It was a standing joke at college that we were assessed on our leaf raking abilities. At this time of year it always brings a smile to my face, which is soon wiped off when I realise the impossible task of collecting each and every little blighter. What also helps relieve the tedium of this task is the thought that these papery reflections of their former selves will become, with a little care and attention, rich and crumbly leaf mould. Although not very high in nutrients it is a great soil conditioner and I know that Rodgersia Queen uses hers as an ingredient in her home-made potting compost. I tend not to bother too much about leaves that fall on the borders, they provide an extra layer of insulation for the plants and the worms will hopefully do their duty without our interference.
The main difference between the decomposition of leaves and many other compost ingredients is that it is fungi that instigates breakdown. Although a small amount of leaves in the compost bins will not present a problem, too many may gum up the works. This is due to a high carbon content. When making compost it is important to have the correct mix, known as the carbon to nitrogen ratio, ideally between 25-30:1. Some ingredients are carbon rich, for example straw or cardboard, and some are nitrogen rich, for example grass clippings and soft green material. Too much carbon and the process will slow down or even grind to a halt, too much nitrogen and a you end up with smelly mush!
So leaves are best kept separate, provided with the damp conditions preferable for fungal activity, and turned occasionally to allow air in. We help it all along with Biotal accelerator which contains all kind of goodies like enzymes, microbes and fungi. We invariably end up with lots of twigs in the pile but these are easily picked out and thrown at the deer or burglars.