The rotters’ club

Pick ‘n’ mix used to be one of the delights of a trip to Woolworths in the days when the company was still a part of the English high street.

You can still pick and mix sweets in other shops, but when I was a kid, it was the wonder of Woolies and nobody else.

You can also still pick and mix in the garden – and it’s an annual and often back-breaking, boring task with no reward of a sugary sensation when you’ve finished.

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I’m talking about leaves; those things on trees that are now falling merrily to the ground where, left unmoved, they soon turn into disgusting masses of sodden and decaying vegetation. They block drains, they encourage pests and diseases and they are the bane of the autumn garden.

So do something about them – and I don’t mean scrape them into a pile and set fire to them. That’s a waste of potentially free nutrients for the beds and borders of the future, and unless you’re a very adept pyromaniac, burning leaves results in a lot of smoke and an unpleasant smell.

But if you collect all those fallen leaves and pile them into a heap, they will start to decompose and, hey presto, in a couple of years they’ll have turned into rich organic material to use as a mulch or soil conditioner.

By the word “heap”, I mean a properly constructed container to house the leaves and to stop them flying off during the winds of winter.

It’s a relatively simple job – buy four wooden posts (at least five feet long) and arrange them to form the four corners of a square in a sheltered, out-of-the-way part of the garden. Hammer them into the soil and them nail chicken wire to them to make your container.

Then just keep collecting leaves and layering them into the “heap”, ensuring that they are neither too wet nor too dry. If you want to speed up decomposition, add an accelerator like fresh horse dung which will help ensure enough heat is generated.

If there’s no room for a wire enclosure, fill a black polythene bin bag with damp leaves, cut a few air holes, tie the top and leave it somewhere sheltered to get on with its job. Cheap and very simple.