Although I cover my raised beds with a bright blue tarp partly to keep the squirrels from burying their tasty nuts as noted in yesterday’s post, the blue tarp also functions as a place to begin accumulating old dead leaves in the fall and early winter months. On top I toss all the dead leaves accumulated in my yard and as well in the yards of my neighbors to the north, south and west. There’s a greatly diverse collection of tree types there and very few that produce strongly acidic leaves. I toss them all onto the tarp and my neighbors gladly toss in the rest. Sometimes they’re just blown in by mowing them in that direction. I just rake in any that miss their mark. Chopping them up a bit with a mower does improve their rate of decay, as the rains and warmer weather of spring arrives.
The pile starts to condense substantially in the spring and the action begins as the weather gets warmer and the earthworms invade the pile. Later in the spring I start throwing all the leaves by hand into one of several 2 feet high, 3 feet diameter circular chicken wire bins. These bins stand right on the ground with no special stabilizing elements. They are very convenient. The leaves decay further and I accelerate the process by starting to grind them through a narrow gauge strong wire mesh laid over a sturdy garden pot. The ground leaves collect quickly and I toss them back into one of the emptied circular chicken wire bins. I just keep doing this until I’ve ground down all the leaves. It’s actually a very quick process and also functions as a way to remove some large nuts that have dropped into the pile from the tree above. The nuts won’t go through the sieve. I collect the nuts and leave them out front and well away from the raised beds. The squirrels will be by eventually to pick up most of them to eat now or later after burial elsewhere.
The process usually gives me 3-4 small bins of broken-up leaf mulch which then decays further as spring warms up. Most of that ground leaf mulch is added in and around the upcoming plants in the raised raised beds in my back yard or into my assigned raised bed in the community garden up on the hill. This finely ground mulch helps to suppress weeds and maintain soil moisture around the big plants and some of the root crops like carrots, beets and onions.
Later I’ll add in some part leaf mulch part weed and kitchen-derived organic matter composted together during the early part of the hot summer with some of the remaining leaf mulch and dead winter weeds collected while cleaning up the yard. So the composted “leaf mulch” gets a little better in nitrogen content over the summer. I just keep adding it in on top of the straight leaf mulch added in the early spring. I can generally keep the nitrogen content fairly high by seasonal rotation of bush beans through the through the raised beds rather than green manuring with clover or alfalfa. A little straw sprinkled onto the raised beds just after the tarp comes off and the beds are about to be covered with their chicken wire covers (see earlier Ohio Garden post) is also a good idea.