Importance of Leaf Litter

People I have met in my avatar as a farmer have time and again advised me on the importance of mulching.  But it was a casual talk with the veteran organic farmer Vasant Futane which made me realize the importance of mulching.

He went on to say that he has come across many incidences of agriculture universities burning agricultural waste and not use the same for mulching.

If P Sainath (referring to Everyone Loves a Drought, the book which brought the nation’s attention to farmers’ suicides) wrote a book on the importance of mulching his contribution to the debate would be much immense than focusing on the suicide, said Phutane.

Why is leaf litter important for a farm?

Leaf litter is dead plant material, such as leavesbarkneedles, and twigs, that has fallen to the ground. This detritus or dead organic material and its constituent nutrients are added to the top layer of soil, commonly known as the litter.

Litter aids in soil moisture retention by cooling the ground surface and holding moisture in decaying organic matter. The flora and fauna working to decompose soil litter also aid in soil respiration. A litter layer of decomposing biomass provides a continuous energy source for macro- and micro-organisms. As litter decomposes, nutrients are released into the environment.

Leaf litter provides food and shelter for earthworms, pill bugs, millipedes and a multitude of smaller life such as eggs and larvae of insects and spiders of many kinds. These creatures are all essential components of the food web providing sustenance to toads, frogs, lizards, and countless other animals. Nearly all backyard birds require protein from insects to feed their young.

Good. Argument taken.

But how does one indulge in mulching if one doesn’t have enough leaf litter? has been my problem. I have tried collecting vegetable waste and sugarcane thrush and transporting it to my farm. However, I have discarded it as a viable option to build leaf litter or organic mass, as it has proved a costly proposition.

And then suddenly researching on the subject I came across two plants, namely Kadamb and Jungli Badam, famous for producing leaf litter in big volume.

Suitable for reforestation programs, Kadamb sheds large amounts of leaf and non-leaf litter which on decomposition improves some physical and chemical properties of soil under its canopy. This reflects an increase in the level of soil organic carbon, available plant nutrients and exchangeable bases.

I got the idea of Kadamb having observed it in my neighbourhood and impressed by its litter.

This monsoon I plan to plant dozens of kadamb and jungle badam, and I’m sure that in coming years I will be able to follow Vasant Phutane’s advice.

I’m looking for more such leaf litter-rich plants, do suggest if you know one.

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6 thoughts on “Importance of Leaf Litter

  1. Nice to know. Any suggestions for those of us who think green but have to make do with part of the balcony as “farm”? We do have a small vermiculture “box” which seems to have been abandoned by earthworms. But it is teeming with any number of other creatures who seem to be doing a good job. Will it help to add dry leaves to this or straight to the pots?

    1. hiraman

      dear Vijay
      If you need vermicompost you need to introduce the earthworms which you’re likely to get plenty once the monsoon sets in. Always keep the “pit” or box damp because earthworms thrive in it. And turn the soil every third day. Yes, you can add dry leaves, fruit and vegetable peels.
      then there is another alternative: buying ‘culture’ and introducing it in the box. your vegetable and fruit peel(not lemon peels and salted things)will decompose fast and you will end up nutrient rich compost. this can be used for your window sill plants. moreover you would have helped the environment by not burdening the municipal dumping yards.

  2. Harini Gopalswami

    Thanks for the interesting post. For green manure, try gliricidia sepium, a fast-growing leguminous tree and a prolific producer of leaves. Apparently, you just “chop and drop” the green leaves, no need to wait for it to shed. It grows easily from cuttings. I have planted several in my farm, and with the first rains, the first leaves are coming out.

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