There really is a ton of free stuff you can find to make your garden happy, if you look.
Until recently I would collect maybe 6″ of dead leaves to spread in a layer over the soil, and burn the rest. Part of that had to do with my kids loving ‘Fall Day’ (mind you, my girls still screamed and jumped in leaf piles into their 20s, and then I’d stupidly burn the pile so they could smell it).
Well that’s changed. Now I collect all the leaves my ambition and energy allow and find a way to store them. Come summer, they somehow get used. Over-wintered leaves are great mulch. They have that extra broken-down quality that disappears them over the course of the summer.
Summer’s also full of nitrogen-heavy materials for the compost, but hardly a piece of free carbon to be found. Makes for stink if you’re looking for that ideal 3:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio. Those stockpiled leaves make a good summer compost balancer. I keep some in my center bin over winter, where they’re handy to mix with layers of green stuff in the other two come summer.
The last couple of years, I poked around in the phone directory for a while and finally located the guy who runs the local Department of Public Works. I think I might have annoyed him with all the calls, but he’s a public servant, so he needs to adjust. Anyway, I finally ended up with all the free wood chips I desired. Just drove over and he filled up my trailer over and over again with his publicly purchased equipment. They’re not beautiful chips like you buy for $3 a bag at the gas station. But they’re beautiful to me, filling the garden paths. If you put wet cardboard or newspapers down on the paths first, you won’t have a weed all year. Maybe a fungus or two, but I dig fungi.
And if you’ve read many of my posts, you know I love me some Starbucks. Shredded leaves, moisture, and coffee grounds? Mama! I’ve learned that some Starbucks franchises welcome you with delight, and some say, “Sorry, we didn’t save any for you even though you phoned a day ahead. Would you like a latte?”.
When you’re getting free stuff, you have to learn a little patience and humility. It’s worth it.
And grass clippings. Great, great stuff. They heat up the compost, and make beautiful mulch (but it’s better to let them dry out first for mulching. Some major stink if you pile them deep and they start decomposing around your petunias). I just let mine sit on the lawn for a day to dry in the sun.
But the prize of prizes is free horse manure. My wife’s friend allowed me to shovel her horse barn till I dropped last year, although things didn’t get quite that far. I like its smell. Much nicer than decomposing grass clippings or wet county wood chips. With frequent turnings, the manure I piled up in March was deep, black goodness by July.
So many freebies and so little time.