Report From The Back 40 ~ Leaf Mold and Black Gold in the Making

Report From The Back 40 ~ Leaf Mold & Black Gold in the Making:
We have a warm spell today after the long, frigid, icy weekend. The clouds hover down over us here and the land is taking in all this recent moisture. I saw such sweet evidence of the earth drinking in every drop and ice crystal. In the fields at the edge of the woods, spent leaves quietly blanket the soil. At first blush it may seem that these are just dead leaves. However, there is a story here.

Dead leaves have a low nitrogen and high carbon content, so they decompose relatively slowly. Despite the cold weather, these leaves are slowly breaking down not only as the result of the mechanical effects of freezing and thawing, but also due to the action of fungus and their companions, and thank goodness for that. We would be up beyond our ears in leaves without the help of these fungi and their helpers. It may take up to two years for leaves to fully breakdown in a climate like we have here on The Back 40, but it is well worth the wait…and one might say the result is more than worth its weight in gold. I, for one, agree. There is a whole system intertwined here. A whole range of different fungal species and an assortment of microfauna such as, millipedes, earthworms, and critters like the wood louse all contribute to the recycling of spent leaves into the fabulously powerful earth rejuvenating substance known as leaf mold. In the end, these detritivores have transformed these dead leaves into a dark brown, fine, powdery substance called humus. (That’s ‘humus’ as opposed to ‘hummus’, of course.)

I call humus ‘black gold’. Here’s why. The process of decomposition that these aforementioned critters participate in helps the molecules that make up the leaf matter get broken down into smaller and smaller molecules. The compounds in the leaves, now reduced to humus, can be extracted by micro-organisms in the soil and eventually made available to the plants. In this case, the nutrients from the decayed leaves through the actions of the weather and the community of life that lives at the soil’s surface get recycled back to the trees that dropped the leaves in the first place. If the product of all of this breaking down and releasing, making nutrients available to be recycled back seamlessly into the environment, targeted back into the cycle of life isn’t worthy of being called ‘black gold’, well…

Fungus and the other living creatures in the earth make the soil matrix come alive so that the plants can then live. We may not be able to see all this activity happening right under our noses, but what a powerful process it is. Life thrives in so many forms here on The Back 40. No matter what the weather, the time of year, the time of day, something is always happening here.

What’s up in your neck of the woods?

quietly blanket the soil. At first blush it may seem that these are just dead leaves. However, there is a story here.

Dead leaves have a low nitrogen and high carbon content, so they decompose relatively slowly. Despite the cold weather, these leaves are slowly breaking down not only as the result of the mechanical effects of freezing and thawing, but also due to the action of fungus and their companions, and thank goodness for that. We would be up beyond our ears in leaves without the help of these fungi and their helpers. It may take up to two years for leaves to fully breakdown in a climate like we have here on The Back 40, but it is well worth the wait…and one might say the result is more than worth its weight in gold. I, for one, agree. There is a whole system intertwined here. A whole range of different fungal species and an assortment of microfauna such as, millipedes, earthworms, and critters like the wood louse all contribute to the recycling of spent leaves into the fabulously powerful earth rejuvenating substance known as leaf mold. In the end, these detritivores have transformed these dead leaves into a dark brown, fine, powdery substance called humus. (That’s ‘humus’ as opposed to ‘hummus’, of course.)

I call humus ‘black gold’. Here’s why. The process of decomposition that these aforementioned critters participate in helps the molecules that make up the leaf matter get broken down into smaller and smaller molecules. The compounds in the leaves, now reduced to humus, can be extracted by micro-organisms in the soil and eventually made available to the plants. In this case, the nutrients from the decayed leaves through the actions of the weather and the community of life that lives at the soil’s surface get recycled back to the trees that dropped the leaves in the first place. If the product of all of this breaking down and releasing, making nutrients available to be recycled back seamlessly into the environment, targeted back into the cycle of life isn’t worthy of being called ‘black gold’, well…

Fungus and the other living creatures in the earth make the soil matrix come alive so that the plants can then live. We may not be able to see all this activity happening right under our noses, but what a powerful process it is. Life thrives in so many forms here on The Back 40. No matter what the weather, the time of year, the time of day, something is always happening here.

What’s up in your neck of the woods?

Black Gold