Ah, how good
it feels to look out my backdoor and see the back garden completely covered in
a layer of beautiful leaves. Yes, I meant to say beautiful leaves because that
is exactly how I feel about them. They have the very important job of
protecting the most precious gem in my garden, the garden soil.
I will answer
here the questions most frequently asked about me and my leaf obsession, when I
call myself the “bag lady” in my area (the leaf bag lady, that is!)
Where do they all come from? We typically head out once or twice a
week during the fall and winter season to collect bags of leaves that have been
put curbside by their rightful owners.
It seems crazy to me that people are throwing out such a garden asset,
but hey, I benefit from it, so I won’t complain. Leaf collecting is one of
those city dweller benefits I have living where I do. My grower friends that
live in rural areas would have to drive long distances to get what I collect
from just literally going around the block. The issues I have with leaf bag
collection are beating the trash collection truck to them and the fact that
there are never enough! To save on labor, we try and apply as many leaves as we
can directly to the garden as we collect them, but this is not always possible.
Take our two new gardens that have cover crop growing until spring; they cannot
have the beds made to mulch until late spring. But for those gardens, we need
to collect enough bags of leaves now (I calculate about 600) while leaf bags
are in good supply. The good news is that folks have actually started bringing
me their bagged leaves! There must be
something satisfying about knowing their leaves are a part of this little
flower farm, and we appreciate it.
What do I do with all the leaves? We use them as mulch and no, we do not
chop up any of them, no time for that. Primarily we use them to mulch all the
pathways of our gardens, plus we do use them as mulch in some beds that have
larger sturdy plants. Using them in the pathways naturally breaks up the leaves
over a season with all the foot traffic, so they become organic matter that is
worked into the soil. What we do this time of year: summer crops are pulled out
of the beds; I run the tiller over the bed top to incorporate any last season’s
mulch; and then we cover the beds with 6-10” of leaves for the winter. This
covering includes the pathways, so basically you see no soil. That’s because
any visible soil is where the winter and spring weeds will grow. Come spring,
we rake the leaves off of the beds into the pathways, add any needed soil
amendments such as compost and fertilizer to bed tops and then run the tiller
over to incorporate. We lay the irrigation down, plant and then re-mulch with
what is available–straw, leaves or any other organic matter.
Why Leaves? The bottom line: leaves are free and
abundant. They are easy to transport and
get into the garden. They also break down into a great soil amendment. They provide excellent coverage, and the
worms, frogs and other garden critters love to spend their winters snuggled
down in the soil under the canopy of leaves. There are others who appreciate
these leaves as much as I do– the birds. They spend all winter happily
rummaging through the endless supply of birdie edibles in our leaf beds.
worry about a change in soil ph from the leaves should know that we soil test
every fall, as everyone should who is actively gardening. Any changes in ph
would be evident in the results and easy to remedy; however, we have had no
trash is another mans treasure, and this is so true with me and leaves.
One more note,
we still have a few perennials (1200 or so) to be replanted. Libby and Bobo dug
our entire permanent garden to relocate it and have been waiting for the soil
to dry out enough to be replanted. Nothing is more detrimental to the garden
than working wet and moist soil. As much as I would love for them to get out
there and finish, we can’t. Since the November Nor’easter when we got 9 inches
of rain plus more rainfall since then, we haven’t been able to get in there and
work. Once we replant, we will cover the entire front garden with leaves, and
then, my garden will be put to bed for the winter.
Use your leaves!!