Tag Archives: Compost

You can recycle fall leaves


If you have deciduous trees in the quantities that I do, you will be glad to be able to use their leaves in the fall as a resource instead of a source of trash.  As explained in this article posted in the Penn State Extention website, fall leaves are rich in nutrients in a comparable rate of manure or fertilizers.  They contain minerals and many  trace elements that our plants need and in addition make a suitable mulch to protect plants through the winter.  As in nature, leaves fall naturally in the forest floor to biodegrade and transform into nutrients.  Naturally, in our own home garden environments we want to remove the leaves from the lawn.  Grass needs to be clear of debris but finely mulched leaves provide needed nitrogen to the grass as well.  The key is to use a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the ground.  At this time of the year I blow the fine clippings in areas where the bulk of the leaves were, and transfer them to the garden beds.  It saves a lot of money in mulch as well!  My preference is to keep this valuable resource and use it as nature intended.

Nature does nothing uselessly.   –Aristotle, Greek philosopher

Related reading on Leaf Collection



Building a Vegetable Garden

After years of resisting the urge to grow my own vegetables, I finally decided it was time to take the first step.  To me, with already 3/4 of an acre of gardens, the commitment seemed daunting.  I guess the recent reports of contaminated fruit and vegetables from around the country and the knowledge that produce that has been transported great distances and sit in warehouses and store shelves could not be as nutritious or taste as good as something you pick that day, were the convincing factors that prompted me to get started.  Have you ever taken a bite into a carrot just pulled from the soil?  It is heavenly:  flavorful, crisp and sweet… those are the thoughts that have motivated me.

And so the project has started.  The decision to build raised beds was made after careful consideration of the site:  It is a fairly laveled and sunny parcel but it is at the bottom of a moderate hill so it tends to be a wet spot.  With raised beds it is possible to control drainage and soil quality.  Eight boxes, made of 10″x2″ cedar or non-treated wood,  ranging in size from 8’x4′, 6’x4′, and 4’x4′, with three feet of space all around.  I lined them with 10 ply newspaper layers to kill the grass only inside the boxes for now.  Here is how they look after 2″ of compost went in.

Next, they are going to be filled with mushroom manure and will sit for the winter.  In my area deer are very active at this time of the year and all winter, so planting anything on the boxes before the fence goes in,

will be like inviting them to keep on coming.  The plan is to build a fence all around the beds very early in spring before the planting season starts.

So, October was spent putting one garden to bed and starting a big project for the next growing season.  I love working outside on the crisp days of autumn.  I feel like if I could hold on to the light of day and make it last as long as I can, winter will delay, we know that will not happen, but I used the time well:   Compost piles were harvested to start the vegetable boxes and make room for the mulched leaves and all the scraps from the perennial gardens that will turn into soil amendments for the beds next fall.  Perennials were divided and replanted and after getting great deals at some of the local nurseries, new shrubs purchased and planted.

“Open your eyes that you may see the wonder that around you lies; it will enrich your every day and make you glad and kind and wise”   -Emma Boge Whisenand-



Autumn joys and chores

Sitting outside in the balmy weather, I watched as leaves fell like a magical golden shower.  There was a specific sound too,  like hundreds of whisperings being carried past me by the wind.  Truly one of those quiet moments that happen so unexpectedly in the garden.  I had to shake myself to focus on the myriad of chores that come with the season.

Enlarging and widening perennial and shrub beds.  See a super easy way to get started here.  In shrub and perennial beds specially, this allows more room to accommodate for naturally growing shrubs.  It is also a very good thing to make your beds larger and diminish the amount of lawn.  Wildlife benefit from a variety of plants and rely on the food and shelter they provide.  I call large beds like these, ‘wildlife corridors’ as they are the highways that allow species to move thru the garden in the safety of cover from predators.

Houseplants are now ready to come back inside.  Here are some steps to follow before you bring them in.  I will add, it is better to bring them in before the heat is turned on inside.  This will reduce the shock of the change in their environment.

Recycle those leaves!  What a great resource nature provides, free!  If you have a large garden, these bounty can save you on compost, mulch, and plants. With a mulching mower, my husband runs over most of the leaves in the lawn.  I then collect all that is left and place then in my compost pile.  They are a good amendment for the soil, can be used as leaf mulch, or after they are shredded, can be left on the shrub beds for the winter just as nature intended.  By spring add mulch right on top for a more uniform neat look.  I have been doing this for some time as I write about it here


“A woodland in full color is awesome as a forest fire, in magnitude at least, but a single tree is like a dancing tongue of flame to warm the heart.”  ~Hal Borland


Why Organic?

A picture of compost soil

Image via Wikipedia

Increasingly, walking down the garden aisles of big name stores and plant nurseries, we are faced with shelf upon shelf of products that claim to tackle every pest, weed and soil problem possible.  I am always amazed at the sophistication of the ingredients with names that I can not pronounce, much less claim to completely understand or know what they are or do.  Just read the warnings to know these are not products to be taken lightly. We know we are surrounded by a complex ecosystem in which every creature plays a major role. Every species, starting with the smallest bacteria in the soil to higher mammals from deer to man, are closely connected.  It is a delicate web of life so complex and intricate, that to disrupt one thread has repercussions somewhere up or down the entire system.

Take our garden soil as a start, only recently scientists have started to have a comprehensive understanding of the complexity of life in the root zone.  They have now been able to identify as many a one million distinct bacteria species in a single gram of soil!  This dirt under out feet is full of life, rich with chatter, unexpected alliances and surprising acts of aggression.  It has been compared to another great marketplace:  the internet.  Soil is alive, filled with Micro-organisms.  In addition to bacteria, we can go up the life ladder with millions of each organism represented:  fungi, algae, protozoa, nematodes, mites, earthworms to name a few.  All are always working and in the business of breaking down organic matter to release nutrients for the plants.

Above ground, the web continues.  Every garden ecosystem is a collection of plants and animals  – producers and consumers –  a garden is a teeming community of insect herbivores eating plants but keeping these herbivores in check, are dozens of species of predator insects.  These in turn, are prayed on by birds, amphibians and small mammals that hunt and make their life in the garden.  Each is a vital link to the garden ecosystem.

You can then see, how introducing any toxic substances contained in pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers would upset this delicate balance.  I can only hope that the reader, as I have become aware by my understanding, will in the future, think carefully before opening those bags and spreading them on the plants or soil.

The right additives for our gardens are often those which come by naturally and by natural processes.  Compost rules!  all you need is a top dressing of compost to feed the soil and mulch to preserve the soil from erosion and conserve humidity.

Organic Soil Amendments: Alfalfa Meal, corn gluten (inhibits seed germination), cottonseed meal, soybean meal, seaweed products, wood ash, blood meal, bone meal, feather meal, fish emulsion, compost.

Mulches: composted hardwood, straw, fresh mushroom manure, pine needles, cocoa bean hulls, compost.

“Humankind has not woven the web of life.  We are but one thread within it.  Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.  All things are bound together.  All things connect.” ~Chief Seattle, 1855


Leaf Collection

This is how our street looks for most of the month of October and November.  This is 300 feet of collected leaves from just two yards.  The township comes by two or three times during the season and picks them up in huge trucks.

This year, I am proud to say I did not put out any leaves for the township to pick up.  Instead, we went  over the whole lot with our mulching mower.  It took my husband three mowings to get the bulk of the leaves mulched.  I then used my electric blower to collect some of them for my compost bin. This is a wonderful addition to the soil or a light mulch for flower beds.  All those mulched leaves near shrub and flower beds,  I simply blew right into my shrub beds to cover up the soil during the winter.  By mulching them first, they will not become and impenetrable mat and allow air and water to reach the soil, they also absorb water to be released slowly and keep the soil protected.  Just as nature intended.

“I have never had so many ideas day after day as when I worked in the garden” John Erskine