Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happiness is...a truck full of leaves and a yard full of mulch

Leaves of Fall. Falling leaves. Lots of leaves. Bags of leaves, by the side of the road. This week we collected leaves on Richard's days off, filling the truck several times over several days. At first I was a little embarrassed to be cruising the neighborhoods, stalking the leaves, but after a while it becomes old news, and the kids are still in the back seat screaming and fighting, lending a moment of normalcy to this strange farm life. I'm more concerned about what the old lady walking her dog thinks of my out-of-control kids than the strange man (i.e. Richard) picking up the neighbors' trash, and really, people only ask occasionally what we are up to, and most nod in understanding when we tell them.

truck o' leaves

You see, we have no soil at our house in the high desert land. No workable soil. No dark, rich, plant-able soil. Being big fans of the Permaculture movement, and like knowledgeable gardeners and farmers everywhere, we know we have to build our soil. It isn't going to make itself out of nothing, so we have to find organic materials to compost into beautiful, nutrient rich soil that will become the basis of our gardens. We sheet mulch. We compost. We prepare for next Spring, when our flower beds and garden beds of leaves and mulch will have composted down into lovely, workable soil.

There are so many wonderful books on composting that will tell you how to create a basic compost pile, and the main ingredient is "stuff" like leaves, grass, hay, or any other plant materials. We mix anything we can find, including plant kitchen scraps, with goat or llama poop and hay, weeds, wood chips, whatever, into compost piles located strategically around our small farm.
Compost bin made of pallets

The piles take about a year to decompose into something resembling soil, and it might be faster if we dedicated more time to watering and turning our piles, but even our unworked piles eventually turn into soil, which is a vast improvement over the desert hard pan we have in our yard.

So, it is the season for leaves. Lots and lots of leaves. We plan on creating a size-able sheet mulch project in our new upper garden space.

seeding the chicken yard
When Richard went to get hay this week, he came back with a big bag of Rye grass seed. Enough for an acre. When we moved the chicken yard to the other side of the coop, the plan was to plant the old yard and the old garden.

So, out went the leaves, followed by a good dose of water, then the seed was spread, old rotting hay was applied and the sprinkler was put on again.  Always water in the layers. The seed was spread in the tomato field as well, and we hope to move the llamas to a new pasture and seed their cactus filled pen with the Rye grass. It is a start, and hopefully a winter cover crop that will improve the soil.

leaves and bamboo

It was a bountiful few days with  leaves and bamboo stalks, but it got better when the local tree trimmer dumped a load of mulch in our driveway. Crazy. Epic yet? No, Richard assures me, it has not reached epic proportions yet. I'm not sure I have ever seen him look so happy as when that big orange truck dumped a mass of wood chips right behind his pile of bagged leaves.

wood chips

The chips were gone in a day, spread out onto our pathways to prepare for the snow and the winter mud that comes with it. Next load will go into the upper garden

And, while picking up the bamboo stalks in a trash pile, Richard scored some live bamboo from the man who was unfortunately not composting his leaves and garden detritus, but was willing to sell us bamboo if we dug it. Sounded too good to be true.$5 for a big bucket that planted windscreen/privacy barriers on the two western corners of our house.

I have now come up with a layout for my cut flower garden, bordered by the fast growing and very tall (7-10 feet) bamboo that was planted somewhere around what we suspect is the leach field for our septic tank. No edibles over there, but plenty of pretty flowers to gaze at and cut to sell at the farmer's market next year. Now all I need is some sheet mulch for my new flower garden--more leaves and more wood chips. Next week we are hooking up old "Lucky" (the horse trailer) to the back of the truck so when we cruise for leaves, we can bring home three times as much.

It is a strange little farming and gardening community we have immersed ourselves in. On a trip to pick up cow manure (for our sheet mulching projects), we came across an acquaintance who was filling her truck with bags of leaves, and so happy for our windfall of compost-able materials, she was almost cheering. Only a fellow gardener would understand. In addition, Richard has been nominated for a board position with the Canon Co-op, Only been here a year and a couple of months and I feel like we have fallen into the right place. Synchronicity in action. It is a wonderful thing.

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