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Will This Technique Enrich My Garden Soil?

by George
(United States)

I tilled up the soil in my garden for the winter, then covered it with all of my leaves, old grass clippings, and 100 lbs of finely shredded paper. I then ran my mulch mower over all of this several times, and then turned it over with the tiller to about 10 inches in depth. Will this make the soil rich for the spring or should I add something else? By the way, my garden is 30′ x 30′.

Our Answer

Hi George,

I have to ask…where did you learn this technique? Please point me to your source, so I can SLAP them!

I would not recommend this to anyone in the Compost Junkie Tribe.

Not only do I try to avoid tilling my soils, I would never mix all these materials into my upper soil layer. Old leaves, old grass clippings, and shredded paper are all very high in carbon, and they would serve much better as a mulch.

Please note, there is an incredible soil-building technique we learned from Sepp Holzer, our permaculture guru, called Hugelkultur. Hugelkultur is a German term describing a technique in which you build raised beds over top of decaying logs. However, the technique you’re practicing is quite different. We will discuss hugelkultur and it’s derivatives in an upcoming article.

Will this enrich your soil for the spring?

You may experience a short-term flush of nutrients from the repeated tilling, but overall I suspect you have a great learning experience on your hands. Consider this a wonderful experiment, and please report back to us about your results and productivity. For the time being, I have to remain skeptical of this technique.

If possible, try your best to hammer your garden soils with fungal-dominated compost tea. You have added a lot of woody/carbon material to your soils and fungi have the unique ability to degrade these substances.

Below is a great video on the power of Fungi.

Click image to watch great video on fungi.

Has anyone else in the Tribe experimented with this technique? Anyone else have suggestions for George?

Please keep us posted on your results George.

Compost Junkie Dave

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Jan 15, 2012
Nitrogen deficiency
by: Lloyd

When I tried to plant in the spring after a fall application of leaves, I had a HUGE nitrogen deficiency problem with the crop. We adjusted our procedure so that the field is fallow in the first growing season after the leaf application and it works so much better. I would assume a similar problem in a garden. I have pictures if anyone is interested.

Updated Feb 2012

sheet composting field

One can visibly notice the nitrogen deficient areas. The lighter green areas basically had just leaves applied during late October 2006.

The darker area was a mixture of leaves and fresh grass clippings. It was an incredible difference not only in the pictures but in the harvest as well. The ‘leaves only’ area never did catch up.

Jan 17, 2012
by: Compost Junkie Dave

Excellent point Lloyd.

George, if you’re not able to let the garden lay fallow this season, which I assume you’re not, please make sure you supplement with some nitrogen in the spring.

And Lloyd…please share those pictures with us. If you’re not one for html code, please send them to me and I’ll upload them into this post.

Mar 04, 2012
Leaves in Garden
by: Mr.Ed

I have used this method in 2 different gardens – 1 had heavier soil, the other had sandier soil. And I’ve done out multiple years, adding organic matter helped loosen the one soil, and added moisture holding capacity to the other. The carbon may have stolen some nitrogen in the beginning but somehow the gardens produced plenty, on healthy plants. I say do what ever you can to help the soil, as long it’s not in excess and the soil will pay you back. Good growing, Ed.

Mar 04, 2012
Well Said.
by: Dave

Well said Ed.

Thanks so much for sharing that.


Aug 31, 2013
by: landshark

i have put layers of leaves,fresh cow manure,shredded newspaper in my garden in fall and till it in spring without any problem in spring i use chicken fertilizer chick e do do in my seed rows

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