By JOE LAMP’L
A hint of fall is in the air. The mornings are cool and crisp, the leaves are starting to change colors and college football is in full swing. It’s clearly my favorite time of year. But in spite of these reasons, those aren’t what make it so for me.
As lovely as hardwood trees appear with their leaves in glorious shades of red, yellow, orange and rust, my favorite part of this season is after they have fallen. The now brown leaves begin to blanket my lawn and beds and I know that it is compost time!
No, I haven’t lost my mind. I don’t relish the work of clearing off those leaves any more than you do. But, I do have a deep appreciation for what they will mean to my garden and landscape a few months from now and for that reason, I am happy to prepare the way.
I suppose it goes back to that old saying; “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Where most people see leaf debris as just that, along with hours of raking, bagging and hauling, I see garden beds blanketed in rich organic compost. These leaves contain 50-80% of the nutrients those trees extracted from the earth before they fell to the ground. I will use them to replenish the soil and nourish all that grows within it.
I know earthworms will feast on this debris, then burrow deeper into the soil depositing that matter as castings, adding even more valuable nutrients, oxygen and drainage in the process. Beneficial fungi and bacteria will assist in the decomposition process, consuming this raw leaf material and returning it in a nutrient-rich form that can be utilized by plant and tree roots more efficiently and effectively than anything man has ever created.
Mere months after these shredded leaves are applied around my garden, they’ll transform into matter that promotes the life of soil dwelling organisms which in turn fortify my plants and trees to be more pest and disease resistant.
And have you ever stopped to consider that no matter or how poor the soil is what condition soil is in, compost will help make loose soil retain moisture and compacted soil drain better? Although there is an answer to that question, sometimes just knowing that it works is just as good as knowing why.
I see the opportunity to reduce landfill waste by 20% since that is how much space our yard debris occupies of these facilities. Rather than viewed as unnecessary trash, these leaves and other grass clippings could be going into our own gardens to enrich the soil while reducing the need for supplemental fertilizers and other harmful chemicals.
Yes, in a few weeks, I’ll be gathering up and shredding not only the leaves falling from my trees, but from my neighbor’s as well. I also have the landscaping crews ready to bring me the leaves they’ve collected from their jobs too.
What leaves I don’t spread into the beds, I’ll store somewhere else in my yard. I’ll worry about that later. But for now, bring me all you have. It’s my organic fertilizer, multi-vitamin and soil conditioner all-in-one, it’s plentiful and it’s free. It doesn’t get any better.