There is no more welcoming time of year in the garden then when all the Garden Gold starts piling up around here. What am I talking about? Bags of leaves of course. For the next couple of months we gather and put down leaves on the farm like crazy, you might say they are our secret sauce.
This annual chore of collecting leaves in the fall and winter is labor intensive for a few weeks, but our gardens will reap the benefits for years to come. I have over 12,000 square feet of native tree, shrub, and perennial border plus our fall-planted Cool Flowers garden to mulch. We gather hundreds of bags of leaves.
We go out weekly with a couple of trucks and helping hands to collect bagged leaves from curbsides that have been put out for trash collection. (Ugh!!) We don’t have to go more than one or two miles from my urban farm to get our fill.
We mulch the pathways and border 12” or more deep making it virtually impossible for weeds to sprout. Weed suppression is the most obvious advantage, but there are even more benefits that are vital to the organic function and low maintenance of our farm. They build soil structure, provide moisture retention, and keep the soil cool in summer.
How leaves works for the good of the farm:
- The goal is to mulch pathways as soon after making beds or disturbing the soil as possible to prevent weeds from getting a start.
- We only use bagged leaves. They are so easy to drag or carry to where you need them. (FYI: this rescues them from the landfill. Bagged leaves cannot be composted by most cities.)
- Mulch deeply to prevent having to top off mulch later in the season. Leaves are free and usually available in abundance—don’t skimp.
- Beds are planted and harvested throughout the season as usually with no maintenance needed in pathways (huge benefit!)
- Flowers and vegetables are stripped of excess foliage while harvesting, dropping the greenery in the pathways.
- All season we are walking on this amazing “organic lasagna” we are creating, breaking down the leaves and basically pulverizing it all as we work.
- When a bed has reached the end of its usefulness, we remove any support netting, mow the crop, and pull up any irrigation tape up.
- To work the organic matter into the soil we till the garden—pathways, beds and all adding tons of organic matter.
- Let the garden digest the matter for a couple of weeks –depending on the weather, the type of mower used, soil type, and the crop mowed to start all over again—making beds, planting and so forth.
This practice has built our soil into what it is today. The very best part of all of this for me? Walking my little farm in winter and spring admiring these beautiful pathways knowing what the leaves offer and the life they bring to my garden. Other benefits of all this organic mulch? When your soil is covered and insulated with organic mulch, it brings the earthworms and billions of microbes closer to the soil surface to work.
All winter while you watch from the window, there is a so much work going on out there beneath that blanket of leaves. So, go ahead and rescue a few bags—but don’t come in my neighborhood, it might launch a new reality show: Bag Wars!