Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Leaves: To Rake or Not to Rake


Following the high winds last week the garden is not only beaten but absolutely bone dry. Sunday we set sprinklers and almost instantly the winter grasses resumed their vibrant green and perked up. The tree branches were wind stripped of their last leaves and are now bare so suddenly the birds may be seen and heard with amazing clarity.

Nature devised leafless trees to give additional sunlight for warmth during the cold winter months. The leaves are now collected in crisp piles on the garden floor where they will begin to work by slowly decomposing over time. Lately there seems to be much discussion among various gardening experts on the subject of these fallen gems.

For many years raking leaves was an autumn duty to tidy the lawn for winter and they were dutifully transported to a compost pile. Compost was first described as useful for the garden in 1587 so its properties have a time tested tradition. Compost is simply decomposed organic matter which improves the soil and gives it a lighter consistency.

In the 1930’s to 1940’s a united America was encouraged to grow vegetables for the war effort and most urban homes had a compost bin. My father had one and was fairly constant with his enthusiastic interest in it. It was located in the farthest corner of the yard and consisted of three wooden sides approximately four feet high and it was deep enough to move about in. Leaves are the basis of compost with grass clippings, old newspapers, coffee grounds, and other organic matter added, all of which were in 12-18 inch layers. Bone meal and ammonium nitrate were sprinkled between the layers to aid in decomposition and give it a boost. The mixture was tossed about while sprinkling with water occasionally to dampen it and encourage it to ‘cook’… it was quite a chore. By spring the process was complete producing dark matter that had a deep and rich aroma. It was a safe and natural fertilizer for the vegetable garden.  

It sounds like an incredible effort to produce what may be found naturally on the forest floor which is covered by undisturbed leaves. These leaves break down over time creating the dark rich soil that nourishes the fledging saplings as they grow to become forest giants like their parents… it is an ever-repeating cycle.

If one takes inspiration from the natural cycle this process may be utilized in the garden and raking will definitely deny the landscape these valuable nutrients. Natural nutrients are far better than bagged fertilizers and again there is the time, expense, and effort involved in application of such products. Perhaps mow over the leaves to mince them up a bit, however allow them to remain to do their work over the winter.  To answer the question:  Not to rake!

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