In Denver, and elsewhere across the nation, autumn leaves are changing colors before our eyes: always miraculous to observe, and a bit melancholy if you're putting your garden to bed. Falling leaves, for many gardeners, means falling temperatures.
Every autumn, city trash collectors pick up countless large plastic bags full of raked leaves. Trucks haul the trash bags full of leaves to landfills, where plastic has little chance of breaking down. And even when plastic does break down, the bags add toxic chemicals to our planet. The real kicker is that those leaves are not trash, but treasure for gardeners.
Here's a better, easier way that works to reduce cost to municipalities, reduce air pollution from trucks, reduce plastic in landfills. At the same time, this simple solution helps create a free and effective product that benefits our landscapes. Introducing leaf mold! Leaf mold will condition your soil. Here in Colorado, many gardens with heavy clay soils will benefit from leaf mold as an amendment that will help loosen the earth, increasing air to plant roots. Leaf mold will help your soil retain water, too, by as much as 50 percent. Leaf mold provides habitat for earthworms and other beneficial garden creatures.
Leaf mold takes months to make, but once you have your bags ready, you won’t need to lift a finger, let alone a shovel or spade.
If you normally toss your leaves in the trash, but if you're concerned about the environment--and what gardener isn't?--try a different approach to your fallen leaves this year. Here's how:
1) Rake and bag your leaves as you normally would.
2) Add a shovel of garden dirt or any old soil to the bag. You might also toss in soil from any container gardens you're emptying. For good measure, if you have a compost bin, add a few scoops from your bin and include some worms.
3) Add some water to the leaves--enough to get the leaves and dirt moist.
4) Poke holes in the plastic bag so the water can drain and the mixture can breathe.
5) Stack and store bags of leaves over winter.
After at least six months or up to one year, your leaf mold will be ready.
6) When spring rolls around again, open your plastic bags. You'll find wonderful rich leaf mold to mix into your gardens. Your final product will be a rich, earthy smelling, black substance similar to compost.That's free dirt! Pay dirt!
And you'll know you also have the priceless knowing that you took another step to help the well being of our planet.
7) To use your leaf mold, dig the rich substance into your vegetable garden, or add to beds, borders. Leaf mold in container gardens will prevent pots from drying out so quickly. If you don’t want to dig the leaf mold into the soil, simply apply as you would any other mulch.
Yes, you can compost leaves by layering them in your bins, watering, turning, checking the temperature on your compost. You can run over your raked leaves with a mower to speed up the decomposition process by beginning with smaller pieces to break down.
Or you can just leave the giant sacks of leaves to take care of themselves because, in truth, compost happens. The leaves will start to decompose quickly, so the bulk of the bags will decrease. If you're super thrifty or environmentally correct, you probably can re-purpose your trash bags again year after year for your leaf mold. If you're using them for other trash, just remember that you've poked holes in the plastic bags.
Help spread the word to help keep more valuable leaves and non-degradable plastic bags out of our already overflowing landfills. Share this article with a gardener who might be interested in easy and effective way to turn over a new leaf this autumn.
••• "Cultivate your corner of the world.
You grow your garden; your garden grows you." •••
• Colleen Smith's gift book "Laid-Back Skier" makes a charming gift! This whimsical, inspirational book includes original illustrations of ski bunnies and encouragement for life's ups and downs. Watch "Laid-Back Skier's" brief YouTube video here.
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