The word ‘compost’ is a general term that is used to describe many types of natural soil conditioners. And while this is perfectly acceptable, the way that leaf mould compost is formed differs so much from the ‘normal’ composting process that it should really have a little category all to itself.
The material produced by a traditional compost heap occurs through the bacterial breakdown of kitchen and garden waste, and it is here that leaf mould compost differs from the norm. Because leaves are generally too dry, too acidic, or low in nitrogen for effective bacterial decomposition to occur, they rely instead on the far slower composting effects of fungal activity.
Leaves alone can take one or two years to break down into the, rich humus material that many gardeners covet, but while this natural process is slow it can be speeded up by placing collected leaves into either plastic bags or specially-constructed wire bins.
To accelerate the fungal decomposition it is useful to keep the leaves wet and away from the drying effects of wind.
When using plastic bags for holding leaf mould, puncture several holes into the base and sides of the bag. This will help with drainage and allow air to flow through the bag, preventing the leaves from turning slimy. The traditional wire enclosure has a tendency to slow down the fungal decomposition process as without periodic maintenance it can allowing the contents to dry out and so it is advisable to line the wire enclosure with cardboard or some other similar material.
To create a good quality, usable leaf mould your collected leaves will need to be allowed to rot down for at least a year. After this period the leaves should have changed into a dark crumbly material, although at this stage the leaf mould compost will still recognisable as bits of leaves. However, if you leave it to continue rotting for a further year it would have composted further still into to a dark brown compost, which can be dug into the ground and used as a soil conditioner. This material contains high levels of humus which - when dug into the soil - will help it to retain moisture and enable it to hold onto nutrients.
Through out the decomposition process you should periodically check that the leaves are kept damp and every now and then give the bag a good shake to open up the leaf mix to air.
For related articles click onto the following links:
BBC: MAKING LEAF MOULD
HOW TO COMPOST
HOW TO MAKE JOHN INNES COMPOST
HOW TO MAKE LIQUID FERTILIZER FROM COMFREY
HOW TO MAKE A LEAF MOULD COMPOST
WHAT ARE PLANT MACRONUTRIENTS AND MICRONUTRIENTS
WHAT IS CROP ROTATION?
WHAT IS AN F1 HYBRID?
WHAT IS JOHN INNES COMPOST?
WHAT ARE MYCORRHIZAL FUNGI?