Leaf gathering for soil well worth the labour

What a goofy and frustrating year for collecting leaves.

What a goofy and frustrating year for collecting leaves.

The majority of them hadn’t begun to fall before the weather turned cold and wet, and then it snowed before half the leaves came off the trees. My chipper and leaf shredders mucked up working with the wet leaves, so that really slowed the processing down, let alone having frozen hands and feet feeding the bags into them. And so much for the fun fall ritual of making a giant pile of leaves for my daughter to jump into. However, on those few nice days that we did have to collect them, it was a pleasure to be under the crimson, golden and orange canopies of those glorious trees, and it was astounding to me how many leaves an average tree can produce.

While my kid was knocking on doors on Halloween night, I was right behind her asking people if I could have their leaves. I was almost sorry I did, due to the unanticipated volume I had committed to. One big maple tree produced 50 bags, and I had at least 10 yards to rake up, but hey, I was more than happy to have them.

The tree and shrub leaves that accumulate around your yard is  a good source of organic matter and nutrients for use in your landscape, and are excellent in your compost. In forests, pastures and other natural settings, tree leaves and other organic wastes form a natural carpet over the soil surface which conserves moisture, modifies temperatures and prevents soil erosion and crusting. In time, bacteria, fungi and other naturally occurring organisms decompose or compost the leaves and other organic material, supplying the existing plants with a natural, slow-release form of nutrients.

Leaves contain the perfect mix of carbon and nitrogen, and provide up to 80 percent of the nutrients a plant extracts from the soil and air during the season, thereby eliminating the need of damaging synthetic fertilizers.

After weeks of gathering materials around town, I now have five big composting bins cooking away, all nicely layered with moistened grass clippings, shredded leaves from a variety of different species of trees, pine and larch needles, chopped up garden waste, wood chips, sawdust, apples off the ground and whatever else I could find. This will provide a great blend of nutrients for my gardens and flower pots for next year, along with an abundant population of worms and microbes.

I’ve also covered all my roses and shrubs with a thick layer of leaves to prevent frost damage and winter kill, spread bags of them where I’m building new soil, added another layer of leaves to my lasagna beds for extra nutrients, used some to suffocate some weedy areas and stocked-piled a heap to layer into my spring compost. All it cost me was labour and time, and the organic material will never damage or poison the environment.

The trees in one acre of forest shed as much as two tonnes of leaves each fall, but it takes 100 years to make one” of topsoil.  We’ve got them everywhere, every year, and we can produce soil 10 times faster. Compost them, give them away to a gardener, put them in the woods, pile them up in the back corner of your yard for later use or spread them around and mow them into your grass.

Ask Santa for a leaf shredder this Christmas because the smaller the leaf and needle particles, the faster they’ll decompose and become available to your plants and for you to use.

No wonder we have a maple leaf on our flag, because someone must’ve known that leaves are a national treasure and a  resource worth treasuring.


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