Nothing symbolizes the cycle of life like tree leaves. In winter hardwood trees have a graceful barren look as they patiently wait for warmer weather. As winter finally gives way to spring twigs swell with buds from which leaves will soon emerge. As the snow melts green grass quickly heralds the change of season. But trees are not so hasty. They, being older and wiser than grass, are not so quick to send out their leaves. Leaves, after all, take a great amount of energy to make and are not to be callously wasted on winter’s last skirmishes.
When spring has finally won its battle with winter, trees respond with a stunning verdant display. Oh the beautiful color of green. But it is not just for beauty that the Creator has given leaves to trees—they have a job to do. Leaves are the energy factory working tirelessly day after day. All through the summer leaves gather atmospheric carbon and use the energy of sunlight to create simple sugars that will eventually be stored as fruit and wood.
Alas the weather changes once again and the tree pulls back its life from the leaves to reveal a beautiful cacophony of majestic colors. Soon the leaves start flittering down to the earth. The trickle of falling leaves increases rapidly till it reaches the level of a “leaf storm”—great masses of leaves plunging down to the earth as if on signal. Trees look suddenly naked once again.
Soon it’s plain to see “leaves, leaves there everywhere.” That’s when men and women, boys and girls get out their rakes and bags, blowers and mowers to collect the leaves and send them off to an unknown place or simply burn them in the back yard.
Stop… Wait… Save Those Leaves!
They’re valuable you know. Leaves are a wonderful repository of nutrients brought up from deep below the earth’s surface.
When raising goats a few years ago I noticed how eagerly goats consumed tree leaves. While green leaves were great, dried hardwood leaves were the ultimate treat. When pastured on wooded land in the fall the goats eat every single leaf that fell from the trees. This observation confirms the tremendous nutritional value of leaves. Loaded with many deep-earth minerals, leaves are rich in carbon, calcium, silicon, potassium, and trace elements.
When properly used, tree leaves can recycle these nutrients into your garden and ultimately into your foods. In addition to goats, worms also love to eat tree leaves. Have you ever wondered why? Why do worms and leaves go together like rice and curry? I don’t know why either—all I know is they just do.
Due to the strong symbiosis between worms and leaves it makes sense to use tree leaves as the major carbonaceous component in a worm composting process. When we add mineralized kitchen scraps we end up with a marriage “made in heaven.” It doesn’t get an better than this. In case you just missed it, here, in mathematical terms is the formula for ideal compost: Tree Leaves + Mineralized Kitchen Scraps + Worms = Ideal Compost. The concept of creating an ideal compost, or nature’s optimum fertilizer, if you prefer, will be covered extensively in subsequent articles.
There are many other uses for tree leaves including:
- Mulching to over winter garlic, shallots, strawberries, and flower beds
- Feeding them as a supplemental food to cows, sheep, and goats
- Bedding for backyard poultry houses
- Mulching your garden during the growing season such as on potatoes
- Mulching berry plants such as raspberries
- Mulching in greenhouses to naturally produce carbon dioxide
What a wonderful gift tree leaves are. While so many people complain about them it’s time we recognize their true value. While others see leaves as the dead vestiges of once beautiful trees, I see the potential to impart life in the seasons and crops to come. What do you see?
We have had our time of reflection to ponder the value of leaves. Now it is time for action—it is time to Save Those Leaves!