A key principle of permaculture is valuing renewable resources, and producing no waste. Often the best resources are those considered a problem or a waste. Sometimes the solution to one problem lies in the complexities of another.
Last week we discussed how Wellfield staff handles stem material separately from fallen leaves in our fall cleanup efforts. The second half of fall clean up involves handling the numerous tree and shrub leaves finally falling with the last hard frost.
It seems like most people in Michiana view fall leaf drop as a problem, a hassle to get done with as soon as possible rather than an opportunity, a valuable resource. Wellfield Botanic Gardens’ soil is fairly low in organic content and it is one of my long-term goals to feed the soil and drastically increase the humus layer. Beyond spreading fresh compost and organic mulches like twice shredded wood, one of the best ways to feed the soil is composting in place through a type of chop and drop. This process keeps organic resources onsite and facilitates the cycling of nutrients in the garden. While we have drastically reduced how much material leaves the garden property to be composted offsite, we do not have the capacity to handle the total volume of biomass each year (and stringent regulatory guidelines make this cost prohibitive for us at this stage in our development). With a lot less energy and resources, we can process a large portion of our material simply by chopping it up and redistributing on the garden bed. Nature takes over from there, breaking down the fresh compost mulch rapidly. No more creating piles, turning piles or harvesting compost from piles.
There are several steps involved. First, the leaves are removed from the bed. Second, they are spread out on our cement walkway. The leaves are chopped up to confetti-sized material using a mower with excellent gator mulch mow blades as the third step. The final step is to spread the material thinly but evenly across the entire bed. The material may appear unsightly for a time, depending on one’s perspective, but decomposes quickly because helpful bacteria and fungi are given greater surface area with which to work.
A little investment in time pays off in healthier gardens in the long run, so stop kicking your leaves to the curb. Feed them to the worms instead.