by Tracey Parrish
Each fall homeowners rake up garden leaves, bag them and then put them out for trash collection. However, leaves are a valuable organic resource to be treasured, not sent to the trash. BCG gardeners are making use of leaves in their winter culinary gardens in a number of ways.
- Thick layering of leaves is a great mulch- insulating against temperature extremes and maintaining soil moisture. Prevent the loss of leaves to high winds by layering the leaves thickly. Snow and rainfall also help to compact and stabilize the leaf layer. If you do lose a lot of leaves to wind, cover the leaves with burlap, row cover or black plastic bags of leaves.
- Worms love leaves and a layer at the soil surface provides great worm food and attracts them into your garden. The action of worms will incorporate organic matter into the soil (which helps improve soil water holding capacity, structure and ease to till), and aerate the soil. Worm castings make a great a natural fertilizer.
- Black bags of leaves are great thermal reservoirs and provide insulation and a heat reservoir for overwintering root crops (such as carrots, parsnip, celeriac, and beets). The underlying soil remains frost-free, allowing for easy harvest all winter. Most plastics used in bags are not stable in UV light and will start to break down, so it’s better not leave bags in the garden for more than a few months. Empty the leaves out of the bags in spring and use as mulch throughout the garden.
- Black bags of leaves placed over piles of organic mater (leaves, straw, manure, etc) create a great invertebrate food supply for chickens throughout winter. Worms and other invertebrates enjoy and proliferate in the frost-free environment under the bags. Pull the bags off every now and then and let your chickens scratch away. When they are finished, pile up the organic mater and cover again with the bags.
- Composted leaf mould makes a great addition to potting soil. One low-labor way of making leave mould is to put your leaves in a depression in ground and keep moist. The leaf mould should be ready in the second year. Mulch making can be hastened if leaves are left moist in black plastic bags over winter and turned occasionally.
- Leaves make a great fodder for goats in the fall.
- New garden beds can be reclaimed from lawn using the lasagna layering method. Layers of organic matter (manure, leaves, cardboard, straw) are placed down to prevent the growth of grass. Construct the new beds in fall and plant through the leaves in the spring. This methods works well when using transplants in the spring (rather than seeding directly in the soil).