Fall Leaves

A Nutrient Rich Source of Organic Matter

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One of my favorite things to do in the autumn is collect fall leaves – raking them and putting them in bags for transport is less a chore than a treat.

Fall Leaves

I visit friends who are fortunate to have trees in their garden and we’ll spend an enjoyable hour or two cleaning up natures seasonal bounty.

Leaving the fallen leaves on the lawn over the winter will deprive the grass of light and air, and weaken it.

The beauty of really old trees is that they have extensive root systems mining deep to obtain huge quantities of nutrients which are then conveniently dropped with the leaves as they die.

Composting the leaves of venerable old trees will provide a rich source of minerals and micronutrients.

The soil in your garden where you use this compost will also be filled with micorrhizae, a beneficial fungi.

How Do You Shred Leaves?

Depending on the amount of leaves you can collect, either spread them (dry) on the lawn, and run over them several times with the lawnmower (preferably with a bag attachment) or use the garbage can and string trimmer method.

This metal 20 Gallon Garbage Can With Side Drop Handles is a good option - don't use a plastic garbage can if your String Trimmer is on the powerful side.

Put a small amount of dry leaves in the can, then use the weed whacker to shred them.  It can take a while to run through lots of leaves, but eventually you'll have several bags of nice shredded leaves to use as mulch, to spread around plants, or keep for overwinter use as a compost additive.

Another way to prepare them is to use a bagging lawnmower, first run them over a few times without the bagger, then bag them or rake them. The addition of dry grass clippings is an added bonus.

In many cases, the beautiful trees in your garden, though beloved, are a bit of a nuisance, dropping leaves and seed pods on a regular basis.

For those who have no trees, there is no downside, as the fall leaves are a valuable resource.

In my town, people leave their raked bags of leaves at the curbside for pickup - and it's not always the municipality that grabs them.

With lots of old trees planted years ago, we'll never lack for composted leaf mold here.

My Favorite Uses for Fall Leaves

Besides the exercise and fresh air of raking the fall leaves, they have multiple uses in your garden.

  • Compost made with the leaves chopped finely with a weed whacker in a metal garbage can takes only until the spring to produce rich dark leaf mold.

  • Leaving the leaves whole will take longer to break down into compost, but if you add a few shovels of already matured compost to each bag, they’ll rapidly break down into compost right there in the bag, ready for use in the spring.

  • In the chicken pen, the chickens will scatter them to be mixed with old straw, grass clippings and other refuse to make the perfect mulch or compost.

  • I also retain a few bags of primo leaves, preferably dry and of the smaller types of leaves like birches or Manitoba maple. These are put against the Eggporeum for insulation, to be brought out during the coldest days and scattered for the hens to scratch in, and for deep litter mulch in their house.
Fall leaves stored in plastic bagsFall leaves stored in plastic bags
Leaves composting in a wire binLeaves composting in a wire bin

Mulching with leaves alone can sometimes make a sticky slippery mess, but letting the chickens mix them up first and get them started on the process of decomposing makes it possible to get a head start, as well as being safer to walk on.

Used as an ingredient in sheet composting fall leaves are an invaluable component due to their ability to shut off light and air to germinating weed seeds, effectively smothering them.

I hope you’ll start seeing fall leaves as a precious resource instead of a mess to be dealt with, and come up with your own ways to utilize them.

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