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Fall Leaves: They Aren’t Just Pretty

Get ready to collect some manna from heaven!  Leaf mold is one of the best amendments a gardener can add to the garden.  And it’s super easy to make and free:  All you need is leaves and time.  Create a leaf pile somewhere it won’t blow away but will get snowed and rained upon and break down gently in its own time.  At the end of a year (or two if you live in a more arid place), you’ll have the treasure of broken down leaves, wet and almost compost-like.

Leaf mold is valuable in several ways.  It is the result of the fungal breakdown, so in addition to adding organic matter to your garden, you’re also putting lots of beneficial fungi in the soil.  It’s a good way to add valuable minerals to soil because tree roots are pulling nutrients from deep within the soil and depositing those nutrients in their leaves, which then get deposited in your garden.

There are two easy ways to get leaf mold.  The absolute easiest is to live somewhere humid with lots of deciduous trees like North Carolina and just go out into the woods and find places the leaves have drifted over the years.  Reach down under a soft squishy pile of leaves and you’ll find leaves from previous years broken down and moist and crumbly, often with earthworms happily working away.

If you don’t have your own woodland or if you live here in the arid plains of Colorado, the process needs a little helping along.  In my neighborhood, a gardener on a busy street put up a sign in front of her house:  “Bagged Leaves Wanted.”  People hate to just throw leaves in the garbage, so in the spirit of recycling, they drop them off at her house all hours of the day and night.  She takes the first 1000! or so bags for her garden and leaf mold pile and her goats (Apparently goats think dry leaves taste like potato chips.) The rest of us gardeners in the neighborhood take the next 1000 bags strangers drop off for us.  They tidy their yards to get rid of leaves and we add all those leaves to our garden because we know they are manna from heaven!

For more how-to info and video, check out Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening magazines.
http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/making-leaf-mold.aspx
http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/basic-leaf-mold

Seeds in the Garden

by Sandy Swegel

Now that we’re at the peak of summer, you’ll start to notice that your garden is likely to have more seeds than it has flowers.  The heat and long days of summer have stimulated seed formation in most plants and this is a good thing.  Don’t just deadhead the seeds and compost them… there are lots you can do with flowers gone to seed.

Collect the seeds to grow again.

Once seedheads have dried a bit (turned brown) and the seeds are loose, you can collect the seed…either to save in paper envelopes for next year or to spread around the garden now where you’d like them to grow next.  When collecting seeds to grow next year, pick the healthiest plants with the best color. You probably know that some plants are hybrid and don’t necessarily come true from seed…but sometimes they do, so I like to risk it.  This year we let a squash grow in the compost pile even though everybody knows squash don’t come true, but it was cute…and now we’ve been eating great acorn squash a month earlier than the garden’s because the plant didn’t know it wasn’t supposed to be good.

Eat the seeds.

This is especially yummy before the seeds mature when they are still green and tender.  Green herb seeds and cool season vegetable seeds are little flavor powerhouses.  It’s time to nibble on broccoli flowers or herb seeds – cilantro, dill, fennel, anise, even basil.  All the flax in my wildflower patch has gone to seed.  I’m gathering them to sprout and either put on salads or dehydrate into crackers.

Gather the dry seeds for birdseed in winter

Sunflower and flax seeds are some of the seeds that birds like, so I gather extra dry seed to put out in January for the chickadees. I leave most of the seed on the ground for them… but sometimes it’s hard for a tiny bird to find seeds through a foot of snow.  Besides, if I put the seeds in the bird feeder, I (and the cats) get the pleasure of watching through the kitchen window.

Let the seeds be.

You can grow perennial beds of annuals.  There’s a phrase to get your head around.  The plants don’t overwinter but by letting the seeds drop, they replant themselves.  Let the cilantro and dill and parsley and leeks seed themselves around and you never have to start those seeds again.  The little seedlings will produce good plants for you this fall and some will wait for Spring to grow.  I love it when Nature does all the work.