1000 bags of leaves and what to do with them

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.

Photo credit:  http://www.onehundreddollarsamonth.com/mavis-garden-blog-how-to-find-free-compost/

4 Fun Pumpkin Décor Ideas for Halloween

Who doesn’t love the bounty of fall? Particularly pumpkins! Pumpkins are versatile, fun, stylish, elegant and creative. Pumpkins can conform to the look and feel of just about every home décor personality.

Looking for a few ideas this Halloween? We’ve got you covered.

Mini Pumpkin Tablescape 

Elegant, festive and great use of those mini pumpkins, this fall tablescape can elevate any table! Just take your favorite mini-pumpkins and gourds, add some candles and fall foliage remnants. Check out the tutorial here.

Halloween to Thanksgiving Centerpiece

 

This amazing Halloween centerpiece is so elegant it would work straight through Thanksgiving. Carve out the center, choose your favorite flowers and voila! Find the entire DIY tutorial here.

 Jack-o’-Lantern Flower Vase

 

This pumpkin turned flower vase is spookily awesome! Perfect for celebrating the Day of the Dead on November 1st and every day until then. Brighten up your jack-o’-lantern with a helping of Asters, Goldenrod, Sunflowers or anything you want to use to add fun fall color.  Grab this tutorial here.

 

Put Down the Shears

By Sandy Swegel

Put Down the Garden Shears.

That’s my mantra when I get out in the garden and start pruning or cleaning-up. I get involved in making a shrub or tree look perfect and pretty soon I’ve cut too much out. So my gardening buddy will use her best police officer type voice and say. “Put down the garden shears.”

That’s my command to you this week. Or as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (birds) advises people who want to help birds survive:

Don’t deadhead. Don’t rake up the leaves. Don’t tidy up.

They explain, “Most songbirds switch from eating seeds to insects during nesting season, then turn back to seeds for fall and winter.” So when you deadhead and compulsively clean your garden beds, you’re removing the food that enables birds to survive the winter. It’s a long time till Spring…and sometimes the bird is on a long migratory journey…they need calories.

So if you want your yard to be a natural habitat, leave the seed-heads on your plants. Birds see the seedhead from the sky and like to land on top of the seed head and then bend over to pick seeds out. On top of the plant, birds are safer from predators. Leave most of the leaves too. You can rake some if you must. But leave a good mulch of leaves to protect the plants, to hide seeds that fall for the birds, and to give beneficial insects a place to nest all winter.

Just be lazy. The birds have spoken.
http://www.birds.cornell.edu/citsci/take-action/2014/09/the-one-thing-you-can-do-to-help-migrants/

Photo credit:
http://www.markcassino.com/b2evolution/index.php/of-finches-and-thistle

http://natureontheedgenyc.blogspot.com/2013/11/nj-state-bird-prepares-for-winter.html

 

 

Let them Sweeten

by Sandy Swegel

I spent the week with my sister Anne.  It’s enough to make me doubt the entire idea or theory of DNA and genetics that suggest we are related in some cellular way.  Except for the fact that we look like sisters, we are so different, the family joke ran this way.  “You’re so weird.  You must have been switched at the hospital.” “No, you’re so weird. You were the one switched.”  After some bickering my mother would chime in, “I don’t know where either of you odd ducks came from.  I must have been the one switched at the hospital.

It was evident as we were sitting around the kitchen table that she is a finisher, somebody who gets projects finished.  I have to hold on to my coffee cup if I don’t want it cleared off the table half full.  She wants breakfast finished and the table cleared.

It can be hard to share a garden with a finisher.  Her idea of dealing with the garden as the leaves start to fall is to pull everything out right now and rake the soil nice and tidy and be done with it till next April.  So naturally, I was howling as she’s shoveled up the beets and yanked the kale.  “No, leave it alone. It’s finally getting really good. Don’t you know this is when the root vegetables get really good and sweet?!”  Fortunately, we are adults and I skipped the “how can you not know that” remark and she threw up her hands and walked away muttering “Whaaateverr.”

Cold-sweetening in vegetables is a real thing. Plants produce sugars through photosynthesis and store the sugars as starches.  But in cold temperatures, plant break down the starches into “free” sugars and store them in cells to protect against frost damage.  Scientists describe the process as “Sugar dissolved in a cell makes it less susceptible to freezing in the same way that salting roads reduces ice.”

 

And it makes the vegetables taste so good too!  As long as you can pry the soil open before it freezes solid, you should leave the root vegetables like beets and carrots in the ground.  Kale, chard and spinach full of sugar can be frozen solid first thing in the morning and be delicious and undamaged to eat at dinnertime.  Cold-sweetened Brussels sprouts are worth fighting for.

 

The only vegetable you don’t want to cold-sweeten are potatoes, because you want them full of starch.  That’s why you don’t store potatoes in the refrigerator.  All the extra sugars make cold-sweetened potatoes turn brown during cooking. You reverse the process in potatoes by keeping them in a warmer room and the sugars convert back to starch.

Cold-sweetening is also why you store your winter squashes and root vegetables out in the unheated garage…someplace that doesn’t freeze but also isn’t as warm as the house.

Vegetables to cold sweeten:

Carrots, Beets, squash, kale and chard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts (Yes!), leeks, spinach, parsnips and radicchio, and best of all, Apples.  Leave those apples on the tree as long as you can…they get better every day in the fall.

 

Photo credit: http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/storing-vegetables-for-the-winter

Sweeter After A Frost

 

Use Red to Make Your Garden Pop

by Sandy Swegel 

A friend is a marketing guru and always talks about wanting to make things “pop” whether its brochures, interior design or gardens.  Fall is a great time when colors pop. We naturally think of New England with its amazing Fall display. In fact, East Coasters coming to Colorado are often disappointed their first Fall. It is gorgeous here, but it’s pretty darn yellow. Yellow aspens are beautiful, but yellow and brown don’t pop as red does.

 

A neighbor has a wild red unkempt thicket of shrubs and trees along his fence that makes people stop in the road to take pictures. The key to its glory (besides the fact that it requires virtually no upkeep except watering) is huge shrubs and small trees…all with lots of berries: orange pyracantha with blue euonymous, intermingled with red viburnum berries. The whole thing is held together by a wayward Virginia Creeper vine that is one of the plants that does red here in Colorado.

 

Most of our gardens may be better organized. But a wild uncontrolled area that “pops” with bright reds and oranges is a joy to behold as the growing season winds down. Then the regular yellows and golden and brown of your xeric garden or your fading vegetable garden look beautiful against their red backdrop.

 

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Curing Winter Squash

by Sandy Swegel

All winter squash improve greatly by having a curing time.  Most of us inadvertently cure our winter squash without even realizing it…by leaving it on the counter or a shelf until we get around to cooking it. Curing is keeping the squash at a warmish temperature (70-80) for about two weeks.  If the growing season is long in your area and the squash is ripe before temperatures start to freeze at night, squash can cure perfectly well just sitting in the field.  Here in Colorado this year, we had a hard freeze that caused us to run out, cut all the squash off the plants and bring them indoors.

What is it curing actually does?  Even though you have picked the squash from the vine, it doesn’t “die” but continues to breathe or respirate (a creepy kinda of thought of all those pumpkins on Halloween porches “breathing.”) Respiration is a good thing because it means the squash are still vital and full of life to nourish you. What curing does is lower the temperature so the respiration slows down. During the curing time, many of the starches in the squash convert to sugar making for a yummier squash.

After keeping the squash at room temperature for 10-20 days, you can then move the squash to a basement, cool garage or unheated room where it will last for months.

Some helpful tips on storing winter squash:

Space the squash so they aren’t touching one another.

Don’t put the squash directly on a cold garage or basement floor. They need to have air circulation around them and will be more likely to rot at the spot where they are touching the floor. Put it up on a shelf or on a board.

Don’t try to cure and store acorn and delicata squashes…they don’t keep well and should be eaten soon after picking

Cover Your Soil!

by Sandy Swegel

Winter winds will come and steal your soil away if you’re not careful.  If you value your earthworms and the compost that naturally forms on top of your soil under plants, figure out a way to get your soil covered this winter.  Here, in Colorado, we can have 100 mile-an-hour winds in January, so we take this seriously.  We also have to take seriously the fact that anything we use to cover the soil needs to be securely attached to the ground.

Here are some of the ways I’ve covered garden soil:

Cover Crops.
These require the most planning and the most work in Spring of tilling the crops in….but
they also provide the most benefit to the soil by adding organic matter and nutrients. NOW is the time to get your winter rye or clover planted so it has time to grow before the soil gets too cold.

Leaves.
Leaves are my favorites because they become leaf mold and can be dug into the soil in Spring.  In Fall, I spread as many leaves as I can all over perennial beds and over the open vegetable bed.  In the perennial beds, the other plants tend to help keep the wind from whisking all the leaves away.  Out in the open vegetable bed, I spread 6 – 12 inches (if you have that many) of leaves on top of the soil  Then I put dozens of heavy plastic bags filled with leaves the neighbors have tidily vacuumed and mulched up on top to hold the loose leaves down.  If the bags aren’t heavy, I put rocks on top of them.  Not a pretty winter garden….but the earthworms thrive in the moisture and warmth under the plastic bags. In Spring, I can spread the leaves in the bag as a mulch on the garden.

Cardboard.
Newspaper by itself blows away too easily, but cardboard, if secured by rocks and bricks, does a good job of holding in soil and moisture.  Make sure the soil is watered before you put the cardboard down.  A layer of leaves and or newspaper under the cardboard will give the worms and microbes something to eat.

Plant a wildflower meadow.
Do you have an area of your yard that you don’t really need for vegetables or perennials? Keep the soil healthy and the garden beautiful by seeding a wildflower meadow.  Fall is an excellent time to plant a mix of wildflowers or even a mix with grasses and wildflowers that will be beautiful for years.

However you decide to protect your garden….you’ve worked hard to enrich the soil and keep the worms and microbes happy.  Help them to stay home and not blow off in the wind or desiccate in the winter sun.

Photo Credits:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/dustbowl/
http://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/winter-cover-crops

Why do Leaves Turn Red in the Fall?

by Sandy Swegel

Because the Wind told them they were naked and they turned red with embarrassment.

There’s a Native American story that says it’s because hunters in the sky killed the Great Bear and his blood spills on the trees. (When the hunters cooked the bear, fat from the pot spilled and turns some of the trees yellow.

Scientists have a story that the trees stop producing chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is what makes leaves look green. When it disappears, the leaf’s true color (red or yellow or orange) shows through.

I’m at an awkward time of life when there are no young children in my life.  No one to tell me riddles. No one I can tease as my father teased us by telling us very tall tales that we never quite knew whether to believe or not.  No one to tell me riddles like the old Cajun guy who lived down the street who never answered a question with a straight answer but told a wild story about the bayou.

So if you know any kids or myth-makers or sacred storytellers….can you ask them why leaves turn red in the Fall?  That chlorophyll story is a little hard to believe and kinda boring if you ask me.

Taking Care of the Bees & Other Creatures this Fall

What’s your favorite flower this year?  That’s the question our local gardening magazine posed to its readers this issue.  Many candidates came to mind, but I realized my criteria in Fall for a good flower is one that blooms late to feed the bees and other pollinators that are still around scrambling for nectar and pollen to sustain them or their babies through winter.

So my favorite flowers right now include the dandelions that have responded to our recent rains with a bloom worthy of Spring.  Every time I see a dandelion now, I don’t respond with a desire to pull it, but with a word of encouragement because it’s not a weed when it has a happy bee gorging in the middle of the flower.

Other favorites that are feeding bees and other pollinators:

Cosmos are tough annuals, and still blooming despite some frosty weather.
Scabiosa has won my garden awards for several years for being the last flower blooming in November.  It’s one flower I keep deadheading instead of leaving the seed because I know it makes new flowers as long as it can.
Violas and Pansies planted now will make flowers to please me and the bees during warm spells this winter.

As always, there is one really important thing pollinators and especially bees need in Fall:

WATER.  At my house, the seasonal ditch dried up in August, and standing water is rare in our arid climate.  I keep water in the birdbath and in the flat little saucer with pebbles for the bees.  I notice signs that other bigger creatures like the squirrels and rabbits and field mice sneak water when I’m not watching from the bird bath top that I left sitting on the ground. I got pretty angry with the ravenous rabbit over-population this year, but when I see one lonely bunny hunkered down in the dry leaves under the trees, I can’t help but leave water out for her.  I know I’ll be rewarded with hungry baby bunnies in the Spring, but as the cold winds of Fall send chills through the gardener, my heart goes out to all the creatures who live outdoors during the long winter season.

Use Red to Make your Garden “Pop”!

by Sandy Swegel

A friend is a marketing guru and always talks about wanting to make things “pop” whether its brochures, interior design or gardens.  Fall is a great time when colors pop. We naturally think of New England with its amazing Fall display. In fact, East Coasters coming to Colorado are often disappointed their first Fall. It is gorgeous here, but it’s pretty darn yellow. Yellow aspens are beautiful, but yellow and brown don’t pop as red does.

A neighbor has a wild red unkempt thicket of shrubs and trees along his fence that makes people stop in the road to take pictures. The key to its glory (besides the fact that it requires virtually no upkeep except watering) is huge shrubs and small trees…all with lots of berries: orange Pyracantha with blue Euonymous, intermingled with red viburnum berries. The whole thing is held together by a wayward Virginia Creeper vine that is one of the plants that does red here in Colorado.

Most of our gardens may be better organized. But a wild uncontrolled area that “pops” with bright reds and oranges is a joy to behold as the growing season winds down. Then the regular yellows and golds and browns of your xeric garden or your fading vegetable garden look beautiful against their red backdrop.