Confessions of a leaf lady

21:09, Apr 09 2012

At this time of year, a leaf rake, a pair of gardening gloves and some plastic bags reside permanently in my car. As I'm travelling about the place, I will stop by the side of the road if I spot a drift of fallen autumn leaves. I will even don my gloves, get out the rake and start stuffing the leaves into plastic bags while people on the other side of the road point at me and call me a weirdo. Yes, I am a leaf lady.

I adore autumn leaves, not because they look pretty or anything, but for their value in the garden. And because they only come once a year, making the most of them is a priority right now. Best of all, they are free; the only price you pay is being pointed at. I only take them from public places, and though some purists might sneer at getting them from the roadside, this is the easiest place to get them as they're usually in drifts ready to pick up. I would never, ever take them from a garden, because this is where they are doing their work.

Here's what I use them for:

1. Adding "brown" material to my compost bin to balance out lots of "green" grass clippings. In the compost bin it's important to have a balance of "green" and "brown" materials. I use autumn leaves sparingly though as it's fungi rather than compost-making bacteria that break leaves down.

2. Leafmould is made from rotting down leaves; it's a great soil conditioner and mulch. Making leafmould has to be one of the easiest and laziest ways to help your soil: simply bag chopped-up leaves, wet with the hose so they're damp, and put in a corner for a year or two. Crumbly leafmould gives structure to soil and is a lovely mulch. I've mulched some of my veges with it this year.

3. Bedding material for the chooks. I throw a few bags of leaves into the chickens' run from time to time that the chooks can scratch in it, to stop the run becoming boggy in the wet. Bare dirt in a chook run is an invitation for parasites and puddles, neither of which is good for your chooks' health. It's also great fun for them to peck through and get all the little insect goodies hiding among them.

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4. I used chopped-up leaves in my new berry beds with grass clippings to add organic material to the bed.

5. You can also used chopped-up leaves as a mulch. I've never done this, but if I get enough this autumn I might give it a try.

To chop up leaves, I either run them over with the lawnmower or, even better, I use my sister's leaf blower and vacuum. It sucks up the leaves, shreds them and deposits them in a bag that I empty into an old black compost bin I no longer use. I've left the bin open for the rain so the leaves don't dry out and stop rotting. Though I like chopping them up with the mower, using the vacuum is a strange experience - you're effectively vacuuming your lawn!

What do you use autum leaves for? Do you scavenge them like I do?

Photo: Robert Kitchin/Manawatu Standard