This simple-to-make soil conditioner will leave you with earth so soft and rich, you’ll want to roll around in it
Although I’ve been making leaf mould for more than 25 years, the magic of the stuff gets me every time. At the beginning of the year, I put layers of semi-rotting leaves, planted potatoes, pumpkins and beans into the soil’s damp interiors, and now with the crops cleared away, I have soil so soft and rich with worms it makes me want to strip naked and roll around in it. It’s some trip, leaf mould, it really is.
In essence, leaf mould is simple stuff. It is made from autumn leaves slowly decomposed by fungi until those papery leaves turn into a dark, soft, crumbly substance. The process is slow, and the reduction of vast piles of leaves results in only a few inches of the end product that, although not nutrient-rich – the trees mined that stuff back themselves in the process of leaf fall – is high in cellulose and lignin.
Somewhere in there is the magic because this stuff is the most excellent soil conditioner. It retains water, while still maintaining a good structure, which makes it an excellent bed for seedling roots to take hold.
There are several ways to make leaf mould. The holy grail is made from oak or hornbeam, matured for two years. If you have the patience to do this, you will make the best seedling compost money can’t buy. Year-old leaf mould is pretty good, too – add it to shop-bought compost for new pots, up to 25% of the overall volume. Or top-dress existing pots with equal parts leaf mould to compost to make a mulch for spring.