The sight in late Autumn of gardeners poking leaves into piles is one that I haven’t really thought much about before this year. I love autumn : not only the crunchy carpet under the trees, but the leaf colours that seem to change every day, the crisp freshness of the first frosty mornings, and the spider webs appearing out of the mist like the ghosts of forgotten ancestors : it’s a season of poetical fruitfulness with lots to enjoy. I do hear a lot of complaining, though, among the custodians of the land : about the leaves : if it’s windy they blow everywhere, if it rains they stick to the ground, if it freezes they’re a slip hazard, but the main beef seems to be that there are just too many of them, and its a hassle to get them all into plastic bags and off to landfill.
The ones swept up by road sweepers, which are possibly the majority, certainly do go to landfill, because they get mixed up with all the other detritus of the road : the dead cats, the feces, the broken glass, the chewing gum, the drinks cans, the chicken boxes, the blue plastic bags… :
And I know that they can form a very slippery carpet if they are left to rot on paths, but I do wish that the petrol driven leaf blower and scraper industry hadn’t had such successful marketing in local councils, because it seems like a lot of effort to go through, to save us all the inconvenience of leaves. I wish they would just leave them there, under the trees, like in a forest, where the trees create their own winter blanket for the earth, keeping their feet warm, and the earth moist, and rotting down in the end to feed the soil.
Last year, I successfully managed to make leaf mould, usable as mulch, from London plane leaves in a single year. There is a myth about these leaves that it takes about five years for them to rot, and that they need separating from compost makers, but I haven’t found this to be true. I diverted some of the many bags of leaves that the school caretaker used to chuck over the fence for the council to pick up, into one of the composters, and kept it well watered, covered with a layer of cardboard, and turned it a few times during the year. By the end of the summer it was dark, and rich and I used it to cover the soil on the raised beds over winter.
And today, I saw some goats which were extremely keen to eat as many of these leaves as they could get hold of : and I bet they make a very useful by-product out of them too!