Leaf Thieves of America Unite

Notes From the Gardener



As I watch the last of the golden leaves swirling on the wind, I can't help but think to myself what "gold" indeed they are. For years they have been an integral part of my compost, a harvest of nutrition.

I learned about leaves from the forest. Look at the forest floor this time of year, deep in it's carpet of leaves. This is the very building block of the rich soil needed for healthy trees. The forest feeds itself. Each year nature adds another layer of nutrition. Though it takes many years for nature to break down the leaves into useful nutrients, the gardener can speed up the process.

As a charter member of "Leaf Thieves of America", I used to cruise the streets of town in the fall, watching for those carefully bagged up packages of "gold" placed by the curb. I'd toss them into the truck and be off with my treasure. I made huge piles of compost and waited patiently for wonderful "black gold" to appear at the bottom of the pile. This rich humus was then added to the garden soil.

Nowadays we have folks who are happy to contribute their leaves to our effort. Our neighbor  has a "bagger" machine that even shreds them nicely for us. Word has spread, "Richard wants your leaves!" and now quantities of leaves are delivered directly to our compost area by neighbors who are only too happy to oblige.

Over the years I've discovered a new method of using leaves. Each fall I shovel the outer edges of our growing beds into the center, then fill in the sides with chopped leaves. More leaves are spread over the tops of the entire bed. This fall covering of leaves will also help to protect the soil from winter wind erosion.

In the spring, I simply rake off the centers of the beds to expose the soil to predators like robins who will clean up any pesky insects that have over wintered. The leaves left on the edges of the beds will decompose quickly and become a wonderful mulch and compost. This method also prevents invading grasses and weeds from getting a strong foothold in the growing area. They are easily pulled out of the fluffy mulch.

Now admittedly, this method does create a perfect environment for some pesky critters like moles to travel through, but I've found the benefits far outweigh the problems involved. This was especially true this past growing season when drought destroyed many gardens. With some judicial watering, our humus rich soil held the precious moisture and there was plenty of mulch at hand. Our gardens thrived.

I've taken a lesson from the leaves. With all the hustle-bustle of a busy world, what better teacher than nature? What other free resource provide us with shade from the hot sun of summer, glowing beauty in the fall and then the perfect building block for rich soil?

I think I'll just put down the garden fork for now. The days are growing shorter and the garden is nearly to rest. Another flock of geese is honking their way south overhead. I'll pour a glass of cider and watch the last of the maple leaves swirling down onto the garden.


Critters, Crows and Catalogues

Notes From the Gardener

Richard Digs in the Garden
Richard Digs in the Garden


You designed your garden carefully last winter. You spent hours pouring over the seed catalogues to choose just the right varieties. You worked hard, prepared the soil, planted, watered and pruned. Now it's time to enjoy the bounty of all that meticulous care you took with your garden. Off you go with your basket in hand to harvest your creations.

But wait! Where are the beans that were going to be ready for dinner tonight? And what happened to those almost ripe tomatoes? And look at the basil - it looks like grandma's lace curtains!!!!!

This has been an unfortunate year for "critters" here at the farm (and elsewhere in our area so we've been told). Being an organic farmer can certainly raise a challenge when you encounter the pests we've been dealing with this year.

Grasshoppers, grasshoppers everywhere. It's been like a plague of locusts. They've chewed their way through dozens of crops, and have reached the point that we're viciously swatting them every chance we get. (Penny even invented a "scissor method" to rid her flowers of the pesky things.) And it hasn't stopped there.

We've been fighting off a marauding gang of deer this year as well. Can't say that I've ever seen so many of the hungry critters, nor seen them be so destructive. They're launching midnight forays as close as 4 feet from the house! We've tried soap, human hair, dried blood and multiple barriers of fish line. The fish line worked for a while, until they figured out how to get around it and through the "gates" we had left for ourselves.

Peanut butter traps on the electric fence worked (fold tinfoil over the fence and smear with peanut butter - turn fence back on and they lick it - zap on the nose - effective), but the one night the fence was off (it grounded out with a milkweed plant that fell over in a storm) they were right in there and cleaned out the beans and some of the tomatoes.

I can see it now. Every night they sneak up to the perimeter. One nudges the other, "Ok Spots, it's your turn to test the fence tonight. Let us know if its on, eh?"

Our neighbor planted a large field with sweet corn and Indian corn, only to watch as a band of crows totally destroyed the entire crop, not just once, but three times.

Another neighbor had tenderly nursed his sweet corn to perfection. Ah, they had a wonderful meal, enjoying their labor of love. Only problem was that the next day when they went to harvest the rest of the crop for the freezer, it was gone. Seems that the local raccoon's social club held a dinner dance in the corn field and used their hard won veggies as the catered feast for the event.

So what can you do about this kind of depredation? I'm not sure. We've tried all the tricks in the book this year, with very mixed success. I'm sure that most of the common methods will work for the average gardener with a small space to protect. Keeping wild "critters" out of a 2 acre garden that's bordered on all sides by woodland is another thing entirely. Guess we'll just have to run electric fencing around the entire perimeter next year.

When planting seeds, I've always had a firm belief in that old saying, "One for the critters, one for the crow, one for the weather and one to grow." This year it's been tough to get our share.

I guess it's just God's way of keeping this gardener humble.