With an abundance of leaves on hand, it's time to make leaf mold. This is my favorite material for filling little start flats in the Spring and for mulching the garden.
Leaf mold is the dark crumbly material you find when walking through the woods and you brush back the top layer of leaves It's made from decomposing leaves that aren't quite humus. It can hold about 500% of it's weight in water and as the leaves break down, the pH goes to a neutral state. It provides some minerals for your plants and is so easy to work with. The small starts dry out so quickly and using this material will keep the planting material moist.
The easiest way to make leaf mold is by putting a small fence upwind of or completely around a deciduous tree. We made a small dog yard in the event we have visitors with little children that could be knocked over by the dogs. We put the fence around a few deciduous trees and when the leaves fall and the wind blows, they are blown up against the fence. I add to that by raking leaves that fall outside of the fence into the little area. It takes a few years for it to break down, but is worth the wait.
It's amazing how small your once giant pile will become and after the initial 2 - 3 year wait, if you keep adding to the pile, you'll have a continuous supply. Some people shred the leaves to hasten the process and fuss with the moisture content, but I don't bother. Nature will do it's thing just fine unattended.
Since it holds moisture so well, I don't usually pile it up right around the base of the plants and keep it a few inches away. It's great in new garden spaces where you are trying to improve the fluffiness of the soil too.
When we were in NY there were many stone walls, especially in old cemeteries and that is a good place to look for leaf mold. It's so valuable, it would be worth asking your neighbors if you could rake their yard just so you can get more leaves. Some towns even have a weekly leaf pickup and perhaps they would let pick some bags up. Burning leaves is such an incredible waste, especially if you buy potting mix or have a garden.