©2012, Randall Prue
Now 21 years in the making!
If you do not know the tale, it is here on the Home page. Now 21 years after my conviction for making compost on “protected” farm land, in a town that proudly proclaimed itself to be defenders of the environment, I am sitting in Paradise where anything that will grow here (in zone 5) does extremely well, 3 acres of private gardens and orchards on an expanding layer of rich, dark soil. Dead leaves made that rich soil. The gardens are surrounded and protected by trees (mixed hardwood and softwood). My garden often does not freeze during the first (in autumn) or last (in spring) cold nights (when the rest of the town’s gardens freeze).
I bought this property in 1999, with a house on most of an acre of land, surrounded by impressive old evergreens, but with very little open space to grow vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers. In 2003, I bought land adjacent to mine (joined on the entire length of one side). I immediately discovered that there was no soil on this new piece of land—none—and I soon learned why. The house sits on the top of a hill. Everything is downhill from here. The eroded gullies between each of the mature trees held rainwater in all but the driest seasons. Prize-winning mosquitoes ran the place. My lovely new garden was the victim of centuries of soil erosion. All that wonderful soil was now in the nearby lake at the bottom of the hill.
To be able to grow some vegetables during 2003, I formed garden beds of bales of straw that I filled with soil, manure, compost, sand. I used several hundred bales of straw to do this. Over the years, every stem of that straw has broken down and become one more ingredient of the now-fertile soil here, approximately 7″ deep now. I just planted 300 garlic cloves (with the potential to become 300 garlic bulbs by next summer) in a bed (garden) that is about 10 feet wide by 20 feet long, with a paving stone walk down the middle of the length of it. Three years ago, that garden was full of stumps, rocks, weeds (the particularly tenacious kind), and trash. Yesterday I dug up (yet again) pieces of tile siding that has not been sold or used for many decades. I swear they buried every single one of them in the yard when they were removed (an educated guess would have this happen during the 1970s). Dead leaves are major contributors to this restoration. This is not the richest bed here.
Dead leaves are taken for granted, under-estimated, even though they are among the most valuable resources available to us. When I drive around here, I still find small collections of bagged leaves awaiting the monthly pickup by the trash folks. One day per month, they will pick up (for trash) “anything”, including dead leaves in plastic bags. At other times, they will pick up (for compost) leaves in decomposable paper bags). I rescue as many as I can on an annual basis, but I still cannot fathom the ignorance of a society that disposes of dead leaves as trash instead of building soil with them. Many of the leaves at the side of the road here are in plastic bags.