Composting is nature's way of recycling. Leaf litter is Mother Nature's end result of her attempt at composting. Humans don't even need to do anything for nature to compost. Just look at the ground the next time you walk through the woods. What do you see? What does the ground you walk on feel like? Does a forest smell different than a farm field or your backyard?
While walking through a forest with both deciduous and evergreen trees, you should see the ground covered with leaves, pine needles, maybe some fallen and rotting logs, and lots and lots of leaf litter. Leaf litter is a collection of the detritus which falls from trees and other plant material onto the ground. Detritus includes: leaves, bark, twigs, sticks, pine needles-you name it. Leaf litter is a great addition to garden beds and nature's ultimate success at recycling.
Leaf litter and compost are nearly the same thing; the difference being what is included in the finished product. Leaf litter will contain only the organic matter from the trees and plants in the forest, whereas compost will contain organic matter from not only the trees and plants in the forest (if you have it available), but also organic matter from our homes and gardens.
Why is leaf litter a great addition to your gardens you ask? Because in addition to the organic matter it adds to the soil, it also adds millions and billions of organisms which process the leaf litter and develop communities between the soil and leaf litter. These communities then help maintain soil fertility and structure. Our goal as gardeners should be to have great soil, not just great plants.(http://www.austmus.gov.au/factsheets/biodiversity_litter.htm) According to this same website, leaf litter "rivals coral reefs as one of the most biodiverse places on earth."
The ground will feel like it has some give to it. It will not be hard packed clay like we have in our backyards. The softness underfoot is due to the leaf litter on the ground. As all of the leaf litter decays it becomes spongy and soft providing cushioning for a very comfortable walk through the forest.
A forest will usually smell earthy. The earthy smell of course comes from the earth. Essentially the communities within the leaf litter are working with the soil to improve the ground. Since leaf litter is usually not disturbed the earth smell can be more pronounced in a forest than in other places, such as farm fields.
We too can compost just like Mother Nature. For me composting is a way of life in the garden. I, like Mother Nature, kind of take a hands off approach to composting. I have three bins each measuring 4'x4'. I toss in lots of detritus like: leaves, pine needles, plant debris, leftover food scraps, vegetable peelings, rabbit litter, coffee grounds (a super amendment), tea bags and just about anything organic and let it sit, just like leaf litter in a forest. I am a passive composter I guess you could say. If I turned the compost the debris would decompose a little faster, but I usually have some compost available for use at all times due to the large amounts of detritus I compost. Communities of all sorts of organisms almost immediately begin breaking down the detritus into fine black organic material, something I call 'Black Gold'. Gardeners can't get enough of it.
The above three pictures are of Skeeter's new compost bin. The first picture is of the woodpile with which she used logs from to build her compost bin. The second picture is of the finished compost bin. The third picture shows an up close picture of the compost bin full of detritus just waiting to compost into black gold, or maybe some leaf litter judging by the amount of forest detritus she has put in the compost bin. She and the Saint will soon have lots of compost and leaf litter to add to their beautiful gardens.
If you have a picture of a compost bin you would like to see on here, just send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will compile them and do a posting on the variety of compost bins and how compost helps the particular owner of the compost bin. Even if you don't have a compost bin and maybe just have a pile of detritus-that could work too!
in the garden....composting the Mother Nature way.