Leaf Mulch, aka Black Gold
Like so many of you, every year I raked leaves. I didn't mind the process until we moved to acreage with LOTS of trees. I'd spend days to weeks, raking, moving, and burning leaves. There had to be a better way.
I always left the leaves in the heavily treed areas. It was more of a nature trail and I let the leaf mulch build up like the owners before me had done. There's no telling how deep that mulch is. It's like walking on sponges in some parts.
The front and back yards, and the areas where there are outbuildings and workshops had to be raked, just to keep it tidy.
Since leaf fall lasts for months where we live, I'd no sooner finish raking one parcel when the leaves would drop again. I'd try waiting until February when most of the leaves were down, but it fell right into the time needed for prepping gardens or other major chores.
It was time to pull out the big guns. Several years ago we bought a Cyclone Rake, a gargantuan contraption that pulls behind your riding mower that can cut, mulch and pick up a vast amount of leaves.
Even though it's efficient and simple, it's still a pain to attach (imo). But I wouldn't give it up for anything. It can do in a few hours what would take me weeks by hand. Plus with the leaves mulched, it is the single best way to keep my raised beds weed free.
The only other bad thing about the Cyclone Rake is that it's really expensive. I just saw the current price and it's gone up quite a bit since we bought ours. It's a tough machine though. We've never babied ours and it starts up first time, every time without fail.
Pros: It makes raised beds and borders neat and clean. It keeps weeds down surprisingly well.
It feeds the soil as the leaves break down.
Cons: It's hard for water to get down to your plants, but once it gets there it maintains soil moisture so you don't have to water as much.
If you don't turn your beds over before planting, leaf mulch can hide predatory larva or eggs.
I've tried whole leaves as mulch which also keeps weeds down, but I found it harder to water my plants. It also takes 3-4 times longer for the leaves to decompose. If they're mulched, they break down more easily.
Leaf mulch left to rot is absolutely phenomenal for the garden. It turns black and rich with microbes and earthworms.
I've seen so many people bag or burn their leaves, but it's a resource not to be wasted. If you have the room, compost your leaves and spread them over your garden. You won't regret it.
So far my gardening is moving slowly. I started my seeds way too late, but I was busy earlier so I have to deal with a later planting.
The good news: I started all my plants from seeds. And all my seeds sprouted! So many that I am having to give seedlings away.
The bad news: I've lost more foundation plants from that killer freeze in February. I was hoping my cleyeras would make it, but I think they're goners.
Do you bag, burn, or compost your leaves?
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Ugh! Squash bugs are the bane of my existence! I prevailed last year only because I was so vigilant and destroyed all their eggs, but it was a battle.
This year, I'm trying a new zucchini that's supposed to be resistant to squash bugs. though I don't know that I want them to regain a foothold.
re: pine needles
In east Texas we were always collecting pine needles. I miss them now because they're so good for acid loving plants. I have one lone pine tree on our property and I only scoop up enough pine needles for my berry plants.
re: brown spot
Yeah, without knowing what it was I'd be wary too. If it was a fungus, it'd be safer to burn it.