What to do about the leaves….rake them? Bag them? Ignore them? Leaves are one of the best things about fall. It’s much easier for me to say that now than when I was a kid. I grew up in dense woods with trees that were hundreds of years old. Every fall my parents used my brothers and I as forced labor to help rake up the multitude of leaves that rained down on our yard from those great giants. I don’t know how they did this, I can barely get my own kids to clean up their rooms. The leaf pile in the back of our property was the size of a small house. Somehow the fun we had jumping in it never equaled the misery of spending your entire Saturday raking and dragging sheets full of leaves to the pile.
My own kids love leaves. That’s because when the leaves finally fall from the woods that skirt our property, it’s time for “leaf sledding”! You’ve never heard of this sport? C’mon over, my kids would be glad to introduce you to it. It helps that our entire property is on a hill. There is virtually no level ground, which has forced me to be a creative gardener and eliminates the possibility of us ever renting a moonbounce, but as far as sledding goes – it’s a three season sport at our house. In the winter it’s the traditional snow sledding, helmet required because any piece of plastic carrying a small child can reach speeds well over the “oh-my-gosh-she’s-going-to-kill-herself” level. Plus, the end of one of the fastest hills is a small stone wall protecting the side of our porch. Come summer, we have the longest, fastest water slide in town. But in the fall it’s “leaf sledding” season. Traditionally, my husband uses the mower to maneuver all the leaves in to a single thick lane for sledding. Any plastic tobagon or saucer will do. By the time the first snow falls, all that is left of the original leaf slope is tiny shredded bits of leaves. We leave them where they lie as the kids move on to snow sledding. Come spring those tiny leaf shreds will be wonderful fertilizer for the grass underneath that has been traumatized by hours of children flying down its slope.
So that’s one use for leaves. Just in case you were looking for one. If you’re blessed with a hill of any size – try it. It’s a great way to spend a fall afternoon - great exercise for the kids and hours of entertainment. My kids like to sled down while holding a small video recorder in front of them and when they finally wear out and come inside from all the sledding, they watch these videos endlessly. The results are pretty funny, especially when a cat, chicken, sibling, or unsuspecting adult get in their path.
Another great use for leaves is mulch. Rake them over your flower beds to keep them warm and protected for the winter and by spring what’s left can be raked out and composted or left to act as mulch. Leaves are a great layer for a lasagna garden. I claimed some of the leaf sledding leaves to cover my new garden which we built in to the hillside a few weeks ago. The terrace garden will create a great ramp once the snow sledding starts. The kids are already estimating the hang time it will create.
But the best way to put a great mass of leaves to use is composting. Composting leaves is really simple and could provide you with unlimited compost in a short amount of time depending on how you go about it. The really simple way is to just find a space and dump your leaves there. It may take a couple years before you can start digging out some great compost from the bottom. If you want to speed up this process, add a little structure to your program. Build some kind of containment system. We’ve used a three sided chicken wire fenced box. As you dump your leaves in, mix in some liquid fertilizer or manure and water it periodically. You’ll also need to turn it about once a month. If you want to make compost even faster, use a leaf shredder to chop up your leaves before you pile them. Leaves have such potential to save you hundreds of dollars in fertilizer, compost, mulch, and soil adjusters. It is a shame to waste them.
Pine needles are a good mulch for acid loving plants. We bedded down our new raspberry patch in a foot of pine needles raked up from our trees. This will be effective weed control and make the acid-loving raspberries happy at the same time. You spend too much money on pine mulch every year – if you’ve got some pine trees, you already have what you need. Toss pine needles with your leaves and you’ve got homemade mulch ready to go for free.
If you haven’t got any trees to speak of, don’t think you’re out of luck. There are lots of people who rake and bag their leaves and send them to the land fill. Ask a friend or neighbor if you can take those leaves off their hands. They’ve already done the hard part for you. It kills me to drive through a pretty manicured neighborhood this time of year and see the thousands of plastic bags filled with leaves left out for the trash. As our society drowns in its own trash, there is an absurdity to throwing away leaves that could easily give back to the earth. Instead they will spend the next thousand years or longer decaying inside a plastic bag that will never break down, but our lawns will look pretty. We’ve created just about all our environmental problems – we can also solve them. And in many cases it’s simple – it’s just a matter of letting nature be nature. Compost your leaves – it’s good for you and good for the earth.
5 weeks ago