Love Your Leaves – The Key to a Healthy Backyard
Let’s face it, fallen leaves have a bad rap, let’s start to look at leaves differently!
First, they are the basis of healthy composting. Backyard compost benefits your garden, and flower pots or at the very least prevents even more dumping in the landfills.
Second, they are necessary for a healthy yard. They provide shelter for many creatures in the winter, like pupae for beautiful butterflies in the spring. Leaves are also a natural mulch to protect lawns from weeds and also fertilize flowerbed soil.
Below I get into more detail about both of these, Do-It-Yourself composting and how to appreciate your leaves!
PART I: Composting, what’s not to love?
Composting is quite easy, and the benefits far outweigh the simple changes you will make in producing your own compost. And it is a great place to put your leaves to good use!
Organic soil – The nutrient rich soil that is created by composting is the best thing for your garden and flower pots. It protects roots from drying out in the sun, and helps retain water. Many (silly) people pay big bucks to buy organic composting soil. Healthier plants, less watering, and the best soil right in your backyard – it’s a win-win-win!
Lessens the burden on landfills – Even if you don’t have a green thumb, fewer trips to the dump, and/or cutting down on your trash bill are positive side effects to caring about the amount of trash you send to the landfill.
There are many composting bins you can buy or make, but a good place to start is remembering your compost will need to be mixed up periodically.
Some of even the smaller spinning composting units are hundreds of dollars and do not hold very much, so I set out to find the best option for my household which included the most economical option, too.
I landed on this DIY Barrel Composter. I did mention it needed to spin, I simply put it on its side and roll it around to mix it up!
I purchased a green one so it would blend in my backyard a little better. I also wanted to invest in a thicker plastic since my previous composting unit started to crack within the first couple of months.
4 Easy Steps to Making Gardener’s Gold:
- Drill lots of holes, in the lid, sides and bottom.
2. Make sure it is lifted off of the ground a little bit to encourage air flow and drainage. I used some granite stones lying around our property.
3. Fill it!
4. When I need to roll it, I add a couple bungee cords to secure the lid on, just in case.
So what exactly do you put in a compost?
It’s quite simple, there are “greens” and “browns” and a mix of both is ideal.
Greens are any vegetable or fruit scraps and egg shells (nothing processed, nor any raw or cooked meat or fish). The smaller the scraps are, the quicker it will decompose.
Browns are fallen leaves, grass clippings and weeds (that haven’t gone to seed yet).
Some sources will say wood ash from fireplaces, cardboard and even newspaper is acceptable to include in compost but I steer away from that. I don’t like the idea of manufactured newspaper and cardboard in my organic soil, and wood ash is a high alkaline material, so a little might be ok, but if you don’t know how acidic your soil is already, I would be sure to not use it.
How much of each? We add greens to ours all year-round. This cute ceramic counter-top compost bin lives in the kitchen, making it easy to bring the greens to the barrel outside. In the Fall season I pack the compost with fallen leaves as they break down quickly, and by the next summer the soil is perfect for the garden. Throughout the summer I will add weeds and some grass clippings. It’s that simple!
This is what it will look like when its all broken down – Gardener’s Gold!
Part II: How to love your leaves.
1. When tidying up your yard, try to avoid leaf blowers. The noise scares off wildlife and your neighbors! They also use up our fossil fuels and contribute to global climate change. Remember, fitness and exercise is not just about going to the gym, lifting weights or running on a treadmill, raking is a great way for you and the family to be active outside! The American College of Sports Medicine has actually identified raking leaves at 3.8 MET value (Metabolic Equivalent of Task) which measures the rate of energy spent doing a physical activity. So, you can feel extra good about helping yourself and Mother Nature! Understandably, sometimes we just don’t have another option and need to rely on machinery. If that is the case, try a low voltage electric leaf blower/mulcher combo. This is a little easier on planet Earth, makes less noise, and plays nice with whatever ailment prevents you from raking.
2. Take advantage of their natural lawn and garden power! Leaves are natural mulch that retains water, protects roots and insulates during the winter. You can always put them in a garbage bin and use an electric weed-whacker them to make them smaller if that suits you better.
3. Leaves have been around for a long time and play an important role in our ecosystem. Leaves protect butterfly larvae in the winter, giving us a beautiful butterfly display in the Summer. Leaves also host worms, and other insects that feed our birds and their babies in the Spring months. They are also used by chipmunks, squirrels and other creatures to build their dens.
Hopefully now you have a new love for leaves, and excited to have a healthier relationship with your backyard!
 Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Aug;43(8):1575-81. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31821ece12.
By Katie Gillis
Katie Gillis is the Digital Marketing Manager at Emerson Ecologics, focused on delivering practitioners information and inspiration via our online platforms including websites and social media channels.