Money does grow on trees. Leaves are an incredible resource falling at your feet. In our suburban neighborhoods we manicure the lawns and gardens so in October and November every leaf is sought out and blown, bagged, tagged, raked, disposed. I have a neighbor who feuds with a neighbor two houses down. He waits until they leave their garage door open on a windy day and then conveniently blows his leaves off his lawn in their direction. The neighbor finds their garage full of leaves. In fall we end up moving leaves around and sharing with the neighbors. A blustery day distributes fallen leaves with neighbors better than a porch lit trick or treat candy distribution on Halloween night, everybody wins.
If there is nutrient value in the leaves falling to the ground why don’t we celebrate it? I made the mistake on one radio show to mention I was in need of leaves. The donations poured in. A windfall of benevolent goodness it reached the point I had to hide so well meaning philanthropists would stop bequeathing their bounty. I needed a different strategy.
I hatched a plan that would utilize the onset of daylight saving time in early November. If I left work at 6 pm under the cover of darkness I would pick up bagged leaves people left at the curbside. I looked like “Planta Claus” carrying his big bags of toys. Operation Planta Claus was born. I would pick them up under the cover of darkness with my truck and dash for home to recycle them. It was like Christmas in fall and my composting skills were “elf” taught.
As dry leaves that before the hurricane rustle
He would park at the curb and the bags he would hustle
Into the bed the leaf bags flew
With a sleigh full of leaves and Planta Claus too.
He would pack up his ride with foliage to haul
Now dash away dash away dash away all!
As part of my horticultural high jinks I would scope out the neighborhoods that had lots of big maple trees and plot my raid for after dark. They did the work raking and bagging, it was mine for the taking. Once those leaves moved to curbside it was public domain and to the swift belong the spoils. Considering it foliole folly they didn’t understand that it was supplementing my income. Not that I have to use a form 1040EZ, I recognized this bonus stipule would reap rewards down the road as a tax free windfall.
Here comes Planta Claus, here comes Planta Claus
Right down Planta Claus lane,
So bag your leaves and say a prayer
Cause Planta Claus comes tonight
I had based my assumptions on a Rutgers University study I had read where 100 municipal leaf samples from across New Jersey were collected to analyze as a source of crop nutrients. Obviously nutrient concentration values varied considerably, but there was definitely the big three, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium content in the foliage. In addition essential micronutrients such as magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese, copper and zinc were also present.
Here is where it gets really cool. The foliage would, as it does in the woods, contribute to the long term fertility of my plot as the nutrients are released over time. The organic structure of the foliage requires microbial decomposition to release them. The benefit of organic matter improving the tilth and structure of the soil as well as increasing earthworm residence was a bonus benefit. The nutrient value would be enhanced. Of the three major nutrients the most readily available in the first year from leaf waste was potassium. Potassium is an essential plant nutrient for proper growth, cell wall development and reproduction of plants. It also is a major contributor to the overall health and vigor of a plant. That’s why my Mom always wanted me to eat bananas, beets, potatoes and beans! Protein and starch synthesis in plants requires potassium. It also plays a big role in how a plant “breathes” with the opening and closing of stomata in the foliage regulating CO2 uptake. Both the uptake of water through plant roots and the loss of moisture through stomata are affected by the potassium levels in a plant.
I took it to the next level with what I call “lasagna passive composting flower bed construction.” Lasagna in that the soil amendments are placed in layers, passive because it doesn’t involve much physical work. I was always converting lawn area into flower beds. I find some more new plants at the garden center and am next walking around the yard with a shovel in one hand and plants in the other looking for a place to put them. That is why every fall I would create new planting areas reducing the turf space into planting space.
It’s easy and effective following this procedure. Mark out with spray paint the size and shape of the bed you want to create in the existing lawn area. Instead of paint you can use a garden hose and move it around to view and reshape the border. In mid to late October as the leaves are coming off the trees, lay newspaper 3 or 4 pages thick over the top of the grassy area within the assigned border. Don’t try this on a windy day or your neighbors will be picking up trash for days. Once the paper is laid flat on the grass, wet the paper with a garden hose to hold it in place. Next place leaves fallen from the trees on top of the newspaper. I prefer to run over the leaves with a lawn mower once or twice before placing them on the paper to speed decomposition. Once the leaves are liberally put in place with the boundaries of your new bed, distribute soil and compost on top of the leaves to hold them in place for winter. The snow and rain can now begin to fall. Over the course of the winter the newsprint will suffocate the grass below it so you don’t have to dig it up or use a sod cutter. In spring you can till the leaves, newspaper and top dressed soil into the parent soil and dead turf to create a rich and ready flower bed for spring planting.