It seems that every year we wish we had more garden space. There are a lot of areas in our meadow that get almost all-day sun and would make perfect gardens, except the soil is too wet, too full of clay, and too full of rocks. We have been working on digging rocks and amending the soil for years and years, but at best it’s a slow process. We need more planting space now.
My husband makes huge amounts of leaf mold every year, and we find ourselves in the odd situation of having more rich leaf mold than usable rock-free soil. Since we age our leaf mold until it is very fine and looks like dark rich soil, it was a natural progression of thoughts to wonder if we could plant crops in the 100% leaf mold. I thought some of the gardening experts might know, but after numerous telephone calls and Internet searches, I couldn’t find anything supportive. Perhaps our problem was that the people giving the advice couldn’t conceive of anyone having more leaf mold than soil… but I could not find anyone who would support our idea of using 100% leaf mold as a primary planting material.
We decided that we would try it anyway. We chose a nice sunny area in one side of the meadow and marked out two planting spaces, each roughly six feet wide and sixteen feet long. Next we cut out the squares of turf, which we removed and later used as a base for grassing over another area. We removed the large rocks that were under the turf and worked up the wet clay “soil” as best we could. Then we laid down about an eight-inch thick layer of leaf mold over the entire planting area. We worked some composted manure into the leaf mold in the same proportions we would use if we had been working with soil, watered the area thoroughly, and left it alone for about a week.
We planted cucumbers in one garden and a mix of winter and summer squash in the second one. Next time we will leave a bigger space between the “gardens”… last year we left twice the width of the lawn mower because we intended to continue mowing the grass around the gardens. However, even though we had planted only a few plants down the center of each garden space, once the plants started growing, they spread way beyond our expectations. Mowing that between garden area quickly became impossible, which meant we were unable to keep the meadow looking as neatly mowed as usual. Another time we will also not use such a thick layer of leaf mold. Our original concern was that the leaf mold would wick up too much moisture from the too wet soil, and we thought a full eight inches of leaf mold would keep the garden moist but not wet. As it turned out, the deeper leaf mold could have caused a problem with too little moisture. We ended up spending lots and lots of hours carrying buckets of water to ensure that the cucumbers and squash got all the water they needed.
Other than these two minor issues, we were extremely pleased with how amazingly well both the cucumbers and squash grew and produced in their 100% leaf mold “soil.” The plants were lush and strong and covered with blossoms and fruit all summer long. The yields were nothing short of amazing.
We’re already making plans for this coming summer and for more leaf mold gardens in the meadow… and also in some of the dryer areas of our land where the sun is great but the soil is just too rocky for planting. We’re thinking a simple no-bucket irrigation system would be a nice idea too!