This shows part of this year’s mulch pile… the entire pile is thirty feet long and four feet wide at the bottom, and after nearly three months it has settled down to being three and a half feet high. This pile will supply all the mulch we will need next year… and except for the time and labor, this huge quantity of mulch is absolutely free.
It’s easy to make leaf mold, but there are a few tricks that speed up the process. If you just make a pile of your raked leaves, they will decompose (unevenly) in two or three years. If you chop the same leaves into small pieces and compost them, they will decompose completely within less than a year. We used to chop the leaves by running them through a wood chipper, but we have found that a lawn mower does a much better and faster job. We just rake the leaves into rows and run the lawn mower over them (using a blade dedicated for this purpose!).
We choose an out of sight location and layer the chopped leaves in a long pile, being careful to wet each layer thoroughly as we go. This is a very important step, because if the leaves are not completely moistened, the pile will not heat up, and without the heat, the leaves will not decompose. The pile will start to heat up in three or four days and will reach temperatures of up to 140°F (and should stay near that level for several weeks) without further attention. And because the leaves are already in small pieces and have been well wet down, the entire pile will fully decompose without being turned.
This pile is now almost three months old, and the leaf mold looks like this. The pile is still hot and the leaves are still decomposing. By next spring we will have a practically unlimited supply of wonderful black leaf mold. I work it into the soil and also use it as a thick mulch around all the hostas, putting down a fresh layer each spring. The hostas and the earthworms love it, and the thickness of the mulch helps the soil to retain moisture and is a great weed control, too.