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what does leaves do for a garden?

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IronPony
Funny, not an hour before reading this post my wife and I were discussing this topic. She has done some gardening in her life and I have done very little. I made the comment that I would till leaves in to the garden. She frowned and said she has never read in any of her gardening books/magazines that this is a good idea. I am looking forward to seeing other replies to this one. Dan

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dogboy
Composting them first is a better way to go,i've been doing it for years,i mix in seaweed ,manure,grass clippings-pretty long list- never had to buy fertilizer.for flower beds,i rake the leaves into the beds in the fall to cover the gardens and rake out the leaves in the spring and compost them.

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RayS
Well it adds organic material to the soil and in turn supplies nutrients to the crops that you are planting. It also loosen the soil. Organic material is far better than the fertilizers you can buy.

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Kent
Leaves add organic material to the soil, just like adding mulch, peat moss, etc. They increase the "tilth" of the soil, allowing it to hold more water for the plants' roots, and simultaneously prevent the soil from packing down into hard clods. Soil with a lot of organic material will also drain water away from the plants roots, helping prevent problems with the soil being too wet... Leaves also are very rich in trace nutrients, since the roots of the trees have pulled in minerals and other trace elements from deep in the ground... If you chop the leaves up with your mower deck (i.e. bag or vacuum them) and spread them on the garden, then till them in, they'll be gone by spring. If you just till in the whole leaves, they'll mat up and you'll still have partially decomposed leaves.... I usually add 4" - 6" of chopped up leaves every year, then till them in. Note that adding leaves will make your soil more acidic. So, unless you live in an area of alkaline soil (or a lot of limestone deposits), you may need to add lime to the soil also... Note that lime won't burn plants like regular fertilizer, so it's safe to add large amounts. The best way, of course, is to have soil samples analyzed to see what pH you're working with, and what basic elements are missing....

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papamerkle
I chop and bag leaves in the fall. They go in the garden and them garden gets plowed. Ground does plow easier and I have to change depth adjustment because plow wants to go too deep. Ground does work up easier in the spring. I do the same thing Kent does-get a soil sample so you know what elements the soil needs.

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RonT
The lime will also speed up the decay of the leaves. The township I work for does a bulk leaf collection we compost them for 1 1/2 years. Then in the spring it is hauled to a location for the township residents to use for there plants and garden. It must work good because they are like flies on dog s#*t trying to get at the stuff. Or just because it is FREE. We have to close of the access to it when we are dumping the people will pull in right behind the dumptrucks or walk under the frontend loader while he is trying to pile it up.http://www.simpletractors.com/club2/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=23801

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snapper1650
Kent hit all the high points. Can't add anything to that, other than to reitterate what Michael said about composting first (if you have the time and ability to do so). Composting will bring that acidic tendency of leaves Kent was talking about to neutral. Dan, I've read it in a Rodale's (sp?) publication, so I know it's out there. I've seen it in print elsewhere, but can't recall any publications by name. But Rodale is a name your wife will probably recognize.

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hufhouse
My experience with composting leaves is that it takes a year for them to really decay down to "black gold." In fact, I recently saw an episode of "Ask This Old House" dealing with composting leaves. Roger Cook, the landscaping expert, recommended setting up a large chicken-wire enclosure (about 4' in diameter and maybe 5-6' tall) and filling it to the brim with leaves in the fall. He then walked over to another container that had been filled the previous year (so it had been "cooking" for a year) and it was down to about 1/10th of the volume of the container and it was just excellent compost--beautiful black dirt. I would be concerned that just tilling them into the garden and then planting six months later might not be enough time for good decomposition. It would seem that it could make the ground more acidic than is optimum. If you have the room, I would recommend starting a cycle where you put a year's worth of leaves in one place, then begin using that pile after they have decomposed for a year, while you start another pile with this year's leaves and so on. What is left after a year of decay is just gorgeous black dirt full of nutrients. I have also always read (and practiced) that mixing both BROWN (leaves, small sticks, etc.) and GREEN (grass clippings, weeds, etc.) debris together makes for the best compost. That's what I try to do in my yard.

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dogboy
The more varied the stuff you mix with the leaves,the faster they break down,the Rodale book has lists of whats compostable ,i make 2 batches a summer and one over the winter,about 2 yards total,adding manure and or seaweed really help speed things up.NO pet "poop",fish waste is great but will attract critters.

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Kent
If you get the chopped up leaves tilled in a few weeks before the ground freezes, then till a couple times before planting, they do fine in one winter... You can make compost in 15 days, under ideal circumstances. Mix thoroughly 1/3 brown material, 1/3 green material, and 1/3 regular topsoil or manure (for all the active microrganisms), moisten it, and turn it daily... That's why the rotating bins are so nice -- plus you can roll the wheelbarrow right underneath them and dump the compost in... You need either "live topsoil" or manure to use as a "starter" just like yeast is used.... To make compost, you really need the temperature at the center of the pile to maintain somewhere about 150 - 160 degrees Fahrenheit, to kill off the weed seeds and other bad stuff.... The heat also breaks down the materials much, much faster. Of course, I do it the lazy way. I leave all the weeds and clippings in the garden (I just pull the tomato vines up) to provide the "green material", then spread 4" - 6" of chopped up leaves on it, for the "brown material". Then I cover the leaves with a heavy coating of lime and till it all in. I till about 6" deep and go over it twice. Then, in the spring I try to till twice before I plant. This lets most of the remaining weed seeds sprout, then get tilled in, before the veggies get planted... In comparison a slow, cold "rot" in the pile at the edge of the woods takes a long, long time.... Usually it's good "leaf mold" after a full year, plus, in the pile.

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G.Kiebler
I grew some of the best broccoli useing compost with a dusting of lime.The broccoli heads were about 8" round and the best taste ever.The best thing to do is to mix alphalfa hay into your composting process,their roots can go as deep as forty feet,hard to believe,which allows them access to trace mineral that have either eroded away or have been used up through poor soil management.If you use 10-10-10 fertilizer,you are getting only 3 elements necessary for growth where as a compost enrich soil allows the plants to absorb trace elements there-by creating healthier plants and produce.You are what you eat!

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snapper1650
Kent alluded to the quickness that compost "can" be obtained. I can completely break down leaves in my compost piles within 3 weeks. My copmost piles are continuous, even in the winter, so the "starter" I use is previous compost. It is filled withthe organisms needed. As I build a new pile, I use some finished material throughout the new pile. Once the soil has been enriched it will "eat" the leaves within one dormant season. I remember reading in Rodale's that he knew the soil was biologically active when he could throw something on it, and it would biodegrade in no time. Roy, I doubt your soil would break it down completely the first year, BUT, you are not hurting anything by tilling in leaves right now. As dogboy said, NEVER use pet poop. Pathogens can be nasty! The only thing I am missing from this process is a front end loader!!!!!!!...:D... Boy, could I turn some shtuff then!

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Agricola
A few falls ago, I went around the neighborhood, picking up bagged leaves. I put those in my dad's raised garden, added some fertilizer and lime. Then I turned it all in with a spading fork. I then planted the veggie garden in there and it did quite well. The spring following, as I was turning the now loose soil, I would find the nicest night crawlers one would ever want. They were every where. The layer of leaves I put in that first fall was about 6 inches thick.

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