larger, have a 30% increase in shelf life and require less watering as the vibrant microfauna colonies retain more subsoil moisture.
    Thing is it works for massive farms, pastures and greenhouses as well as it does for house plants. And I take it too!
    Food grown with it has been certified by USDA’s OMRI Division as “Organic”, because it is! It’s only applied in a small dusting once every other year at the equivalent to one half ton per acre.
    The soil maintenance program the author wrote about is a good idea as long as you use the right leaves and don’t use too many as you want your soils balanced and not acidic. The Earth-Manna balances soil and water’s PhD levels and when applied to algae covered or full ponds or pools, literally will knock out the algae within an hour. And the fish, cattle, hogs, chickens, goats, sheep, wildlife, pets and people thrive.
    I’m hoping Marjory or one of her folks will get in touch with me so I can share more info and even pictures of our results with them and let her know how and where to get this God-send.
    HOWEVER, it won’t work on concrete or asphalt. But I really don’t care to garden in the streets.
    You’ll probably be hearing about what we’re doing in Algeria in the world news here by sometime next year with the Earth-Manna. Shoot, you might hear me shouting from over there!
    I do it around my mouth watering every time I tell someone about what MY Garden’s production was in 7 weeks from planting! I think my middle name should have been Pavlov. Speaking of dogs, my dogs LOVED my growing corn and tomatoes on the stalks and on the vines. But I had so many and I was so blown away by the results of the Earth-Manna, I was glad my dogs were eating healthy produce to go with their meat. And they weren’t demanding fresh linen napkins, so why should I complain.
    Marjory and or websters, I hope you see this and get in touch with me for more info and pictures. Y’all reading too.

  • Sarah

    I just want to say how refreshing it is to read a well written article. Your grammar, sentence structure, punctuation and context are all very good. I’m not a teacher, I have no degrees; I’m only a high school graduate, but I appreciate good writing that is clear, to the point and not spattered with errors. Good writing elevates the subject matter. Thank you, Brian, for your conscientious choices and writing.

  • Steven Csorgo

    I use 7 foot stakes to tie up my raspberry rows, and put a foot or so of leaves in between and outside the rows. Covering with hay stops them from blowing away. For the last 3 years, the harvest has been unbelievable! They LOVE it! I hill my garden rows, so now am doing the same thing there. Uncover the top of the hills in the spring & plant, then hill up the decayed leaves in the fall onto the top and start over. The garden has produced SO much this last summer….a LOT of eating, canning & freezing. It works Great! I do have photos if interested.

  • Pam

    I want to put leaves on my 3 large raised beds, but it gets very windy here. Any ideas so the leave won’t all blown away?

    • I put a layer (a few inches thick) of screened wood chips on top of the leaves for that; they are available for free from your local tree-cutting service…

    • Johanna

      You could also put down plastic netting, weighted with rocks or lumber along the edges…

      • Johanna

        I meant, put the netting over your leaves. This worked really well for a deep pile of leaves tucked around an artichoke plant that I wanted to protect from cold winter temperatures.

    • Sandy

      Tangled straw scattered over the leaves will help hold the leaves down. If you know you will have high wind, though, you might find chicken wire or 2’x4′ fencing will do a more reliable job. You can peg the edges of the wire fencing or lay stemmy branches over it to keep it from flipping off.

  • Thanks for posting this Marjory,

    It’s a very affirming article as I am basically doing all this stuff (leaf composting, no-tilling, wood-chipping and the like) in our tiny backyard garden we call, ‘Willowdale’s Backyard Farm’. In fact, I just finished adding a thick layer of honey locust tree leaves under a layer of fine branch/leaf mulch onto the giant pumpkin patch portion of the garden yesterday!

  • GW

    Here in the area of Texas east of the “Dry Line” a couple of our predominant trees are the sugar hackberry and the (invasive) chinaberry. Insofar as the suitability of their leaves is concerned, please note:

    Mr. Smarty Plants does NOT recommend mulching with either Celtis laevigata (Sugar hackberry) or Melia azedarach (Chinaberry). Both are considered to be allelopathic—i.e., they release chemicals through their litter and their roots that inhibit the growth of other plant species. You can read the answer to a previous Mr. Smarty Plants question about hackberry allelopathy. Not only is chinaberry allelopathic it is also a seriously invasive species from Asia. Its fruit is poisonous to humans and other mammals and it is allelopathic with leaves and roots that release chemical compounds that inhibit the germination and growth of other plants by raising the pH of the soils. See the answer to a previous question about chinaberry allelopathy.

    In short, these leaves are best suited for the dumpster or the burn pile… not in your garden.

  • Judy Tokuda

    I recently attended a demonstration of the use of a biodigester to produce your own liquid & solid fertilizer by recycling your on site yard & kitchen waste. As a by-product you also produce a generous amount of methane gas which can be contained for use as fuel instead of any petroleum form of fuel. It can be scaled to fit your recycled material supply & inexpensive to build.

    Technically it is similar to the Ultra Low Cost Korean Natural Farming Method Of Farming. It utilizes the process of anerobic fermentation to process waste into liquid foliage sprays or soil innoculator.

    P.S. My horsetail didn’t survive. It was rather dried up & wrinkled when it arrived.

  • I used to get 30+ bags of oak leaves from my neighbor. I would mulch them and put them in a contained garden area and on my veggie garden. I have explosive production from my plants (all organic, raised beds)

    Unfortunately my neighbors daughter moved in and cut the three huge Oaks (about 150 + yr old trees) I was sick, these trees are so necessary as “mast”trees for food and habitat to so many critters.

  • john Scarborough

    Decades back I planted fruit trees in my sandy Florida lot looking forward to the taste of tree ripe fruit I remembered from childhood. But the trees usually died after a few years from lack of nutrition or water. After my retirement I had more time to spend in my garden orchard. I also met my local permaculture group. I learned to dig hugal ditches around my fruit trees to fill with organic matter to feed my trees. I filled the ditches with branches, wood chips, grass clippings, leaves and manure. That organic matter would break down and feed my trees for years, it also held rain water to help keep them watered during dry periods. Once I learned to get free loads of wood chips from local power companies and other tree trimmers I got more than I could easily handle, a dozen loads last year. I spread a VERY thick layer all over my garden.
    Because of the organic matter I spread on my garden I can now dig up black top soil where there was once only sand. I also hauled in several small truck loads of horse manure. Be careful of your source of manure. Some sources spray poison on weeds in their hay fields that can pass through and wind up in your garden compost pile. The manure can also be full of seeds. My yard had no Bermuda grass until I hauled in horse manure. Now 5-6 years later I have a heavy crop of impossible to eradicate Bermuda grass. This winter after the rainy hurricane season ends I plan to make some trips to the local zoo to haul home several loads of zoo-poo to build a big compost pile for next spring. I may need to cover it to hot compost it untill the spring in an attempt to kill any seeds.

    Garden paths and between crop rows can be sheet mulched to kill weed and build top soil by adding a layer of compost or clippings covered with cardboard or newspaper and a layer of wood chips. In a year or two use that to plant veggies and sheet mulch the other areas. That is the fastest way I have found to build top soil. Having good top soil also acts as a magnet for earth worms and their worm castings while they aerate you soil. Earth worm castings is about the best natural fertilizer you can find. When available I am always open to adding used coffee grounds and fruit pulp from juice bars.
    I just planted several Mexican sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia ) cuttings in a back corner of my garden. They grow quickly here and make a mulch richer than chicken manure. Once they are established, I will chop and drop cuttings several times a summer.

    I now have 40+ fruit trees and adding on my ½ acre urban lot. Once they all start producing I will have tree ripe fresh fruit every month of the year from my zone 9 orchard garden.

  • Maria Rose

    I am thinking of doing that on my pots I grew my herbs in during the spring/summer. I am always picking up leaves which seem to pile up my walkway from the wind and the weekly gardner using the blower to push the leaves around. Too bad i don’t have a place to compose them.

    • Maria Rose

      But after reading in the comments about oak tree leaves (majority of the trees in area are oaks), my idea to mulch my pots won’t work, especially since I think the oak trees are also diseased..

  • Pamela

    Ms. Judy, is there a link to this information?

  • Carolyn Langdon

    All leaves including oak and coniferous needles provide good mulch. To quote Hort mag.: Question: Is it true that certain types of tree leaves are highly acidic? Should I think before shredding them and using them as mulch?

    Answer: You’re probably referencing the old myth that oak leaves shouldn’t be used as mulch. Experts with University of Missouri Extension note that oak leaves are acidic, but pH is not a big concern with mulches, because mulch is put on top of the soil, not worked into it. Oregon State Extension concurs and adds that many organic mulches (besides oak leaves) are acidic, yet only very sandy soils are susceptible to pH changes due to mulch. Other soil types “buffer” potential changes. If the mulch is applied repeatedly, the top two inches of soil may become slightly more acidic, but this will not affect most plants. The best way to know and monitor your soil’s pH is to test it; you can also gauge soil pH by growing certain pH-indicating annuals.

    Michigan State University also did a study on pine needle mulch and reported at a Master Gardener conference last spring that it did not significantly change the soil pH.

  • debra Czech

    Marjorie, I live in Phoenix, AZ, and now is the time for planting in this neck of the woods. We live in an area that has a small business park right behind a shopping center. This area has streets lined with trees and they are loosing their leaves. For years now, I have been going out at this time of the year and raking up the leaves and bringing them home. I usually put them in those large black plastic bags, and “store” these bags under my citrus trees so they don’t fall apart too soon. I have a couple of compost drums that I add the leaves to, and keep an eye on them to keep them moist and turned when necessary. They have worked perfectly for me and I couldn’t be happier. And, any clippings I get from the vegetables I prepare for food, goes into these containers also, along with some grass clippings, citrus peels, and coffee and tea grounds. I rarely have to add fertilizer to my soil, but I did this year because we have had NO rain at this property where we live, in almost 1 year! ! ! I try to do an organic garden, but I am forced to use city water, which is in no way, organic! Still, I am sure it’s better that the stuff that is not organic, from the supermarket, so I continue to do the best with that situation!

  • Jim Barclay

    Good idea for any city dweller who wants to grow a garden.

  • Rachel Easson

    Collect red clover seeds (they pull off easily when ripe) from pathways etc and cast them over places you want to fix nitrogen. The deer love them too. Most hardware stores carry the seeds too.

    If you need compacted ground broken up plant Jerusalem artichokes

  • Daryle Thomas

    Forty or so years ago it was common to roto-till the garden at the end of the season. One year we collected spent coffee grounds from a couple of local coffee merchants. They were mixed with an eighty pound bag of cracked corn. The mix was broadcast over the garden and covered with 6-mil black plastic. The entire area was covered with square hay bales, starting with full bales all around the outer edge.
    In the spring, what was left of the bales was removed to let the sun hit the black plastic and warm the soil.
    The plastic was removed in mid May with the approaching planting season. A thousand night crawlers disappeared into the soil, which had no signs of either corn or coffee. It was easy to push my hand into the soil well past my wrist.
    Every so often, we mix molasses with water and spray the garden as an added treat for the micro-critters.
    Leaves are composted with fresh horse manure and just mowed green grass. This compost can be added to the garden in a couple of months of aggressive turning.
    We have the soil professionally tested at least every two years.

  • Mark

    I have used leaf mulch with great success. Our property has a mix of Southern Poplar and Oak with a few Maples. Our technique is to reverse the air flow of a small gas blower which sucks the leaves up into a bag – shredding them into small pieces in the process. As others have commented, if you layer them too deep, the leaf layer will prevent moisture from penetrating. This can be a problem because mulch turns into rich soil rather rapidly in the presence of both darkness and moisture. So we use thin layers of horse manure (which we get free, mostly broken down sawdust by the time it has composted) and leaf mulch. We try to water each layer in well. Our heavy red clay soil starts to turn black within a year or two and plants appear to love their new environment. It’s great to hear someone else sharing about the benefits of leaf mulch

    • I’m glad that you enjoyed the article, Mark. I use the same reverse blower method to shred my leaves! Sure beats my old method of a tarp and weedwacker! haha

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