leaf litter mulch

If there is one thing I have a lot of, it's decomposing leaf litter (aside from shade and pine straw).
I've never thought of using this as a mulch (I'm more concerned with moisture retention than weed blocking). Now, I wonder if this may be a good thing for some plants and perhaps because of the micro-organisms in that, not so good for others.
There are a *lot* of earthworms in there. I was thinking maybe the tomatoes and peppers, and not the cucurbits. Current strategy has been cedar mix mulch. My impression is that newspaper much is more for weeds than water retention, am I wrong?
Jeff
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Jeff if you want you can E mail me at snipped-for-privacy@snip.net.
Charlie, Billy and I kibitz exchanging a Jpg or tune at times. I cc my kids sometimes too. I will send a message out to those guys and they may decide to interact.
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They are both potential carbon sources, and blockers of sunlight and wind. The problem is that wood often contains potentially fungitoxic compounds. The most toxic of these are the thujaplicins which are particularly abundant in cedarwood, making this a naturally decay-resistant wood for high-quality garden furnishings, etc. Because cedar is decay resistant, its carbon isn't readily available to decomposers, and ultimately the plants. http://www.biology.ed.ac.uk/research/groups/jdeacon/FungalBiology/woodrot s.htm
Any mulch, be it cedar, straw, newspapers, or plastic will block sunlight, there by suppressing weeds, and help retain water by blocking the sunlight that will warm the water to vapor temp., and blocking the wind, which would increases evaporation.
An important thing to remember is that the soil microbes need carbon and nitrogen. Carbon should be paired up with a nitrogen source for a C/N ratio of 25 (25/1) for assimilation by microbes. Remember that it is the life and death cycles of the microbes that organic gardeners count on to feed their plants and give tilth to the soil (increases water holding capacity). The nutrients will be bound by humus and clay in the soil, and released as the plants need them.
Possible mulch or composting materials
Alder or ash leaves ............................ 25
Grass clippings ................................ 25
Leguminous plants (peas, beans,soybeans) ............................. 15
Manure with bedding ........................... 23
Manure ....................................... 15
Oak leaves .................................... 50
Pine needles .............................. 60-100
Sawdust.................................... 150-500
Straw, cornstalks and cobs .................. 50-100
Vegetable trimmings ........................... 25
--

Alfalfa ....................................... 12

Aged Chicken Manure  ........................  7
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Billy wrote:

OK. It looks to me that leaf litter can potentially have a very high C/N ratio.
something here: http://www.limnetica.com/Limnetica/Limne13-2/Limnetica-vol13%282%29-pag65-70.pdf
It looks like hardwoods have a higher ratio.
So, what I'm thinking, and perhaps lasagna gardening does this, is to buffer or average the C/N ratio. It looks to me that all those pine needles are out, although it was all the white fungi that worried me and not the C/N.
Thanks, I have a good start on this now. I see the benefit of alfalfa also. I have been mixing in bagged cow manure with decomposed leaf litter, that looks like a balance there.
Jeff

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As you can see, alder or ash leaves are ideal, pine needles, not so much.

I don't know what's going on here. I do know that the head waters are in the Pyrenees, and are freakin' cold, and the Garonne River is only slightly less green than the Garonne Vally (low oxygen is my guess). These could account for the similarity in the decomposition rates.

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Billy wrote:

Oh, I didn't know where they were! I see now that it is in southern France. It was just the best I could find and read (a lot of abstracts are without articles). At least I've got some idea of how this works and I can see why pumping in Nitrogen from fish oil or chicken manure is so good, we are awash in carbon.
At any rate, it is something about which, I had no idea. I think I'll restart the compost pile and mix in weeds from the abandoned lot (and my yard). I've been pulling up poke salad from there today.
Jeff

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On 5/11/10 9:15 AM, Jeff Thies wrote:

Except where I have substantial of ground cover, I mulch all my beds with leaf litter. I let the peach leaves stay where they fall. In the fall, I move ash, oak, zelkova, and liquidambar leaves to form a mulch about 2-3 inches thick. After mulching, I lay thin branches over the leaves to hold them in place. The primary purpose is to keep the soil cool and moist in the summer, our rainy season being in the winter. It also reduces -- but does not eliminate -- weeds. This mulch is renewed every fall.
My oak gets extra mulch. It's a valley white oak (Quercus lobata) and really needs a thick leaf mulch across its root zone. Because of winds, I laid chicken wire over the mulch and anchored it at the edges.
My camellia bed is mulched with the output of my office shredder. The paper tends to tie up nutrients, which is okay since camellias prefer a lean (low-nutrient) soil.
Excess leaves are added to my compost pile, which is actually mostly leaf mold. This is slightly acidic, which is great on my alkaline soil.
I get even more leaves than I can use for mulch or compost. The rest goes to the county's composting project.
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David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean
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