Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What to Do With All Those Leaves?!

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 old growth trees that towered over our world. Every fall my parents expected my brothers and I 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 dragging sheets full of leaves to the pile.

My own kids love leaves. 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 gladly introduce you to it. It helps that our entire property is 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. Come summer, we have the longest, fastest water slide in town. But in the fall it’s “leaf sledding” season. 

My husband uses the mower to maneuver all the leaves into a single thick lane for sledding. Any plastic tobagon or saucer will do. 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 gets in their path.

Another excellent 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 also a great layer for your lasagna garden. Layered with horse poop (something we have in great abundance) they will break down and become amazingly fertile soil come spring.

But the best way to put a great mass of leaves to use is composting. Composting leaves is simple and can provide you with unlimited compost in a short amount of time. The most basic way to compost leaves is to dump them all in a huge pile and let them decay (this was my parents method of choice). It may take a couple years before you can start digging out usable 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. Along with your leaves, mix in liquid fertilizer, household compost, or manure, and water it periodically. You’ll 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 start. Leaves have potential to save you hundreds of dollars in fertilizer, compost, mulch, and soil adjusters. It is a shame to waste them.

If you haven’t got any trees to speak of, don’t think you’re out of luck. Many people rake and bag their leaves to send to the land fill (for shame!). 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 in throwing non-decomposing plastic bags full of leaves that could so easily give back to the earth. 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.

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