Making leaf humus

Leaf humus ©Janet AllenLeaf humus

Leaf humus is the beautiful, dark brown crumbly stuff you find in the woods. It's made of all the leaves that have decomposed over the years—because no one raked them up and trucked them away.

We use some of our own homemade leaf humus in our woodland areas, especially since we've sited them in areas that didn't have foresty soil to begin with. (We use the rest in our edible garden.)

The natural way

Leaf cover ©Janet AllenColumbines coming up through leaves in spring

Of course, the easiest way to make leaf humus is the natural way: just let leaves decompose where they land.

Although young plants or those planted the previous fall might need a little of the leaf cover removed in the spring, in general plants are able to poke their way through the leaves.

In other words, just as they'd do in the wild!

Using a chipper/shredder

Bags of shredded leaves ©Janet AllenBags full of shredded leaves

We had previously spent a lot of time shredding leaves and storing them all winter in garbage bags stashed in the permanent paths of our edible garden.

It was tedious, noisy, and polluting work.

Chipper - shredder ©Janet AllenOur chipper-shredded: For Sale

When we discovered how easy it was to just let those leaves decompose, we sold this expensive, but now unnecessary, machine.

Using homemade barrels

Leaf compost barrel ©Janet AllenOur leaf compost barrel

We started putting leaves in homemade "barrels" just as a demonstration for people who tour our yard. We wanted to show that it doesn't take much space to compost leaves.

To make one, we form metal fencing into the shape of a barrel and bend the cut edges to hold it together. Then we just pile fall leaves into them and wait—no turning or mixing necessary (unless we were to want them to decompose more quickly).

And when we saw how incredibly easy it was to create large amounts of leaf humus this way, we made more barrels and put them in out-of-the-way places.

Large leaf barrel(Enlarge) ©Janet Allen
The new larger barrel is to the left of our regular-size barrel.

In fact, it was so easy and created such wonderful leaf humus with so little effort that we added an even larger "barrel."

This composts even more leaves in a given amount of space.

Leaf compost barrel after one year ©Janet AllenOur leaf compost barrel after one year

It doesn't take much space to compost leaves. In the fall, they're so light and fluffy they take up some space initially, but they quickly "cook down."

Here's how little space those leaves took after just one year: (The original level at the top of the bin is just below level of the upper gas meter.)

After two years, we had rich leaf mold.

What started out as an experiment became our permanent way of dealing with leaves and creating compost. And it was so much easier than grinding them.

Closeup of compost ©Janet AllenA cross-section of the leaf humus as we're harvesting it

Here's a closeup of the leaf humus from the center of the pile we're harvesting.

This beautiful stuff consists only of leaves. We didn't turn the leaves or anything; we just waited for it to decompose.

It would be difficult to buy leaf humus or compost this good, and if we could, it would be extremely expensive. Our leaf humus is totally free and requires very little work.

Leaves in the community

Leaf bags ©Janet AllenLeaf bags in our neighborhood

You can't have too many leaves, we collect leaves other people put out to the curb.

Our town's leaves are collected and trucked away by massive trucks, accompanied by payloaders that scoop up the leaves left at the curb and dump them into the trucks. They roam the streets for weeks on end collecting leaves that would just compost right where they fell if given the chance.

What a lot of pollution these trucks create. And what a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. Asking people to compost their leaves on-site would be a great way for the town to cut expenses!

Leaf piles on the street ©Janet Allen Leaf piles on the street

Our streets are lined with these piles of leaves, many already crushed to fine mulch-like consistency. And they're waiting to be carted away. (In spring, I imagine these homeowners will be going off to the store to buy … mulch!

Town truck dumping leaves ©Janet AllenTown truck dumping leaves

We hope we might be preventing at least a few trips by these fossil-fuel-using (and expensive) trucks.

Leaves are so valuable that one year, as the town dump truck was going by, we asked the driver to dump his truck-load of leaves on our front yard. I imagine the truck driver thought we were nuts, but he did it. We were thrilled to have so many leaves!

Leaves on the lawn

No raking sign ©Janet AllenHere's one of our signs you can download

Sometimes, we just mow the leaves that fall on the lawn with a mulching mower and let them stay on the lawn to enrich the soil. Some people just dig them right into their garden soil, a process called sheet composting. We've never tried this, but it might be good for our edible garden.

The bottom line:We keep all our leaves in our own yard and never put them out to the curb as waste!