by Sandy Swegel
Fall leaves are Nature’s parting gift from the growing season to the gardener. Tree roots run deep and wide and have collected minerals and nutrients from deep in the soil. These are nutrients that then spent the summer high in the sky at treetop collecting sun rays and are now being placed abundantly at your feet.
If you’ve been gardening any length of time you know how valuable leaves are. They decompose beautifully in the compost bin when mixed in with the green matter. You can run them over with the mower to break them down and use them as mulch in all your garden beds. You can keep piles of them in a shady moist corner of the garden decomposing down into leaf mold which is a superior soil amendment.
The most important thing gardeners in my neighborhood do within Fall leaves is collect them. Our neighbor Barbara is the Queen of Fall Leaves and had taught us about how valuable leaves are to the gardener. She lives on a busy street and puts a big cardboard sign in front of her house every year that says “Bagged Leaves Wanted.” Pretty soon bags and bags of leaves start piling up, brought from strangers all over town who are happy to have a place to recycle their leaves. Barbara gets the first 1000 bags and about fifteen of us split the next 1000 bags of leaves.
So what do you do with 1000 bags of leaves?
Mulch the garden beds. Some of the leaves have already been chopped by blower vacs. These leaves easily go on perennial beds.
Mulch the garden paths. Big dried leaves that are slow to break down like oak leaves or pine needles go on the paths to keep the weeds down.
Put a layer over the vegetable garden. If you don’t till in the spring, a thick layer of leaves will block light and suppress weeds and keep in moisture. But wait, you say, the wind will blow the leaves away. That’s when you put the bagged leaves on top of the garden. It’s a place to store extra leaves and the weight of the bags keeps the loose leaves from blowing away. Moisture collects under the bags and earthworms come to feast there.
Till the molding leaves into the soil in Spring with the cover crop.
Insulate the cold frame or greenhouse with bags of leaves stacked around.
Line the troughs you dig for your potatoes next year with rotting leaves.
Make easy Leaf Mold. Stack the bags that look like they don’t have holes somewhere (as insulation or just as storage) and put the hose in to fill the bag about ¼ way with water. This makes speedy leaf mold.
Use as free litter for chickens and bunnies. If you have farm animals, dried leaves are perfect free litter for the bottom of the coop or cage. And the manure is already pre-mixed with carbon for composting.
Feed the Goats. The most fun thing to do with the leaves (aside from jumping in piles of them) is to feed the goats. Apparently, dry leaves are yummy like potato chips to goats and they come running to eat the crunchiest ones when I’m hauling the latest bag of leaves to the backyard.
Happy goats running with floppy ears flying is a highlight of my day.