Leaves: Black Gold

Embracing Our Interdependence With Nature

Leaves: Black Gold

Leaves are gold.  Leaves are a compost lover’s dream.  If you want black gold for your vegetable garden there is nothing better than brown crunchy leaves, and up north a bit where many of the trees are deciduous that is the gold mine.  


I grew up in Maryland in the suburbs.  My father always kept a vegetable garden and he had a compost pile in the corner of a fence line.  I remember the smell of it, and watching him turn it and harvest from it.  He used some hardware cloth in a wood frame he built laid over a wheel barrow, and what sifted through that wire frame was the black gold he put into his vegetable garden.  I was a kid, I forgot what I had seen until later.


I left Maryland when I was 19 and moved to Florida.  It wasn’t long before I had my own home and my own vegetable garden.  Trips back to Maryland to visit family, my husbands and my own reminded me of my father’s compost and his garden.


While visiting with my husband’s parents I was taking their kitchen wastes outside to their composting pile.  There were lots of leaves on top and I dug into it to put the rotten vegetables in the middle.  What I found in there was amazing. 


Black Gold!  I found the blackest richest soil ever made.  The principle component was broken down leaves.  From then on whenever I visited I carried back as many bags of leaves as I could fit in my vehicle.  If I flew up I packed a box of leaves and mailed it to myself.  People in my family began saving bags of leaves for me. 


Here in Florida my next door neighbor has the largest Red Maple ever.  The horizontal branches are larger than my hips,  whoa!  Once a year it loses its leaves, and the next day the new leaves come.  (That’s how it is in S.Florida).  My husband goes over there with the lawnmower with the bag attached, and mows leaves which we dump into bags and waste cans, and carry home to the garden.  The mower chops the leaves and makes it possible to carry more in one container, and they break down faster in the compost if they are ground or chopped.  Those leaves are excellent.  My in-law’s yard has tulip poplars, cherry trees, apple trees, and dogwood.  Each leaf gives back the nutrients it took from the soil to help the tree to thrive.  Different trees have different nutritional needs, I think therefore that their leaves give something specific back to the soil, or to your compost. 


It is important to remember to get permission before you go take your neighbor’s leaves.  Most neighbors will be glad to let you take them if you ask first.  Also if you are taking from your neighbor or from the yard wastes put to the curb for the garbage service you need to figure out if a lawn service is coming in to poison insects in the lawn there.  You would not want to put those leaves and clippings into the compost in which you plan to grow your vegetables.  It is usually pretty easy to figure out since most lawn companies will put their sign somewhere on the lawn advertising that the awesome lawn you see is a product of their service.  Some also put warnings of having sprayed poisons to  keep neighbors from letting their dogs and children walk through the freshly poisoned grass. 


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