Shredding leaves

We have splurged on a gadget that pulverizes leaves. We can now transform what many people throw away into a useful garden product.

This Worx electric leaf shredder really tears them apart. It cost us $120 online, and smashes the leaves with tiny strings that go round and round, like a weed-whacker. There’s a place to put a plastic bag underneath to catch the torn-apart leaves.

img_20161114_085200565We tried out the machine yesterday. We had raked our leaves into a big pile, which was supplemented with those of a kindly neighbor. We put on ear protectors, goggles and dust masks and scooped up the leaves  by hand and loaded them in.

The biggest problem we encountered was sticks. Where there are leaves, there are likely to be sticks, and it’s difficult to find and discard all of them. So periodically we turned off the machine and fished them out.

img_20161114_092253707_hdrWhen shredded, leaves shrink to about a tenth of their volume. We filled about seven big  plastic bags, but since we want to reuse them, we transferred the ground-up leaves to 24 smaller plastic bags that will be easier to lug around.

We will use the leaf-pieces through the winter to mix with kitchen waste and make compost, and then next spring and summer as mulch. I put a six-inch layer of ground-up leaves on our carrot and leek bed, and the insulation will extend the harvest. I put some directly on a bed where I grow tomatoes, to break down over the winter. Worms love shredded leaves.

img_20161114_092333620_hdrWe’ve always gathered and used leaves, but unpulverized they slow the composting process, matting down and preventing air and water from penetrating. Shredding increases their surface area, giving microbes more space to do their work. Leaves lighten up heavy soils and provide gardens with calcium, magnesium and trace minerals that trees dig up from deep in the ground.

We may try our hand at making leaf mold. This couldn’t be easier: You rake ground-up leaves into a pile, give them some water and let them sit there covered for a year. Fungi turn them into a substance that smells like the forest floor. Placed in a garden, leaf mold helps soil retain water in a drought and stay cool in a heat wave.

Leaves are beautiful to look at in New England in October, and in November we’re turning them into a free garden resource.

For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick summary of about 150 past posts, broken down into 12 categories, including frugality, gardening, simple living, cooking and living without. Or hover on “Index” above to read all the posts in a particular category.

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