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!!!!! How to use fall leaves on your homestead  RSS feed

 
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So many fall leaves - but what to do with them?

It is fall and the leaves have fallen down to the ground. But what do you do with all these leaves? Or perhaps your like me and you see people throwing away bags of leaves and you think to yourself there must be a better use for those leaves...

Fall leaves are often viewed as a yearly chore but they can be a great resource for your homestead or garden. In my blog post Fall Leaves – 3 Ways to Put Them to Work on Your Homestead I cover 3 ways you can put fall leaves to work for for you on your homestead or in your garden.

3 ways to put fall leaves to work

- Create leaf mold (also known as leaf compost) for your garden
- Use fall leaves as mulch around your plants
- Use fall leaves to prepare areas for future planting

Do you have other uses for fall leaves on your homestead? Please leave a comment saying how you use fall leaves on your homestead or in your garden.

If you want to learn about all 3 methods please check out my blog post - in this post I'm going to focus on using fall leaves to prepare an area for future planting.

Use fall leaves to prepare areas for future planting



Do you have an area that is just not very productive that you want to turn into something amazing like a garden, or even a food forest?

Perhaps the area is covered by grass and other plants that just don't help you much. The question is how to change it?

Using permaculture design methods I'm sure many of you here on permies could come up with a number of solutions. Here is 1 method that will let you use fall leaves to get the site ready.

What I like to do to prep an area for future plantings is to put cardboard (make sure to remove any tape), paper, or burlap bags down first over the existing grass or other vegetation. This will keep the grass from growing through the next layer.

Next I put 6 or more inches of fall leaves on top of the first layer. The leaves will make great homes for small critters such as worms that will help breakdown the first layer, the leaves, and the grass or other vegetation you covered up.

All of this will result in amazing rich soil for you to plant into the following spring.

Since you will be using fall leaves I recommend doing this work in the fall. The other advantage is that the vegetation you are covering up will be sluggish or even dormant depending on your climate. This should make it easier to kill off the existing vegetation since it won't have much energy to grow through the mulch.

The other benefit to doing this work in the fall is that there is normally enough moisture that time of year to keep everything wet which will also help the mulch layers breakdown.

This method is often referred to as sheet mulching, and Gaia’s Garden has a great overview of how this works.

The final step to this method is to place a few branches on top of the leaves to hold it all down and keep the leaves from blowing away. Often just a few small branches are enough. But I have found that most of the leaves will stay in place regardless unless you get very strong winds.

Have you used fall leaves this way before? Please share your experience in the comments.

What Do You Think?


I love using fall leaves and really can't get enough of them! In this pic you can the fall leaves I used as mulch around some existing plants.

I would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment in this thread and don't forget to check out my blog post that this thread was based on. If you are one of the first to leave a comment on here you might even get a surprise in the form of pie or apples

If you need help finding fall leaves for your homestead I recommend checking out this permies thread that has some great advice from an awesome permies user who collected over 100 bags of leaves.

Thank you!
 
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Fall leaves area  tremendous resource.  One thing I do is put the contents of about 100 leaf bags in my enclosed chicken run.  They scratch through it all winter and poop on it.  Come March (for my climate) it starts to compost and by early summer I move it out to the garden to sit for a month before putting it on the garden.
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Daron Williams
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Mike Jay wrote:Fall leaves area  tremendous resource.  One thing I do is put the contents of about 100 leaf bags in my enclosed chicken run.  They scratch through it all winter and poop on it.  Come March (for my climate) it starts to compost and by early summer I move it out to the garden to sit for a month before putting it on the garden.



That is a great use of fall leaves! I'm sure your chickens love it - thanks for the comment!
 
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Most of my leaves are handled the same way as Mike's are.  The chickens love them.

Part of them are used around the base of my blackberry and blueberry bushes.  We have to put cages around the base of the plants to keep the leaves in place because the birds will just scratch everything back out while free ranging.  Last year, we did leaves around half the plants. It made a surprising difference in their health and growth, so this year all the plants are getting the leaf treatment.  

I dont know what made the difference for the plants.  Maybe because it protected the roots from scratching, gave extra warmth and nutrients and gave worms a place to hide? Probably the combination. Whatever the reason, it paid off.
 
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A Public Service Announcement by Ursula Vernon



https://www.deviantart.com/ursulav
 
Daron Williams
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Tina Hillel wrote:Most of my leaves are handled the same way as Mike's are.  The chickens love them.

Part of them are used around the base of my blackberry and blueberry bushes.  We have to put cages around the base of the plants to keep the leaves in place because the birds will just scratch everything back out while free ranging.  Last year, we did leaves around half the plants. It made a surprising difference in their health and growth, so this year all the plants are getting the leaf treatment.  

I dont know what made the difference for the plants.  Maybe because it protected the roots from scratching, gave extra warmth and nutrients and gave worms a place to hide? Probably the combination. Whatever the reason, it paid off.



Thanks for your comment! That is awesome that you noticed such a great improvement in the plants! I'm adding leaves around a bunch of my plants in a bed that still has fairly poor soil - hopefully I will get similar results as you in that bed Last year I ran out of leaves before I could add them to that bed. But where I did add leaves I saw great improvements.

Thanks for your comment Tyler!

Very true about critters using the leaves and a good point about leaving some where they fall. I'm actively planting trees and shrubs everywhere I can so that eventually leaves will just fall where I want them instead of me hauling ones in. The bed I mentioned above already has a Japanese maple in it which is helping and I'm adding 2 Douglas (Rocky Mountain) maples in February. Overtime, those 3 maples will give that bed all the fall leaves it needs each year with minimal effort on my part.
 
Tina Hillel
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But the Io moth said he WANTED to be eaten by a bird!  I'm helping him...😀

Tyler, I loved your PSA! We try to get our leaves moved in a somewhat timely manner to try to move them before critters think they are safe.  We have plenty of other areas where they can hang out.  Thanks for the needed laugh!
 
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"use fall leaves to prepare areas for future plantings"
Definetly yes! Meanwhile you can plant garlic in fall-winter, potatoes for spring-summer. 25-30 cm (1ft) thick layer of fall leaves is ideal cover for garlic. You can also harvest long whitish-green garlic shoots, if you like them. I believe "one yard revolurion" guy (youtube) made videos about growing soil by fall leaves while having some good potato harvests.
Compost? Fall leaves are good candidates for brown material.
If you do compost stuff between raised beds (lile throwing weeds, prunes and etc out of beds into paths), fall leaves are ideal. Fill the pathways with fall leaves, no weeds, no mud and no work compost in the following years.
 
Daron Williams
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s. ayalp wrote:"use fall leaves to prepare areas for future plantings"
Definetly yes! Meanwhile you can plant garlic in fall-winter, potatoes for spring-summer. 25-30 cm (1ft) thick layer of fall leaves is ideal cover for garlic. You can also harvest long whitish-green garlic shoots, if you like them. I believe "one yard revolurion" guy (youtube) made videos about growing soil by fall leaves while having some good potato harvests.
Compost? Fall leaves are good candidates for brown material.
If you do compost stuff between raised beds (lile throwing weeds, prunes and etc out of beds into paths), fall leaves are ideal. Fill the pathways with fall leaves, no weeds, no mud and no work compost in the following years.



Thank you for the comment! Growing garlic and potatoes is a great idea! Yup - One Yard Revolution did make some awesome videos. I actually have 2 of them embedded into my blog post
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm raking up leaves to mix with my clay soil.  But I hope I'm leaving enough for the adorable moths!  Pretty much any time anyone mentions "using fall leaves" I post that PSA because I think it's so cute.  I love the little waving moth fist.
 
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Every year I add a few square meters to my garden by using fallen leaves. I usually start with other organic matter in early Autumn (kitchen wastes, old hay) followed by fallen leaves just before first frost.
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Fallen leaves on a newly created garden bed
 
Daron Williams
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Richard Gorny wrote:Every year I add a few square meters to my garden by using fallen leaves. I usually start with other organic matter in early Autumn (kitchen wastes, old hay) followed by fallen leaves just before first frost.




Nice! That is a great way to use fall leaves - how fast do the leaves breakdown on your garden?
 
Richard Gorny
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I have a mixture of mostly birch, linden and norway maple leaves. The first two are gone in a couple of months, maple leaves though have to be removed at spring since they do not decompose fast enough. I put remaining leaves on paths or in compost as browns. Sometimes I shred maple leaves with electric mower, then they decompose way faster.
 
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I have a bunch of Big Leaf Maples, and while I like to leave the leaves there to nurish the tree (I don't need those maples falling down on me!), I do steal some of their leaves for making garden beds. We've got a maple up at the top of our hill that puts out a lot of easy-to-rake leaves (raking leaves out of grass=easy. Raking leaves out of salmoberries and nettles=not so delightful).

I wheel my wheelbarrow up there once the leaves get wet and soft (it rains a lot here, so I just wait until it rains) and pack as many in my wheelbarrow as I can. Dry leaves don't pack in nearly as easily, so I get the leaves when they're wet so I don't have to make as many trips up and down the hill.

I use my leaves in a few ways:

*Put some in my compost tumbler for more "browns"

* Put some NEXT to my compost tumbler to use to wipe out my compost bucket (wipe the bucket with the leaves and then throw the leaves in the compost bin)

* Add to my garden beds! I'm making a new garden bed, which I laid paper sacks to smother weeds and now I'm putting in a layer of leaves. I'll plant potatoes on top of the paper and under the leaves (and other mulch I'm putting there) come spring.
 
Daron Williams
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Nice - thanks for sharing Nicole! Big leaf maples are amazing for getting leaves. A lot of the leaves I got this year from people are big leaf maple leaves.
 
Daron Williams
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I love fall leaves - it has been fairly cold here the last few days but I had some native plants to plant in my hedgerows. Despite everything being covered with frost for the whole day the soil under the leaf mulch was still nice and soft with no signs of frost Plus, I could see all sorts of little critters moving around under the leaves.

I was able to get around 100 plants planted today because of the mulch keeping the ground soft. My hori hori knife made it really easy to get the plants planted quickly. Between the hori hori knife making it easy to get through the frozen mulch and the mulch keeping the ground protected from the cold it was surprisingly easy to plant the ~100 plants.

I planted snowberry and snow brush (nitrogen fixer) - had a little theme going This weekend I have some thimbleberry plants to plant in the same hedgerows.

In February I will be adding some more trees (Douglas maple and Sitka alder) to the hedgerows for more privacy and so the hedgerows start self-mulching. That way I won't need to bring in fall leaves in the future - at least not for that part of my homestead.

I love getting all the fall leaves but I think it is important to shift away from relying on all the inputs in the long run.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I didn't know we had a third native maple tree here! I have vine maples and big leaf maples, but I'm pretty sure I don't have any Douglas maples. I'll have to keep my eyes out to see if I can spot these other maples!

Thimbleberries are some of my favorite plants. I have a patch that's gottten so thick that I keep digging up some and transplanting them into my predominantly-salmonberry hedges for some more diversity, tasty berries, and a longer season of berries. (I'm pretty sure the only reason salmonberries get eaten is because they're the first berry ripe, LOL!)
 
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Nicole Alderman wrote:I didn't know we had a third native maple tree here! I have vine maples and big leaf maples, but I'm pretty sure I don't have any Douglas maples. I'll have to keep my eyes out to see if I can spot these other maples!

Thimbleberries are some of my favorite plants. I have a patch that's gottten so thick that I keep digging up some and transplanting them into my predominantly-salmonberry hedges for some more diversity, tasty berries, and a longer season of berries. (I'm pretty sure the only reason salmonberries get eaten is because they're the first berry ripe, LOL!)



Douglas maple was new to me too. It is kinda in between the other two maples in terms of size. I like that it is much more drought tolerant - I'm experimenting using it for my restoration projects on exposed rough sites. Never planted it before this fall but now I have 700 at one site and I'm planting around 25 at my place. Hopefully they will do well.

My hope is that Douglas maple can help me restore these tough sites by dropping a lot of leaves and building up good forest floor soil base for our other native plants to move into over time.

I'm testing some other plants for the same purpose including some of our native nitrogen fixing shrubs like soap berry, snow brush, and red stem ceanothus. Got some good results with native lupines too and Sitka alder could work well but I'm unsure how drought resistant it is. Then there is always red alder but I like to have options

Ya, thimbles are fun in defense of salmonberries I do occasionally find a plant with yummy berries. But at last I think you are right about the vast majority. I wonder how hard it would be to develop a more tasty version...
 
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I have lots of apple trees and several very large cottonwood trees. The leaves and a bunch of the fallen apples get raked up and used for winter chicken and pig bedding. The leaves get rooted and scratched through all winter turning them into great mulch come spring. I don't know who loves the apples more, the pig or the chickens. The previous owner of this property would haul off the leaves and fallen apples and go buy winter feed and bedding to use for the animals...
 
Daron Williams
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Dustin Liljenquist wrote:I have lots of apple trees and several very large cottonwood trees. The leaves and a bunch of the fallen apples get raked up and used for winter chicken and pig bedding. The leaves get rooted and scratched through all winter turning them into great mulch come spring. I don't know who loves the apples more, the pig or the chickens. The previous owner of this property would haul off the leaves and fallen apples and go buy winter feed and bedding to use for the animals...



Great to hear that you are using the leaves and apples! Seems like a lot of people are using leaves to help with their animals. I might need to update the blog post later and add that as a 4th use of fall leaves. Thanks for the comment!
 
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Nice blog Daron.

Leaves have been my nemesis for the past month or two. Ya' gotta luv leaves though. They do wonderful things for the soil. I now have thick piles of them preparing new areas as well as mulching the existing veggie gardens. Started mulching the flower beds the other day. Not sure if winter will allow that to be completed this year. The trees are predominantly maple, oak, hickory, chestnut, pecan, & a few ornamentals such as dogwood, magnolia, & crape myrtle. Huge trees. Huge leaves. The bottom line is I intend to eliminate as much "lawn" as possible. Leaves & cow pies are the main soil building ingredients available on site so that's what I'm using.

Tried something new with leaves yesterday. One of my beehives is fairly close to the kitchen garden. It's easy to watch as a gauge for other bees that are further away. It's on the edge of a thickly wooded zone 4/5 area & a mowed area. It tends to get over run with blackberry (not entirely bad) & other transition plants. I'm doing a bee garden experiment next year by growing plants around the bees that contain large amounts of oxalic acid. That acid is used in commercial bee treatments for varroa mites. I don't do chemical treatments. It's survival of the fittest in my apiaries. Hoping those plants will help in a more natural manner. It's an experiment. Don't know if it will work. It sure won't hurt. I usually grow most of those items in the normal veggie garden so this method will also help free up some space there. With that goal in mind & another giant mass of leaves to work with I made a wide & thick semicircle of leaves around the hive. It will also act as a windbreak for the girls during winter. It looks similar to a keyhole garden with the hive in the center.
 
Daron Williams
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Ya - I love leaves but dealing with getting all of them (I had to get mine from neighbors) has been a challenge. But so worth it now.

That is interesting with the beehive. I would love to hear how that goes. Do you have any pictures of the hive with the leaves?
 
Mike Barkley
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Wanted to include a bee-leaf pic with the original post but discovered my phone/camera is MIA. Got dumped on with heavy slushy snowy icy crap last night. Crushed it down considerably. The only logical thing to do is add more leaves. Will send a pic in the near future. Don't know if the bee experiment is valid or not but worst case scenario it will become a nice rhubarb patch that I rarely have to mess with again. <sigh. Found my actual camera last year after spending the entire winter outside. Exactly where I left it after taking fall garden pix. Buried under leaves.>
 
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Mike Barkley: I'm sorry I'm laughing.  :D  I never did find my hammer after doing some fencing by a deep leaf pile.
 
Tina Hillel
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We had a weather forecast that snow would miss us or at most get an inch.  

My snow shovel was left on the ground after using it to scoot leaves around.  It is somewhere under 8 inches of snow...

I guess the bright side is I get a break from leaves!
 
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I try to compost em right on the spot where I'll use them. I take a 10' length of welded wire fence and turn it into a temporary compost bin.  Each will hold at least 7 leaf bags, 3 or 4 more as it heats up. Keep adding till it gets too cold.
In the spring lift the fence off and there will be a central core of nice compost.  Fork the remaining leaves into another wire bin for another round.
 
Daron Williams
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Looking forward to the pic Mike! The non-profit I work for has the policy of attaching pink or orange flagging tape to all of our field equipment (cameras, shovels, other tools...) - makes it all a bit easier to find in the field.

Tina - I'm taking a break due to a bunch of rain here. Just too wet to do much with the leaves!

Looks good Roy! Makes a lot of sense to compost them where you will be using them. Mine are fairly close to my garden area but I did put my bins right next to where the wheelbarrow is stored

 
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I think more importantly than the convenience is that the colony of soil microbes you have is disturbed as little as possible when you compost on the spot.
 
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Daron Williams wrote:Looking forward to the pic Mike! The non-profit I work for has the policy of attaching pink or orange flagging tape to all of our field equipment (cameras, shovels, other tools...) - makes it all a bit easier to find in the field.


I spray Rustoleum magenta paint on all of my tools. The grass around here eats everything. I used an unpainted crowbar one day, tossed it about 4 feet to the side, out of my way, then it took several minutes to find it, that was cut grass, and it didn't go far, how can I lose it that quick? Bright magenta paint makes my life easier.
 
Mike Barkley
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Nice sunny day today. The heavy snow a couple days ago seriously crushed the first pile down. So added more leaves. The pile is now about half as tall but considerably wider than before. Bees started returning just as I was starting to get the new leaves gathered around THEIR hive. They were less than amused. So I proceeded to make a long berm with the excess instead. Can always move them closer later or just let them sit. Eventually want to turn that entire hill into a wildflower meadow & occasional pasture. Having some decomposed leaves along the woods/lawn border to start dispersing wildflower seeds into will be a plus.

This is how it looks now. Those are larger than normal cinder blocks. Roughly 2 feet tall. Happy bees are healthy bees.

 

Further away.



Still further away. The leaf berm & wood storage barn.



One of the donors. Huge oak. She's a beauty.



Turn the corner by the oak tree & what do you get? More leaves!!!












 
Daron Williams
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Looks great! Thanks for sharing!
 
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Here is a pic of a long pile that started out close to 5 feet tall. You can see the dirty marks on the barn wall showing the height it started. At the back of that picture you can see a long pallet. Behind that is the pigs bedding area. It is all deep enough still that the pig can burry itself completely just about anywhere in it. There are 25 chickens that dig through it as well.
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