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It’s that time of year when we are dealing with falling leaves. Did you know that the leaves of one large shade tree can be worth as much as $15 (if not more in the economy today) in terms of plant food and humus. Pound for pound, the leaves of most trees contain twice as many minerals as manure.For example, the mineral content of a sugar maple leaf is over five percent, while even common pine needles have 2.5 percent of their weight in calcium, magnesium, nitrogen and phosphorus, plus other trace elements. Since most trees are deep- rooted, they absorb minerals from deep in the soil and a good portion of these minerals go into the leaves.Actually, leaves are most valuable for the large amounts of fibrous organic matter they supply. Their humus-building qualities mean improved structure for all soil types. They aerate heavy clay soils, prevent sandy soils from drying out too fast, soak up rain and check evaporation.You may want to try Leafcycling. Leafcycling is the easiest and eco-friendly way of dealing with your Fall leaves. Why should you Leafcycle? Leafcycling saves you lots of work because there’s no raking, bagging, or piling your leaves. What are the benefits of Leafcycling? Mulched or shredded leaves left on your lawn through the winter provide a number of benefits for your lawn.They: ● Enrich the soil’s nutrients by feeding the microbes that inhabit a healthy lawn● Improve the lawn’s root systems making your grass drought and disease resistant● Reduce weeds in the Spring grass● Conserve water by reducing run off● Preserve butterfly and moth larvae on the leaves, and this can bring more of these to your yard in the Spring, and more birds as well.How to Leafcycle: If you have a mulching mower, just run your mower over the leaves and leave them there. If you use a standard mower, run over your leaves twice and then leave them on the lawn. Plus, leaving those leaves on your lawn reduces organic matter in the landfill, and that benefits all of us!What if you have lots of leaves? After half of your leaves are down, run the lawn mower over your leaves once to chop them, then run it again with the bag on to collect them, or rake them up. Dig them into your garden as you prepare it for winter, or mulch around your shrubs, hedges, and trees to keep the soil moist and protect the plants’ roots. When the rest of your leaves fall, Leafcycle those and leave them on your lawn. Research completed on Leafcycling: A twenty-year study by Michigan State University has shown two major benefits to Leafcycling. First, lawns required much less fertilizer to achieve the spring “green up”. Second, was no weeds, according to their study. The decomposing pieces of leaves cover up the bare spots between turf plants (grass) that are an excellent opening for weed seeds to germinate. Experience has shown that nearly a 100% decrease in dandelions and crabgrass can be obtained after adopting the practice of leafcycling for three years.And there's always composting: You can also collect some of your shredded leaves and use them in your compost pile or bin, alternating them with the vegetable and fruit waste from your kitchen. Below is information on how to compost your leaves.Building the Compost PileYou can build a freestanding compost pile, or create an aerated compost enclosure using chicken wire, snow fence, wooden pallets, or lumber. Using these systems you need to maintain enough heat in the center for rapid decomposition. It is recommended that the pile be at least 3’x3’x3’ or 27 cubic feet. Some people build two piles, one for active compost and the other as a holding area for new materials. If you're concerned about animal pests or odors, you can purchase a ready-made, enclosed compost system, but properly aerated compost piles free of meat scraps and other animal products shouldn't have those problems. If you purchase aready-made, enclosed compost system follow the manufacturer's directions for proper use.Acceptable household items for composting include: Apples and peels, cabbage, carrots, celery, coffee grounds, egg shells, grapefruit, lettuce onion peels, pears, pineapple, potatoes, pumpkin shell, squash, tea leaves, tomatoes, turnip leaves.Unacceptable household items (items not to put in your compost): Butter, cheese, chicken, fish scraps, lard, mayonnaise, meat scraps, milk, peanut butter, salad dressing, sour cream, vegetable oil, and yogurtIt is also desirable to omit cooked kitchen waste, grease, meat, bones, and fat unless the bin is rodent-, fly-, and dog-proof. There should be no problem with odors, but if your pile smells bad, make sure it has enough nitrogen and oxygen (turn it and add more nitrogen). Earthworms, sowbugs, pill bugs, centipedes, mites, ground beetles and many other kinds of small living things will find homes in the finished compost and in the garden soil to which compost is added. They help with the decomposition process and add value to the soil.To create an environment that encourages efficient decomposition, your compost pile should contain a mixture of carbon materials, fresh nitrogen materials, soil, air, and water. Microorganisms digest carbon as an energy source and take in nitrogen to make proteins. The smaller the material, the more surface area is exposed and the more rapidly they will break down.Examples of carbon sources (Browns) are; cornstalks and corncobs, dry leaves, newsprint, straw and hay, sawdust and wood chips, shrub trimmings, shredded telephone books, wood chips, and shredded uncoated copier paper.Examples of nitrogen sources are; alfalfa, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable waste, grass clippings, fresh hay, manure (cow, horse, poultry, sheep, rabbit) and Seaweed.Never include greasy foods; human, dog, or cat feces; meat; bones; or toxic materials. Also avoid adding noxious weeds or diseased plants (although a well-heated compost pile will kill many diseases and weeds).Other additives sometimes recommended for compost piles are: layers of garden soil (to add additional decomposers), nitrogen fertilizer (if the pile has an abundance of dry materials), and compost inoculants or activatorsCompost is a valuable soil conditioner available to every West Virginian who is willing to invest a little time and effort in working with nature. If you would like to learn more about composting here are a few websites: https://extension.umd.edu/sites/default/files/_images/programs/hgic/Publications/HG35BackyardComposting.pdfhttp://compost.css.cornell.edu/index.htmlResources: https://www.crcog.net/?SEC=4634BB84-802F-4B67-B0BA-96100D341C3Dhttps://www.canr.msu.edu/uploads/files/Mulch_fallen_leavesRS.pdfhttps://archive.lib.msu.edu/tic/mitgc/article/199866b.pdf - Leaf Mulch StudyFive Recommendations to Prepare for Next YearPutting the garden to bed in fall is the first step to a successful garden the following spring. Based on your personal goals, here are five recommendations to help prepare your garden for next year’s growing season: 1. Make a record of the current planting sites within your garden to plan for crop rotation, which is key for preventing pests and diseases and builds soil fertility.2. Test your soil. The WVU Soil Laboratory can test the soil you send them and make recommendations on soil amendments for next year’s growing season.3. Remove all plant material from the garden. This includes old plants and weeds. Leftover materials can harbor diseases and other pests. You can add this to a compost pile if desired, but only if it’s disease-free. Do not add any plant material that have lesions or spots on the leaves.4. Consider planting a fall cover crop to till it under in the spring to add organic matter to the soil so all those beneficial microbes will have something to feed on.5. Cover the garden with a layer of mulch or decomposing leaves to protect the soil if a cover crop isn’t an option for you.Three Fall Cleanup Tasks for Next SpringAround the lawn, fall also makes a good time for some general cleanup and preparation for the following spring: 1. Rake and remove leaves from around the base of trees. Leaving it could create an environment that invites disease, rotting due to increased moisture and wildlife that like to feed on trees and shrubs.2. Apply a light nitrogen fertilizer if you mow over your leaves in the yard to help them break down quicker.3. Inspect trees and shrubs for problems such as dead, diseased and damaged limbs once the leaves fall. Prune them off because they are a home for diseases and insects.Adapted from materials from Mira Bulatovic-Danilovich, WVU Extension Service Consumer Horticulture Specialist and Michael Shamblin, WVU Extension Ag and Natural Resources Agent – Clay CountyYou can find the soil test form at : https://extension.wvu.edu/natural-resources/soil-water/soil-testing as well as directions on how to take a sampleRemember to leave some stems standing for insects that overwinter in them.Until next time ...Happy Fall, Gardening, and Farming.Mary Beth Bennett, Ph.D. is a WVU Extension agent and associate professor. She can be reached at 264-1936, [email protected] or on the web at http://extension.wvu.edu/berkeleyWVU is an EEO/Affirmative Action Employer -- Minority/Female/Disability/VeteranMary Beth Bennett400 West Stephen Street, Suite 302Martinsburg, WV 25401
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