Monday, December 07, 2009

Leaves a fallin'

Having a large tree in our front yard means a few great things. The main one this time of year is leaves. We are rolling in leaves. There are leaves in our compost bin. There are leaves in our street. There are leaves keeping our strawberries warm at night. There are leaves in our fallow garden beds. There are leaves and leaves and leaves.

Before our urban homesteading, I never really thought much about how much you can do with a large pile of leaves. They are an amazing resource that is so often overlooked as a nuisance. In our household, leaves are a family affair. We all don hats, gloves, and sweaters to go out and manhandle the leaves into appropriate places. They fall for a good month or more, so there are many to go around.

Our non-food waste compost bin gets them first. The Barracuda scours the yard for any large sticks, dog toys, or other items which might not get along very well with the lawn mover. Jules then plows over them with the mower cutting them into little bits. The leaf bits are layered into the bin with about an 18 inch layer of leaves, six inches of dirt, 18 inches leaves, six inches dirt, etc. In the spring when it comes time to do planting the compost will be ready.

The next place for our leaves is into the wheelbarrow to dump on the strawberry patch. Strawberries can't handle much by way of cold. They begin to harden themselves off when shorter days begin and after a few colder nights, but sometimes nitrogen depletion can cause them to weaken instead. After one or two nights below freezing, covering strawberries with some form or mulch or row cover can greatly improve their chances of spring production and an injury free winter. They gained the name strawberries because straw has always been the preferred mulch. Our household is a bit low on straw, but oh do we have leaves! So wheel barrow after wheel barrow of leaves get dumped onto the strawberry patch to provide a nice blanket from our icy, cold nights. The Barracuda is partial to helping spread them out.

The compost bin and strawberry patch take care of most all the early blustery days. However, now that we are into December, most of the leaves have fallen causing both strawberries and compost to be quite full. The last place the leaves go is into the raised beds to condition the soils for next years planting. Though there isn't much by way of nutritional benefits to leaf mold, it causes great water retention in the soils. Being able to retain more water, gives our plants an added benefit over the summers when no rain falls. Secondly, leaf mold provides a wondrous place for micro-bacteria, fungi, and earthworms within the soils. So, though it does not directly provide much to the plants, indirectly the benefits are numerous.

Our raised beds get a layer of leaves, and then a small layer of dirt over the top to keep them down. Just before the snow kicks in, thick black tarping from the hardware store will be nailed down over the whole bed to keep the weeds, various critters, and Guadalupe out. It will also help keep in the heat to allow everything to cook down nicely.

The Barracuda's favorite part of this whole "yard work" thing is being able to stomp the leaves down before the dirt goes on top. Stomping, or even standing, in any of the raised beds usually elicits me screaming out the kitchen window something to the effect of, "What are you doing?!?" or "Get out of there!" When it comes to the leaf mold, I encourage it. The Barracuda is heavy enough to crunch up the leaves and compact them enough to keep the wind away, but far lighter than Jules or me.

Throughout the process of our leaf dispersal, Guadalupe supervises. She is quite fold of wrestling with the Barracuda and loves it when he throws piles of leaves at her. She wiggles about in them, tosses them with her nose, and they cause her to sneeze. Another favorite activity is gnawing at any fallen sticks which the Barracuda has piled up and then trotting around with a stick placed in her mouth quite proud of herself to be in the front yard. In general, she has a grand time.

The Barracuda is right there with her when it comes to enjoyment. Many breaks are taken to run around with each other, throw leaves about, and play competitive games with how fast we can rake or how large a pile we can make. After all, all work and no play means that he doesn't want to come out and help. Currently, doing yard work is merely part of being a member of our family. It is expected for him to come and help.

So far, he hasn't figured out yet that this is work. Hopefully we can keep that up a couple more years.

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