Some people curse the falling leaves. Not me. Of course, since the wind blows all the leaves off my hill, the only labor I have is to collect the bags of leaves from industrious neighbors. I can never get enough.
I learned the technique of Cold Composting from the late Larry Leitner. He collected leaves and pressed them down into fence wire frames that he made in various sizes and shapes. He prepared these cold compost piles in the fall, and in the spring, he planted seedlings right in the pile. The leaves would have broken down substantially, and sunk down. The piles would not be as fluffy as they were in the fall. He would make a small indentation in the pile, fill it with a quart or so of garden soil and put in the seedling. Large vegetable plants worked well, like the coles, or summer squash, but herb and flower seedlings did just as well. Since there is nothing but leaves in this compost pile it does not heat up. There is nothing to harm tender plant roots. The only thing leaf compost beds need is sufficient watering during the growing season. They will dry out quickly.
Larry liked these beds because it used the leaves for free fertilizer, and because neighborhood dogs didn’t damage his garden. I have planted in these beds when I didn’t have good soil. The harvest was good, and I ultimately ended up with good soil where I used these beds.
These days I mostly make cold compost in a compost bin that I got a few years ago. As the leaves break down (and they break down faster than you might imagine) I can add more leaves to the bin. You can see I have several bags of leaves waiting in the wings.
Of course, at this point in the fall I have lots of garden clean up items to put in my regular compost pile. I do not manage it in a very scientific manner, but I do add occasional layers of chicken manure to the weeds, vines, dead annuals and regular kitchen waste. It will break down eventually, and I will always need compost, early or late.
Composting gives me a sense of thrift, making fertilizer out of scraps and free leaves, and of environmental responsibility, working with the natural cycle beginning with the seed which grows, dies, rots and makes the nourishment for the next crop.