Leafy Compost

By Heidi Bornhorst

Leaves are valuable for our gardens and for living soil.  Akamai farmers of old used and valued leaves to create and maintain good soil.  Good soil is “alive” with beneficial microorganisms.

Some people rake up and throw away their leaves.   To me, leaves are way better for our gardens than chemical fertilizers.

I consider them to be GOLD for the garden.  Do you need some exercise at a safe social distance?  GO out and rake up some leaves! Raking is good for your arm muscles.

Its fun for keiki and ohana too, just keep your distance from each other, if anyone has been traveling or exposed at work or school.

What is the best kind of leaves?

  1. Monkeypod
  2. Koa
  3. Fine leaved legumes like Kiawe
  4. `Ulu
  5. Whatever you have!

Nitrogen fixers like monkeypod, koa and kiawe are great.  The smaller the leaves, the more surface area, and the more rapidly they decompose, releasing nutrients that are available for plants to uptake and use.

`Ulu or breadfruit leaves make excellent soil building compost and they are so petty too!

Any leaves will work.  Bigger leaves like those from Mango, Lychee, mountain apple and Avocado can be cut up or shredded to make them decompose more quickly.

 If you grow Anthuriums, these big leaves that don’t break down quickly are useful intact.  We grew up using hapu’u, Hawaiian tree fern trunks for Anthuriums and orchid potting medium.  But its not sustainable to use hapu`u, it better to let them grow in our gardens and rainforests.  SO, a trick I learned from my old Foster Botanical Garden Boss and sensei, Masa Yamauchi: use lychee or mango leaves for potting medium in your anthurium pots.

Cut them up with clippers and soak them in a bucket for a while.  If you have a chipper or shredder those make nice fine leaf cuts.  You can also run the leaves over with a lawn mower to get them into smaller pieces.

If you trim get your trees trimmed professionally, have them chip the leaves and branches too.  This makes excellent mulch and compost.  Make sure the chipper has sharp clean blades. 

Or mix fine textured and large leaves

I went up to my neighbor Cindy’s and harvested leaves out of her green bin.

She likes a neat yard and does daily raking. And even though she’s my good friend, and a very good tidy gardener, she THROWS THEM AWAY!

Her gardeners (grass cutters) had been there and they dumped a bunch of grass in the bin too.  I DON’T want the grass!  It might have weedy seeds and has too much nitrogen.  So, I had to separate it all and lean down into the bin to get the good leaves. And then the rain and wild winds came too!

All in all, it was quite a workout !  I loaded up the bags, buckets and boxes of leaves and brought them home to my garden.

I had priority plants that I want to give extra nurturing to:

  1. Food plants
  2. Rare Hawaiian banana variety that is struggling
  3. Rare gingers
  4. `Ohi`a lehua
  5. Palapalai ferns
  6. Rare native Hawaiian Hibiscus, koki`o ke`o ke`o, H punaluensis.

I distribute the leaves, and watered them in.  

Adding water helps “stick” the leaves in place and starts the decomposition process. With this wild wind I don’t want them blowing all around.

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