Leaf Thieves

Leaf Thieves

Vibrant zinnia flowers blooming in sunny garden.

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.

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