A Magazine About Food, Art & Exchange In Midtown Kingston, Published By The Hudson Valley Current.

Cleaning Up Leaf Litter

To Rake, To Bag, Perchance to Mulch

By Harry Matthews

    With the oft-stunning beauty that is the autumn leaf change coming quickly to its peak of color, the next and much less stunning change on the seasonal calendar is the inevitable leaf drop (hence the name of the season being called “the Fall”). If you happen to have any trees on your property the question might arise as to what to do with these large and ungainly masses of what many might consider an herbaceous nuisance. Amongst the many chores we homeowners do throughout the year, the most unenviable is what to do with all these damn leaves.

    First and foremost is the option of doing nothing at all and letting nature takes its wind-blown course, scattering the leaf-litter into the woods, out across the road, or wherever it might end up (your neighbors much more well-manicured lawn, most likely). If you happen to live in a more rural locale this option is a fairly easy one to take, leaving you time to do more pressingly-immediate chores like sweeping your chimney, stacking firewood, putting storm windows back up, and the general tightening up of things around the house before the first snow flies.

    Another option along these lines, though one requiring a bit more effort, would be to rake or leaf-blow them off the lawn and then into a ravine, a gully, a nice copse of trees, or wherever you can most easily hide them. The only issue with this option might be a large frustratingly fierce fall gust of wind that whips up to spread them all right back from where you just removed them. Not to be too anthropomorphic, but doesn’t it sometimes seem that nature loves little ironic gestures like that, making it feel as though you’ve somehow fallen headlong into a scene from a Buster Keaton film and you’re the hapless victim that unrelenting forces just keep hammering down upon? I do…

    Some of our local municipalities, in their all-seeing benevolence, have taken the need for disposal of said leaves to heart and started offering the service of giant vacuum trucks that come along, street by street, and suck up all the leaves that you’ve raked across the sidewalk into a neat little pile. Still other communities encourage you to bag up every leaf and leave it curbside for a particular day’s pick up. I imagine they are then transported to some local field where huge piles build up, where I can imagine the municipal workers laughing like adolescents as they do great belly-flops off their trucks into them. (It’s probably a good thing for all concerned that this is not my job, and that the worst I can do is sit here idly before my laptop letting my thoughts run away with me.)

    The last option, and the one that I’ve been subscribing to for the past five years, is to simply mulch my leaves and let them sit where they are. Originally I went out and bought a fancy bagger attachment for my rider mower, a contraption that would shred the leaves while vacuuming them up, filling three large containers that hung off the back. I would then take the containers and dump them in some discreet section of the property and my leaf issue seemed solved. But then one fine crisp October day, as I happily rode over the burgeoning piles of fallen leaves, the bagger broke and, not wanting to give up on the job I had started, I just removed the bagger and kept mowing. What I was left with was not very appealing to the eyes, and being someone of an aesthetic nature I decided I needed to figure out a better way to deal with this.

    So I did a bit of research and found that one can mulch one’s leaves right into the lawn. I learned  that there are specific “mulching blades” you can get for your mower, and to do it properly all one needs do is keep the little flap closed that typically throws your grass clippings back out from under the mower. So I sprung for the mulching kit and Bingo! Since then I use nothing else and my lawn has never looked better. I mulch everything all season long, from grass clippings to leaves (and often the occasional branch). And in my research I found that this is actually the healthiest thing you can do for your lawn. Both the grass clippings and the shredded leaves add much needed nutrients, plus it all helps keep certain weeds at bay. Anything that I don’t mulch back into the lawn goes on top of my vegetable garden, helping to put that to bed for the season.

    In the end, what you do with your leaves is up to you. For me, though, I’d rather be riding over my leaves turning them into the nutrients my lawn needs than raking and bagging any day. So I say to you: Bag the Rake and Mulch On! Happy Fall!