We have four ash trees, two birch and five maple trees on our half acre property so we have A LOT of leaves dropping right now. Most of them will stay right where they are and I’ll explain why in a little bit, but being frugal homesteaders we often make use of what we have on hand so some of those beautiful leaves will be put to work in the garden and around the homestead.
When our landlord told us that the soil in the area was hard clay we decided we’d build our own soil using a method called lasagna gardening. We had such amazing success with our garden that we are going to continue this method this year.
For folks familiar with composting, lasagna gardening works very much on similiar principle. Your goal is to build your own soil using alternating layers of carbon and nitrogen sources and for us the green layers are grass clippings and the brown are mulched leaves. We simply run over them with a push mower that mulches them nicely and collects them. Then we store them until we’re ready to build a few new layers on the garden.
If you don’t have a lasagna garden you can still combine green and brown layers to make compost for your garden. We tend to use a ratio of 3:1 – so three parts leaves to one part grass/garden clippings. If you take the time to mulch these layers they will break down faster.
Leaf mold is a special method of composting leaves that is loved by many English gardeners. The up side to this method is that it involves very little work. Simply collect your leaves, mulched or not, and store them in green/black plastic bags and periodically add water to them. Over time fungi will take over creating a dark, nutrient rich soil conditioner you can add to your garden. It has an uncanny ability to retain moisture and could be used as a mulch layer on your gardens, especially if you are prone to droughts.
The downside with this method is the required storage space as it could take 2-3 years for your leaves to break down fully into leaf mold. But if you have the space this might be a perfect use for your leaves.
Leaves make a great protective and insulation layer for your perennials so you might as well use them! They also make a great cover for crops like garlic which stay in the ground all winter long. This will protect tender roots and prevent heaving from the fluctuations in temperature during the winter.
Leave Them Be
This is the easiest and simplest solution for all of your fall leaves. I’ve heard of certain town bylaws or home owners associations that won’t allow you to leave them, but if you can I definitely suggest that you do so.
If you plan to leave them on the ground it’s a good idea to run over them with your mower a few times breaking them up into much smaller pieces. In the spring the leaves will break down very quickly and provide minerals and organic matter for your grass.
Leaving them in place also benefits the local ecosystem and wildlife. Many insects and animals rely on leaves as a insulating barrier to protect again the harsh cold winters.
What will you do with your fall leaves?