‘Leaf’ Me Alone

Wife Convinces Husband of New Approach, Turning Fall Leaves into Black Gold

We live in the woods. Never is this more evident then in November, when we are knee-deep in fallen leaves. After completing both the Maryland Master Gardener and Master Naturalist Courses, I have learned the many benefits of recycling our annual avalanche of deciduous leaves. It means capturing these free, vital nutrients and reusing them right on our own property, plus saving money by creating a home-made cache of organic matter that can later be added to existing or future garden beds. But convincing my husband to change his leaf collecting methods was a hard sell. Fall Leaves 2We have lived here for over a decade and each year we have been faced with the task of removing tons of leaves from the lawn. In the early years, this was a fun job. Our kids were young and we were rewarded with enthusiastic children jumping into enormous leaf piles. We would cover them so that they could barely be seen and take fun family photos of their well camouflaged faces peering from under a blanket of brown leaves. Fall LeavesAs our kids got older, the job became a bit easier because they were big enough to lend a hand. Each year we would try to find a weekend day when we were all home and attack the job as a team. We would rake, tarp, drag and drop the leaves while enticing our helpers with creative rewards, a crockpot full of chili served and all the fixings, or a trip to the ice cream stand, or a fool-proof bounty; cold hard cash. It would take hours, we would be exhausted, but by the end of the designated weekend, the lawn would be clear and the leaves would be moved into compost bins at the back of the yard where they would decompose into rich brown soil or “black gold.” Since we do have so many leaves, we try our best to recycle as many as possible, but there are far too many to fit into our compost bins. The overflow would go back into the woods behind the house.*mulch leaves 005 I have long known the value of recycling our deciduous leaves, but recently there has been a big push by environmentalist agencies via social media to encourage homeowners to compost their leaves on-site for these reasons:

  1. It provides a leaf layer: a mini ecosystem on which many insects & animals depend for warmth, shelter and food in winter.
  2. Reduces the use of fossil fuels to transport them to an off-site composter.
  3. Reduces the cost of purchasing them back next season as finished leaf compost.
  4. Prevents organic matter from entering the landfill, where it produces dangerous gases as it breaks down

For two years, I have asked my landscaper (read loving husband) to mulch the leaves. He was resistant because he doubted its effectiveness at first. (A position I have recently heard echoed by other local residents when they read these articles.) He wondered if bagging the mulched leaves and clippings would fill the bag too quickly, resulting in numerous additional trips back & forth to the compost bin. We discussed mulching them and leaving them on the lawn not only to avoid the former fear, but also because they would nourish the lawn. But, he was concerned that we might allmulch leaves 004 drag lawn and leaf clippings into the house as we walked through the yard, thus resulting in yet more work inside. All of these points were valid and questions I couldn’t really answer without a bit of Trowel and Error. I just knew that we wanted to keep the carbon-rich materials on/in our landscape for the reasons stated above. This year, my husband was open to trying a new approach. Spurred on by the fact that we had been so busy this fall that the trees were bare before we could address the mountain of leaves that covered the lawn. We needed a cost-effective, time-saving way to deal with the problem. Here is what we tried:

  1. We raked/blew out the leaves from the landscape beds into the lawn.
  2. We mulched roughly 1/2 of the leaves with a mulching lawn mower and left them on the lawn. They were chopped into such small bits that there was no issue with tracking them into the house as aforementioned.
  3. mulch leaves 002Then, we mulched the remaining mulch leaves 003leaves with a weed whacker and returned them to the garden beds. How to: First we filled a trash can with dry leaves. Then we inserted the running weed whacker just below the surface until the leaves were chopped into small bits. Slowly working our way deeper into the can as we went. Look how fast and easy this process was! A full can of leaves was turned into a few inches of composted ones in no time.

Note: Always use protective eyewear and follow manufacturer’s directions when using powered tools. I found it best to keep to work my way down the can slowly instead of shoving the weed whacker down to the bottom and starting there. This process resembled a food processor in action. Also note that the dryer the leaves, the easier and faster your job will be.

4. Because they are so numerous here, we also added plenty of leaves to our compost bins.
5. In unused areas in our lawn, we left leaves in place to provide winter habitat for wildlife.

In the end, my husband was a convert.

He was surprised how fast and easy it was. In using these methods, we saved many back-breaking hours cleaning up the leaves, provided a beneficial leaf layer for wildlife, plus, we have the satisfaction of keeping the organic matter on/in our own landscape. Now we can rest all winter knowing that our mulched leaves are working hard for us outside while we stay warm inside, waiting for a new season of planting.

 I hope we have encouraged you to recycle the fall leaves on your property. Whether you mulch them or compost them,  this bounty is given to you free each fall. You, too, can turn them into black gold!

Happy Gardening!

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