yeah, pretty lame excuse

​Hello good friends, and my apologies for dropping off the face of the earth without a word. My thoughts are simple (as might be evident); I didn’t have anything interesting to say. If it wouldn’t interest me, I can’t expect it to interest someone else.

And then I kinda got sucked into the whole lazy thing.

The garden has wound down. Last night was our first real freeze. Frost on the windshields and brown pepper plants.

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I’m waiting for the rest of my free brown materials to fall from the sky. In the meantime, I fashioned a large leaf-collection bin, made from 20-some year old materials that were sitting in the barn waiting for their moment in the sun.

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The cold brings out the chainsaw. I use only deadfall trees from the property for firewood, and the scrub trees that die and fall are usually dry enough to use the same year. This year has been a little lean as far as deadwood. There was a nice big oak down, but that has to season till next year. It might just be a year for buying a little wood that some other fool cut up.

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I’m coming to the realization that cutting and splitting firewood in quantity is a younger man’s game. Somewhere along the way, I messed up my wrists and thumbs, and handling a chainsaw doesn’t suit me for long periods, nor does crawling around on the roof cleaning the chimney. But I’ll keep picking at it until I have to say uncle.

There’s not much activity in the garden. My fall cover crop mix is doing its job without complaint. After watching the deer happily grazing on last year’s crop, I decided to strategically place tomato cages to nip that kind of thing in the bud. So far so good.

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I planted garlic and shallots today in the space occupied by this year’s compost bins. And the lettuce plants that I sowed indoors in August are hitting their stride under a cloche.

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It’s good to be back in the saddle. But I reserve the right to be lazy at any time I choose.

leave it

I came across a study that poinked my interest immediately. Who studies this?

A chemical analysis of 100 municipal leaf samples collected from across New Jersey shows that leaves are a valuable source of all crop nutrients. Although nutrient concentration values vary considerably, the application of 20 ton/acre of leaves would add on average 400 pounds of nitrogen, 40 pounds of phosphorus, and 152 pounds of potassium.

So I thought it would be fun to ballpark what that translated to in my 750 sq. ft. of planted space (which excludes paths).

An acre is 43560 sq. ft. Divide that by my 750 sq. ft. and you get 58.2. So the actual planted area of my garden is about 1/58th of an acre (yikes, so tiny!)

The amount of leaves I’d need to put onto my garden to replicate the 20 tons/acre cited in the example would be about 700 lbs.

I don’t weigh the leaves I collect. Absolute negligence.

But 700 lbs. doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility at all. Those tarp-loads are heavy, and I couldn’t even begin to guess how many loads I collected, let alone their weight.

I believe it was many more than 700 pounds, but let’s use 700 for convenience. That would translate to almost 7 lbs. of nitrogen, 2/3 lb. of phosphorus and 2 1/2 lbs. of potassium. Nice.

But (isn’t there always a but?) all that goodness isn’t like plopping down a bucketload of nitrogen or potassium:

The abundant carbon content of leaves leads to extensive development of fungi and bacteria in the soil which uses up the supply of available nitrogen for the production of microbial cell tissue. As decay proceeds, the carbon-nitrogen ratio decreases and some of the nitrogen becomes available to plants. Because of the high carbon content of raw leaves relative to their nitrogen content, there will likely be very little of the organic nitrogen in leaves available to crops for a period of time after application. Observations of crops (including legumes) planted on soil to which leaves have been applied indicate that plants suffer from a temporary N deficiency unless additional N fertilizer is added.

In human talk, you can’t just dump leaves and get a poof of nitrogen immediately useful for your plants.  It takes time.

What does this mean to me? Uhhhh…

Quantifying gardening is like stapling jello.  Mostly stupid, but fun.  I think it means that leaves on the garden are good.

Let’s go with that.

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garden freebies everywhere

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.