For the last week I’ve been out and about on woodland paths scooping up fallen leaves into big blue IKEA shopping sacks. This pursuit invites worried stares from passing dog walkers and the ingress of nosy dog noses into my bags of gatherings – presumably in hopes that I’ve also raked up decomposing animal parts, or at the very least, an interesting stick.
Two days ago, by such devices, I was nearly able to kidnap a very nice cockapoo, and after my exchange with its human companion, I rather wished I had. ‘They are lovely dogs,’ I say to the man as he closes in on me. ‘I wouldn’t know,’ he says dismissively. ‘All I know is it needs a lot of exercise.’ Well, I thought, such disgruntlement in the face of this good-hearted, intelligent canine whose cappuccino coloured face I am presently clutching (come home with me little woolly dog). I decided he must have been dragooned into enforced dog walking by a wife at work, or an aged mother-in-law – how else could one explain such sour reactions.
But back to the leaves. When I’ve filled two bags I haul them down the footpath to the allotment where I tip them into wire silos. After that it’s a question of waiting for them to rot down into leaf mould. Usually this takes about two years if you want dark crumbly loam. The process can be speeded up by shredding the leaves first, hence my collecting them on paths where people walk and mash them up. Oak, beech and hornbeam leaves are said to make the best leaf mould since they break down well. It also helps to turn the pile now and then and give it a watering if it looks like drying out.
There’s not much nutrient content in the finished product, but it helps retain moisture and is brilliant as a general soil conditioner, to pile round the roots of cane fruit and for mixing into potting compost. Last year I was also glad to use the half-rotted stuff as a mulch to stop the vegetables from baking in the heat wave. In this state, too, it can be used to cover bare earth over the winter. Always a good move if you want to encourage worm activity as every gardener does.
But obviously the best part about the leaves just now is their magnificent glow. At half past four yesterday as I left the allotment it was already heading into dusk, but the bird cherry was lighting up the place like a torch. And further along on the field path a beech hedge was floodlighting its garden. What a show. I took its photo, while making a note to return when all the leaves had fallen off. So much treasure for the taking.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell