The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Leaves as a soil amendment

Collecting leaves for the garden.Guatemalan farmers harvest vast quantities of fallen leaves (broza) out of nearby woods to incorporate into their soil.  Wilken estimates that farmers rake up leaves from 5 to 8 acres of forest for each acre of crop they cultivate, although he hastens to add that farm fields are small.   Some farmers just hoe the leaves directly into their soil, while others use the leaves as animal bedding for a week, then incorporate the poopy bedding into the soil.  The latter method is especially effective since nitrogen in the manure and urine offsets the nitrogen lost during the initial stages of leaf decomposition.

Leaves are an especially intriguing soil amendment for our farm since they improve soil structure and water retention/drainage in clayey soils.  In fact, Guatemalan farmers use leaves primarily in clay soil, while they tend to lean toward manure in sandy soils.

Last year, I begged my city-living family members to scavenge bags of leaves left on the curb, and we ended up with 31 big garbage bags full.  I used them as mulch around our berries and trees, but I could have used about ten times as much leaf matter.  Since we've decided to buy firewood this year, maybe we'll have enough free time to rake masses of leaves out of the woods and use them as soil amendments.  I may experiment with using our chicken tractors as leaf-shredding and manure-amending factories, or may try to harvest the nitrogen in our urine by peeing on our leaves.  Stay tuned for lots of leafy experimentation this fall and winter!

This post is part of our Central American Permaculture lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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