Autumn leaves for compost

It’s late autumn here in the hills near Adelaide, Australia. Windy days have been sparse so far this season so the trees are laden with leaves ranging from firy red to cadmium yellow. They have begun to rain down upon the farm, the nearby town and in the city where I go to university. Their magnificent hues have bathed the streets and lawns.

View from my laboratory writing room at the University of Adelaide.

I think of autumn as a time of giving. The trees return to the earth some of the bounty they harvested from the sun and soil over spring and summer. The hive of activity that accompanies warmer weather is coming to a close. The days feel long and peaceful. The world is tranquil.

Even the animals seem to be content. The birds have finished raising their young for another year and they seem ready for a good rest. Soon, the trees will slumber unadorned while all around them a different life cycle reaches its peak – moss and fungi will abound and a secret world of beetles, worms and other critters will bustle with activity hidden by the thick leaf litter relinquished by the trees.

While the blanket of autumn leaves is a pretty alternative to the usual garden landscape, they quickly turn brown and slimy and smother the lawn. The leaves that fall on the garden beds will break down and return nutrients to the soil, but today I cleaned up the leaves over the driveway and small paddock near the house.

The trees’ bounty was not to be wasted, however! The leaves were raked and collected in large bags. These will mostly dry out where they’re stored in a shed and in spring they can be brought out and spread over the garden for mulch. Water conservation is crucial in Australia and it’s difficult to keep moisture in the gardens over the dry spring and summer months. A thick layer of mulch will help retain moisture in the soil beneath. Water and some soil can be added to some of the bags to help the leaves break down and form a nutrient-rich compost to be spread on the gardens as well.

Rather than tossing all your leaf litter in the garbage, think of ways you can utilise nature’s little nutrient packets for the earth instead. Mulching or composting your autumn leaves are easy ways to turn over existing nutrients in your garden rather than shipping them off to the dump. Plus you can save on buying fertilisers and commercial mulch down the track.

(By tomorrow you won’t even be able to tell I cleaned up all the leaves here… *sigh*)


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